Aunts and uncles play an invaluable role in shaping the lives of young family members.
My sister, Lauren, was home from the hospital a week when I visited her and her new baby. I sat down and she placed Rory in my arms for the first time. I was puzzled. I kept waiting for something to happen.
“What do I do?” I asked my sister.
“Just enjoy it. Don’t drop her.”
I looked down at this cherubic little person—oval face, big eyes, and unblemished skin. She cooed and gurgled as she looked up at me. I know I was smiling. And I understood in that moment what my sister meant. Just enjoy this moment. Boy, did I.
And yet I knew I would never want to replicate this in my own life. By the time I hit my mid-20s, in fact, I knew I wasn’t built to raise children. Even though I enjoyed my friends’ kids in my young adult life, something in me knew that fatherhood was not in the cards. Certainly, I can appreciate those who birth and raise children. Godspeed, but that life isn’t for me.
Lauren had a second daughter, Cameron, a couple of years later. By then I was more comfortable with babies and toddlers—and even more convinced that parenthood is a vocation that I should avoid.
A Different Path
In a society that puts the family on a somewhat unreachable pedestal, do I feel badly about that? Not a bit. Case in point: As I write these words, my house is quiet, save the sounds of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” playing in the background. I do not hear the laughter, cries, or laments of children. Later today, I may turn on Netflix, not some mind-numbing children’s sing-along. And this evening, I will meet a friend for dinner and drinks. I love that I can control my environment and what I do. That’s important to me.
I’m not completely selfish. I still play an important part in the lives of my nieces, though the contributions of aunts and uncles within the family unit largely go unsung in our Church and in our culture. As my nieces were growing up, I relished the moments I spent with them: playing sports outside, playing games inside, our shopping days at Target (I bought them something every time), birthdays, and holidays. I love those memories. I also loved that I could get in my car and drive back to my quiet home.
They are basically women now—18 and 16—and our relationship has evolved, as all relationships do over time.
Our conversations, which used to be silly and fun, have turned more serious as we discuss real-life issues facing teens: social media dangers, peer pressure, sex, drugs, and alcohol. Although they have loving and supportive parents and grandparents, we aunts and uncles help in our own way to fill in the gaps. And all families have gaps.
But my relationship with my nieces is not one-sided. I am a better person for knowing them and I feel they’ve taught me more than I’ve taught them. From Rory I’ve seen firsthand what kindness and compassion can do in a very cold world. From Cam, I marvel at her inner fortitude and fiery resolve. And although I did not have my own kids, I know that I played a small role in who they have become as young women.