On being uncle.
I wasn’t prepared for my uncleness.
Who am I kidding? I was ill-prepared for fatherhood. And before that, adulthood. And before that … well, let’s just say male training in life’s subtle shifts isn’t often covered in episodes of He-Man or your standard Marvel Comics book.
And for me, it’s happened three times over.
I’m not really good at it. A guy gets so busy being a dad or a coach, or maybe a dad who coaches, and by the time you factor in time to think about pizza, baseball, and Elizabeth Banks, well, your sister’s kids are still kind of waiting in the wings.
I struggled for the longest time getting over a few barriers. These tips can help you to get the most out of your uncle buck.
Don’t compete with their dad
Dads hate this. If you show up and try to do their dad’s thing? That’s a recipe for disaster. It’s like a tiger shark invading a bull shark’s waters. Just don’t do it, man. If their dad is known for his extra cheesy mac-and-cheese cheeseburgers, show a little professional courtesy.
Keep your uncle game out of the kitchen.
Find something memorable, organically
My niece, Melanie, came along just a year after I first became papa. Essentially, she was like a second daughter with the time we spent together. Yet, I struggled to connect with her. I made that struggle worse by comparing my time with her to time with my daughter.
I found our connection by accident. It wasn’t a big deal, long-term, but it created that fun an uncle ought to look for. I sang the theme song to the kids’ show Seven Little Monsters in exaggerated tones, and it made her giggle.
There were other moments – the time I accidentally knocked her tooth out by the greeting cards aisle at Target, for instance – but that was the start.
Keep it light, and recycle
I believe a kid feels conflicted too, when an uncle comes around. You want to stay true to country, to team, to colors. To dad. An uncle can feel like a division rival, or border nation that might or might not have missiles pointed at your capital – er, dad.
When my sister’s young kids came into play, I already had three daughters of my own. I could recycle the dad show my kids now groaned about. (They loved it before, I swear.) At a loss? Try one of these:
- Pulling a quarter (a nickel works in hard times) out of their ear
- Blowing on your thumb to ‘inflate’ your fingers, from your pinky to your index finger*
- Conducting any degree of horseplay while in church**
*If their parents aren’t around, try starting with the middle finger, but just once.
**NOT advisable on Easter.
Also, the Pull My Finger maneuver went officially extinct in 1977.
Call in your own childhood
Again, the reject pile from your own kids can become fertile ground for uncle fodder. And hey, it’s sustainable. If you loved shooting hoops, but your kids tend to double dribble, maybe pick it up with your niece.
If your children think Choose Your Own Adventure books are lame (the humanity!), maybe try reading one to your nephew. Or have him read it to you.
Uncle status is just a chance to extend (or replicate) fatherhood, with a set of kids whose arses and noses you’re not contractually obligated to wipe.
Meet them where they are
Has your nephew become an archery star, and you’re not sure which end of the arrow goes frontwards? Go out to the range (or whatever they call their playing grounds) with him.
Maybe you have a niece who’s into cop shows and cryptozoology. (First, don’t take her to see the new CHiPS movie unless she’s 18. Even then, that’s a risky move, hoss. Second, look up cryptozoology. It’s some cool stuff.)
My Aunt Sandy, upon learning that I was reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in school, sat me down in front of her rad FM stereo/record player and put on Rush’s Tom Sawyer. The lyrics were way beyond my comprehension, and I wasn’t old enough to feel Rush, but still …
She picked out the record to go with something going on in my life. Hey, she’s not even an uncle, but what a great example, a lesson that remains with me in my middle age.
It’s a concept even an uncle can understand.
When he isn’t interviewing intriguing women or answering questions about yiddish insults or male hair care products on his blog, Coach Daddy, Eli Pacheco is a writer, soccer coach and dad to three girls. He received BlogHer Voice of the Year honors for his post, “Would You Die for me, Daddy?” in 2014, and his essays were included in the anthologies “Clash of the Couples” and “But Did You Die?” Follow him on Google Plus, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter.