Way of Life

A Special Kind Of Love

Lately, I’ve found myself reflecting on our kids. I suppose that’s a natural place for the mind to go, especially when advancing in years.

Our kids are grown, married, and raising their own children. A couple live a few hours away, and two others live three states south of us. My wife and I understand. That’s what happens. They’ve created their own paths.

Our kids are our nieces and nephews. And I can’t imagine being more blessed.

You see, my wife and I didn’t have children of our own. That’s more than okay because my wife’s brothers and sisters-in-law stepped up several times, including doing the early heavy lifting when rearing our nieces and nephews.

I never thought I would love something as much as my wife and my dogs. And then I became an uncle.

Double Blessing

Being an uncle or aunt is a double blessing. You get to love like a parent once removed and act like a friend forevermore.

We’ve been on the sidelines of our nieces’ and nephews’ journeys since before they were aware of us. A nice byproduct of our early presence in their lives has been strengthening our already solid relationships with their parents.

Our journey has taken us from swaddling infants to knee-high to a grasshopper, from childhood activities and birthday cakes with single-digit candle counts to childhood interests and oh-so-cute elementary and preteen experiences.

Perhaps equally as much for their often-despondent parents, we were also present through the rebellious teenage years. If you’re a parent, you likely well recall those years when challenges were everpresent — e.g., fitting in, feeling isolated, discovering talents and ambitions. Dealing with a perceived lack of freedom and its corollary — creating personal versions of independence. In hindsight, it’s probably not a stretch to state that we were principally in our nieces and nephews’ lives during this time to assure them that their voices were important and that their parents really did love them.

As the brilliant Dave Barry said, “To an adolescent, there is nothing in the world more embarrassing than a parent.” Fortuitously, as uncles and aunts, we were a step enough removed to be mostly immune to such assessments.

Lessons Learned For This Uncle

Despite distances, we endeavored to help our nieces and nephews negotiate a few dark periods and the challenging journeys of their arduous teenage years.

These experiences helped me recall how social pressures for an adolescent could be oh-so-painful. There comes a time when nearly every teenager can start an argument in an empty house. With adolescence comes a period when they’re as confused about life as a fart in a fan factory. Of course, it wasn’t our role to jerk a knot in their tails. It was our job to provide support and love and help open a window to display their gifts and grow their confidence.

With their parents’ full blessing and encouragement, we got to know and love these kids. Over time, they came to trust us and occasionally even turn to us. Looking back, I’m pleased that we played at least a tiny part in helping them find their paths. We did so by accepting them, letting them know we believed in them, and always being there for them.

Through their adolescent journey, I certainly learned one other thing — my love for them grew exponentially.

Aunt Trumps Umple

Truthfully, I must give most of the credit for today’s solid relationships with our nieces and nephews to my (significantly) better half. My wife is blessed with a loving touch. On the flip side, I suspect that, in the eyes of our nieces and nephews, I often held the title of biggest goof on the planet. I became their pal. I loved hanging out with them, and I hope they knew that, above all else, I believed in and loved them.

To this day, as adults, they know our door is always open for them. We dispense oodles of hugs, keep secrets, have no-particular-reason phone and Zoom calls, and share life’s stories and gripes as only special friends can. In no uncertain terms, we encourage them always to know their self-worth, have the strength to chase their dreams, and have the good sense to know that they are loved morethanlifeitsownself.

I have professionally held some respectable and responsible titles, but none has been more important to me than “umple.”

Triple Blessed

Our nieces and nephews became solid citizens through a combination of loving parents and the Good Lord’s blessing. We are soooo proud of them! In many ways, they have become the bricks and mortar of our family, displacing the old farts like me who sought their love and attention while trying to instill confidence and love of family. I certainly don’t take any credit, but something must have clicked, as they are each responsible, reliable, trustworthy, and of sound character. Importantly, they put family first.

And then each niece and nephew did two things for which we will forever be grateful — they married “up” and then started making their own babies. And so the circle of life’s blessings continues. Our family love team has risen from four to eight to 13 … and counting.

Blessed, I have zero doubts that AD (Aunt Deb) and Umple Lee will also play important parts in the lives of this next generation.

I loves me some nieces and nephews. And now great-nieces and great-nephews. Amongst the absolute happiest moments in my life today are when these wonderful blessings — and their own growing blessings — include us in their lives.

Aunt and Uncle Primer

How did we get to be so darned special in their lives?

Donning my faux psychologist cap, at the top of the list is simply trying to be a positive role model. I firmly believe that, without speaking a word, aunts and uncles can impact their nieces and nephews. Actions count, especially when respect and love are driving the bus. While matter-of-factly a step or two removed from the actual family circle, being an examplar is one of aunts and uncles’ most significant obligations.

Being a good listener goes hand in hand with being a good role model. Ditto with giving advice when asked (carefully and without stepping on parents’ toes) and providing unreserved support.

Truth be told, aunts and uncles have a distinct advantage — we don’t have the responsibility of parenting. As such, we can be friends and confidants to our nieces and nephews, providing a different level of emotional support and reinforcing the concepts parents are trying to teach, such as having your siblings’ backs, the importance of education, giving your best, finding your path, getting up when knocked down, and always doing the right thing.

A few final observations from the uncle and aunt trenches: Lean into common interests with your nieces and nephews. Help them display their gifts. And, of course, remember to keep in touch. Don’t let too much time pass between interactions. For all its faults, social media is an excellent tool for letting nieces, nephews, and other family members know that you are thinking of them and are interested in what’s going on in their lives.

Lastly, strengthening relationships is paramount to the family paradigm. Keeping extended family relations solid makes it far easier to become closer to nieces and nephews. Investing in the family as a whole keeps uncles and aunts updated about accomplishments, struggles, gifts, losses, and the burgeoning talents and goals of maturing nieces and nephews and their children.

Rounding Third …

As my nieces and nephews have become responsible young adults, they have tugged at my heartstrings all the more. Some of my best days are when they reach out to us, even more so when they spend time with us. My vision is clear and thankful on this final point — they have each picked up my wife’s heart of gold and her belief that hugs are always a good thing.

I’m so thankful for each of them and their children. Just thinking about them brings me happiness and makes me smile.

Being an uncle is more than an honor. It’s priceless.

"Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash"

Leading With Grace & Kindness

When in this country did we come to the crossroads that indicated it was okay to burn someone’s house down if we disagreed with what they said or believed in? There have always been the yin and the yang, the dark and the light. But why have seemingly large segments of our society veered away from engaging in civil discourse, which seemed, not that very long ago, a plausible path for creating harmony or, at the very least, a grudging respect for individuals or groups with opposing views?

Continue Reading