Luke, I am Your Uncle
You’ve seen Drunk Uncle on SNL. Approaching holidays tend to bring on lots of comedy bits and references about the older, insensitive, uninformed uncle at the Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner table, the one who ultimately hijacks the conversation by disparaging transgender people, the Me Too movement, or Nancy Pelosi.
But I ask you to reject this trope, for the lack of evidence to support it. I am an uncle-only to the next generation in the families I’m a part of because I somehow missed that whole window of children-making. (Perhaps it was absent-mindedness, or an unconscious fear of lost sleep, but there it is.) And though I admit to certain age-related insensitivities, such as wearing headphones at the gym that make me unaware of my singing or farting out loud, I am not the family boor. I don’t know of any of my other uncle-only friends who are either. According to ScienceDaily, those of us in the species who are childless may have “an indirect benefit by enhancing the survival prospects of close relatives.” Some uncles may be drunk and loutish, but if they were the majority of us, we wouldn’t be an evolutionary success story, now would we?
Therefore, the conversation-freezing, misanthropic platitudes won’t be coming from me, any more than the congealed salad will be. (Disappointingly enough, those remarks tend to come from much younger people.) But I can tell you what I actually will do as an uncle, away from the holiday table:
- Not limit a child’s junk food consumption, since I am not responsible for their nutritional health, and anyway, how much damage can corn syrup do in an afternoon?
- Let them to stay up through nap time, as long as they don’t wake me up from mine.
- Listen thoughtfully when they go on about how horrible their parents are, and try not to agree even when remembering corroborating evidence.
- Do anything to keep them entertained. I am also not responsible for the child’s moral development, so who cares if she wants to hang her Barbies?
- Gently but actively discourage crying. Crying was invented for infants to communicate their hunger, but hunger is never an issue when I babysit.
- Never raise my voice or respond in anger, even to sudden bursts of invective on the child’s part. I don’t want the children to remember me like that, and besides, they are going home eventually. Soon enough the hormones will kick in and I will be forgetting the pain of childcaring and only remembering the joy.
Kids should consider themselves lucky to have an uncle-only, rather than lumping us together as blabber mouths who think minorities ought to be more appreciative. And face it, kids, you need us. As the director John Waters once said about being an uncle-only, “I’ll get you an abortion, get you out of jail, or take you to rehab.”
Wholly practical and compassionate. Nothing boorish.