Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Man Called Uncle

When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to tell my little brother as soon as possible. I wanted to let him know that my baby was going to change his place in the world. I was excited that me becoming a mother would elevate his status from little brother to Uncle. I had already seen what an incredible big brother he was to our little sister so I had it on good authority that he was going to nail the Uncle role too and I was excited because I knew just how important Uncles are.

Growing up without a dad around meant that my Uncles [who have both since died of cancer] were very valuable to me. Cut from the same cloth as my mum, these men showed me unconditional love and family and loyalty.  I watched them with their own daughters and saw them be tender while still being strict as hell. I spent time in their homes and learned that grown-ups could argue and still love each other and seeing them with their sons helped me understand that boys could be affectionate too. They were the kind of men that people didn’t mess with and they knew about man-stuff like cars and laying carpet and plumbing. They helped my Mum in the absence of her husband and they helped my Oma when my Opa, their own dad, died. They weren’t around all the time but their impact on our lives was significant in my mind.

They taught me that being tough is a girl thing too in a way that my Mum [who, for the record was VERY tough] couldn’t because she was too busy trying to teach me to be a lady. Like the time that she found 10 year old me in the local park in a fist fight with some older boys who were bullying one of the neighbourhood kids. She was SO cross with me and drove me straight to my Oma’s where my Uncle Arthur was visiting for lunch. She angrily presented me to him “Look at your niece!” she cried, shaking her head at my tangled hair and bloodied knuckles and scraped knees. “What happened?” he roared, furious. And as I told him of how I defended that other kid and stood up to the ring-leader, with a shaky voice still full of adrenaline and a darkness in my eyes which all my family share when angry, his face softened… and then he almost smiled [and I understand now that he wasn’t furious at me but at who had done that to me] “Did you hurt that little bastard?” Puzzled, I nodded, unsure of where this was headed and he kissed me on the top of the head, put his hands on my shoulders and looked me square in the eye and said “Good. I’m PROUD of you. Now go and clean yourself up like a good girl” Of course, that wasn’t the end of it and quite the debate ensued between brother and sister over the rights and wrongs of fighting things out but what that did for me that day was empower me. I was still in trouble with my Mum but I felt like I was part of a bigger thing and that someone else ‘got’ me and had my back – and that someone was a man. In hindsight, I realise that I have always yearned for non-sexual male approval and I understand that I would probably be in a very different place today if I hadn’t had the support from my Uncles in my formative years.

My boys have their dad in their lives. He’s present and hands-on and an amazing role model but that doesn’t make their Uncles any less relevant or necessary in my mind. They adore their Uncle Jason. He grew up with their Mum and can stand up to her without getting into a fight. He tells them stories of when we were kids and the things we used to get up to. He makes a point of sharing his time equally between the two and uses every opportunity to teach them any small thing. He demonstrates that family doesn’t have to all live under one roof to love each other and that siblings are siblings forever. The time that he spends with the boys is all about the boys. There are no chores or distractions for him. His job isn’t to discipline them but we share the same values so his messages are consistent with mine. He’s a bit cool so the kids sort of idolise him and he knows it so uses that status to educate them without them even knowing what’s going on. He is always respectful of and to their parents, though he often makes a point of telling me what a bitch I am to them when they’re out of earshot.

Of course there are plenty of lessons that he can’t teach my boys but that’s the thing about Uncles. They don’t have to. For me it’s enough that my kids know that someone else knows them and loves them. That a man, who is not their father can show them strength and affection. 

And that I was right. My little brother is a kick-arse uncle.

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