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Say Uncle!

April 11th, 2011  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized  |  7 Comments

My uncle Al

Busy, busy around here, but the overwhelming event of the last week was the birth, after just the right amount of gestation, of my first nephew ever: baby Charlie.

I am now not just a father. I am an uncle.

Becoming an uncle may mean different things to different people. They say some people aren’t close to their siblings, but I can’t say I know what that’s like. My brother and I are quite unlike each other in a few ways, and we’ve had our disagreements, but even in conflict we were close. And we’re certainly close now. And that’s translated onto my relationship, I think, with this unmet neonate mewling into the South Florida steam this morning. His birth is not the birth of my own children. But it feels more like that than I would have imagined.

As an aside about what it means to have a child–today is actually my brother’s birthday. But I’m really not focusing on that at all. The new kid, with a birthday three days before his father, will forevermore overshadow his father’s once-big day. Sigh.

Uncle is, by the way, a kind of a great role. It’s like being a grandparent, but your joints don’t ache. You have no responsibility toward the child–save their physical safety in your presence–but all the advantages of loving and being loved. You get to be a character actor in the child’s life, which itself seems satisfying: I’m thinking of those rich, brief parts Paul Giamatti gets to play.

Part of my joy at this new assignment must also be due to my remarkable luck with my own uncles. They include the ones I grew up with: the joke-telling, song-singing, bird-flipping lawyer from San Francisco; the hard-living, sweet-hearted goatherd from Jersey by way of Southcentral France. Later additions include a glacier-climbing rock drummer from Madrid who is just a few years older than me, and a gentle Rabbi who studies Kabbalah and mentors inmates. They can all be, at times, either friend or family. And, importantly, they present alternative visions of manhood, offered without judgment, to compare and contrast with your father.

There is a reason, I think, why the Spaniards call each other tio the way Conchs call each other bubba. It’s a comfort role, being an uncle. I am incredibly excited about it.

And yet, in my first reality-check about the job, I have realized that I am booked for so much work and travel and work-travel that I won’t even be able to visit this sweet boy for at least another month. Meanwhile, I may have to fire up UncleWagon.com just to keep track of my emotions about the whole thing.

Mazel tov, brother. And, of course, happy birthday.


  1. Nathan Greenberg says:

    April 11th, 2011at 9:24 am(#)

    Great post. Thanks for the colorful insight into the world of being an uncle. As an only child, I’ll never know the role. “It’s like being a grandparent, but your joints don’t ache.” – Nice.

  2. Nathan says:

    April 11th, 2011at 9:40 am(#)

    Ah, but surely you can adopt the role with friends’ kids. Uncle is flexible like that. And, actually, anyone can pay the role of creepy uncle too, but I hope to avoid that one.

  3. carlos says:

    April 11th, 2011at 4:28 pm(#)

    After your description, I feel you are my tio, and I am happy about that.
    Congratulations on your tio-ness.
    Love to you and the family.

  4. Deborah says:

    April 11th, 2011at 7:44 pm(#)

    Mazal Tov ! I’m not a Mom, not am I an uncle, obviously, but I am an aunt to five nieces & five nephews, who range in age from 30 to 5 months ,and to two great nephews(one of whom is older than my youngest niece and nephew).
    I’m convinced that being an Aunt is THE best job description in the whole wide world:)

    I LOVE, love, love being an aunt.My two “happiness is being an Aunt” photo albums fell apart years ago.
    I’m divorced; having children just didn’t happen for me.
    Being an Aunt…ah..what can I say-
    Again, Mazal Tov, and Congrats!

  5. beta dad says:

    April 11th, 2011at 9:30 pm(#)

    Don’t kid yourself. There’s a lot of pressure that comes with being an uncle too. You always have to be cooler than the kids’ parents, but not let them get in any real trouble. It’s a fine line.

  6. Cat says:

    April 15th, 2011at 12:14 pm(#)

    This is really sweet. I have six uncles, three of whom are named Bob. Uncle Bob #3 likes to punctuate his sentences by slapping the wall above your head, mid-conversation, with a fly-swatter. Uncle Bob #2 loves rom-coms and Newt Gingrich, in that order. Uncle Bob #1 insists omelets are the worst thing to order in restaurants because they are “never runny enough” yet insists on ordering them anyway.


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