I grew up very close with my uncles, and we’ve remained close to this day. I call them often. We go to sporting events together several times a year. I go to them when I need advice. Hell, my brother and I do an annual Uncles Bar Crawl with them each summer. Being an uncle is incredibly important to me. I hope to have and maintain that same relationship with my own nieces and nephews as they grow up. The ones I have now are great kids, and it’s been a real treating watching them grow up.
My wife and I also have several close friends who have children, and it’s been amazing to be a fixture in their lives as well. When I was growing up, a lifelong friend of my dad’s was always around, and we called him Uncle Eddie despite him having no actual relation to our family. I still call him that today, even as an adult. Eddie may not be related, but family is what you make it. Your parents (hopefully) have no relation to each other, but they came together to form a family. To me, someone like Eddie is just as much family as any of my blood relations. Even though my friends’ kids are only a year old, their parents always refer to my wife and I as aunt and uncle when we come around.
My wife and I particularly enjoy babysitting for our friends while they have a nice night out. We feel it’s very important for them to have plenty of “adult time,” where they can go out and have a date night to themselves. Yeah, they’re now Mom and Dad – but they’re also Katie and Mark, and Katie and Mark should still get to go out. And while they’re out?… for us, it’s play time!
Hilariously, the toddlers all seem to innately detect that I’m the Designated Book Reader, as I’m always the one they ask to read to them. I’m happy to be the one narrating their favorite stories to them – generally about a dozen times in a row. Children obviously have an insatiable inherent curiosity about the world, and I find it rewarding to help satisfy that. From explaining how I plant and maintain the garden in my back yard, to demonstrating how I made a quarter seemingly disappear, to showing my niece how the ice machine in the fridge works*, it’s a blast seeing their eyes light up.
For the older kids – particularly my eldest niece and nephew – the last few years, they have taken turns coming up to stay with my wife and I for a weekend. We live in the middle of a major city, and they live in a more rural area, so I personally think it’s wonderful to be able to show them where and how their aunt and uncle live. Being an uncle to these kids allows me to expose them to experiences they might never have. I know when I was growing up that visiting my aunts and uncles, all of whom lived in very different places and lived very different lifestyles, was eye opening for me. It taught me to be more open and accepting, and realize that the way mom and dad operated was not the only way to be an adult.
*in retrospect, this was arguably a mistake, as once she understood how the ice was made, and how it funnels down through the door of the freezer, she spent the next hour demonstrating her newfound knowledge by explaining the process to me over and over – while she held down the dispenser button and showered my floor with ice, laughing herself to tears.