Say uncle

When I tried to think of what to tell everyone about this blog, I was sure of one thing: most of the things I thought of had probably already been thought of by someone else.

This is one of those times.

For some reason, I recently had uncles on the brain, and thought to myself: There ought to be an Uncle’s Day! We have a Father’s Day, and a Mother’s Day, and even a Grandparent’s Day, but what about the uncles? We should have a day for them, too.

Well, folks, turns out we do.

Evidently someone else got there first (my money’s on Hallmark). According to holidayinsights.com, July 26 is Aunt and Uncles Day. The website even includes a list of reasons why uncles (and aunts) are special. Among them are the following:

  • “They are your mom and dad’s brothers and sisters.”
  • “Someone who takes you to fun places and events.”
  • “Real characters at family get-togethers and events.”
  • Clearly the list is meant to be illustrative rather than exclusive. Thank you for the insights, holdidayinsights!

    On the other hand, just reading through this short list called a number of fond thoughts to mind, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so dismissive of holidayinsights after all.

    For example, consider what it means that your uncles are your parents’ brothers. This means that they grew up with your parents. They knew your parents when they were just little children! If your uncle is your father’s older brother, he probably used to beat your dad up. If your uncle is your mother’s younger brother, he probably made fun of her before she went out on her first date. Naturally, then, your uncles know all sorts of interesting things about your parents.

    Don’t believe me? Just ask them sometime!

    Personally, I can’t wait until my sisters have children. Who else is going to tell the little tykes about the time I tricked their mom into eating sand? (I told her it was peanut butter.) Or about the time I fed their mom a Lego while she was in her crib? (Apparently I was really into the whole ‘ingesting foreign substances’ thing.) Or about the time I did such a good job of scaring their mom that we both started crying? These stories need to be told, and uncles are the ones who tell them.

    Then there’s the “fun places and events” mentioned above. In particular, uncles are good at introducing experiences for the first time. Why? Because uncles are so much more fun than your parents, of course. In fact, I have an uncle to thank for the following experiences, all of which were “firsts” for me at the time: camping on a beach, taking a “guys only” road trip, riding a train, eating a Hostess powdered donut in one bite (“slamming”), flying somewhere by myself, biking forty miles in two days, boogie boarding, playing a video game, driving a truck, smoking a cigar, and (in one extremely bizarre incident) killing a bat.

    (Settle down, PETA; it was in the house.)

    Uncles aren’t afraid to get messy. Once, when I was very young, one of my uncles took me to the local carnival, filled me up with cotton candy and fried food, and then took me for a ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl. When I started to turn a bit green, my uncle valiantly told me to throw up on him, since that way the ride wouldn’t get messy and my clothes would stay clean. What a mensch! (But to this day, I can’t stomach another ride on the Tilt-a-Whirl).

    And, as the list above indicates, uncles are almost always real characters—not just at family get-togethers, but all the time. Why do you think Hollywood makes so many movies about them? (Consider Uncle Louie in Lost in Yonkers, Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite, or Uncle Buck in the film of the same name.)

    I have three uncles on my mom’s side who I’m fairly sure are actually the Marx Brothers reincarnated. Ask one of them if he’d like anything to eat, and he’ll respond, “No thanks; I just had a bar of soap.” Another one will come at you with impossible questions, including “Do you walk to school or carry your lunch?” and “What’s the difference between an orange?” Get a third uncle involved and you’ve got yourself a regular comedy act.

    I think this is because the best uncles recognize that theirs is a unique and interesting role, a part to be played with great panache. You have your parents to tell you the rules, and your grandparents to indulge and spoil you; uncles are there to make you laugh, rough you up, let you get away with things, answer questions you don’t want to ask your dad, and make you laugh some more.

    In all, I have ten uncles (three by marriage), and all but one is still living—sadly, we lost the uncle of Tilt-a-Whirl fame. But he and all the others have taught me valuable lessons about who I am, what it means to be a family, and (perhaps most importantly) how to have fun.

    If you’re lucky enough to have an uncle or two, take the time to let them know that they are important to you and how they’ve touched your life. Even if they spend most of their time joking, I guarantee they have a soft spot and would appreciate hearing it.

    And if you’re lucky enough to be an uncle yourself, make sure to give your nephews and nieces some good ammunition to use against their parents. If they’re anything like I was as a young child, they’re going to need it.

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