The Joys and Art of Being an Uncle

Written by | Musings, Uncategorized

I have a theory; being an uncle, a good uncle at that, is much harder than being a good father. One can be a good father without much extra effort per se, but the status of the good uncle that the children run to when he walks through the gate is an honor that must be earned. I agree that fatherhood is a task but it has a greater guarantee of success than simply being the happy uncle.

You hope that when they are old enough to see you for who you really are, they will still love you as much as they do now.

You do not care that they call you by your family nickname.

The task of being an adult in a childish world and then being a child among children is difficult. Your official duties are to be fun and act goofy because you have a ready audience that appreciates.

The grandmother is the ultimate ally of her grandchildren but the good uncle must strike a balance. He must be the man who gives the children good advice about life, the functional godfather to whom questions parents can not answer or requests they cannot fulfill are directed. Such requests can never be denied with good reason, because being an uncle is a fulltime job.

One must bribe with sweets, and then at a certain age switch to sinful delicacies such as chocolate, ice-cream and then, when you can no longer keep up, money for ‘lunch’ that is given immediately after a heavy meal.

The worst thing is that this series of bribes which I believe is the root of our corrupt nature seems innate. My two nephews and five nieces are masters of the art, seven little hoodlums who believe their only maternal uncle can get them anything they have been denied. He is the one who always knows what to get them for their birthdays.

He makes effortless, despite the fact that it takes extensive research and head scratching in supermarkets and gift shops trying to figure out how to impress a six year old. He cannot tell them that he engaged the supermarket attendant on why smaller toy cars are far more expensive that the much bigger one. The clearly clueless girl said the only thing that came to mind “Pengine ni juu ni mzito…”

Its tough work, buying presents for a ten-year old girl who is just realizing she is a woman and will now not look at any male older than her straight in the eye. One who cries when I hug her and tell her she has an open cheque if she gets marks past a certain point this term. How much can a child really spend? At least that’s what am hoping, that she will ask only for a book or some sort of glossy girly appliance, maybe a make-up kit. I am hoping she does not confer with her mother before she cashes her open cheque, otherwise I will have to sign a pay deal with her to pay in installments for ten to thirty years.

There is the young boy who just turned six. He loves his cars, but he is too soft for a boy his age. He is constantly beaten by his younger cousins, and he cries like a girl, and his uncle, being the caring man figure in his life, makes a point of pointing out his wail is sharper than that f his female cousin. He is sentimental though, his grandmother’s pet. He is happy with whatever it is you buy him, but he prefers cars, the bigger the better. You would think toy manufacturer’s would have figured this and made the bigger ones more expensive, but do not tell them just yet, uncles around the world are constantly saving money.

The other girl is the girl of the group, a mass of lovey dovey chubbiness. She is lovely and intuitive, although sometimes I think she has ADD. She almost fell into the adult pool the other day-okay, we all overreacted. She was walking near the pool and her attention was on something behind so she was not walking in a straight line. Nothing like the scream of four adults to “look where you are going’ to snap her back into this world.

She hates school. At four years old you would think you can bribe her into learning but no, not with this one. Every Sunday like clockwork she wakes up at six thirty in the morning and shouts for her mother:

” Mum! Mum! Mum”…
”Leo ni kwa shule? ” (Is today a school day?)
”Apana”…. (No its not)

…. and her head falls back onto the pillow and she goes back to a world where her attention does  not have to be on one thing. A world with no kindergarten, no screaming adults, no children yearning for her toys. A world where she still has the whole set of kitchen toys her uncle spent a whole hour picking out in a toy shop. A world where she can hit her cousins without being hit back or having to run away until someone falls and the adults start screaming for order.
Then there’s the one with cute looks and at three, he knows it. He has a look that will make you and your  time-hardened sentiments melt. He has declared war and plunder on the action figures I have around my house, and has been declared persona non grata until arrangements can be made to either negotiate with him for something better to his baby eyes or hide them until he leaves.

He is the official tyrant, the one for whom you must buy presents every time there is a birthday, whether or not it is his being a non-issue. The option is having to watch a boy fuss and start fighting, and as much as I am an objective viewer and do not necessarily support answering to a baby’s every whims, peace is of the essence. He loves school because he can whoop other kids and get away with it with his killer looks.

He is the boy who still cannot believe that an “S’ is not a half of ‘8’. Before he learnt some self-restraint, you had to stop him from completing the ‘S’ as an ‘8’, which would then become some pattern, before slowly degenerating into a scribbling activity.
Then there is the diva who can pose better than most professional models. She is a complex kid who once spoke Kiswahili with a Luo accent, I think it was due to teacher influence, but it has now faded into a tweng. She knows three words, or maybe two, in Kikuyu, and is many years older in her head than she is on the birth certificate.

She is the official diva who got a phone the other day and called her uncle who, having had his fair share of random callers, pulled a paranoid ‘Wewe ni nani’ move and she went like “You don’t remember me?” and hang up. Imagine the shame when he was called by her mother and then had to call and apologize profusely to a five year old while declaring his undying love and assuring her that he had never, and never would, forget her. What is with women, even at such an early age, and making such a fuss about the amnesia present in most of our male minds? I have concluded it is a primal need, maybe evolutionary, and that I, as an uncle, must foster its progression or suffer unrequited affection.
Then there’s her sister, a wiry cute girl with looks that make you just want to hug her all the time. She has a deep voice that makes you wonder whether her levels of testosterone are too high for her two-year old body. She has a lazy eye I cannot ignore and since her mother showed me how to temporarily ‘fix it’, I keep waiting for it to be left behind. Trying to take a picture of her in motion can be a problem because she is random, like the uncle, and will pull retarded moves without batting an eye at what the rest of the world thinks. You either hear her laughing or crying, and sometimes saying a word or two to her sister.

Then there’s the new baby, fresh from wherever it is babies are born from. This one has only seen her uncle on Skype, and she is not yet aware of the immense emotional power she holds on her uncle even at three months of age. I do not know how long I have before I have to start picking gifts for her online and sending them so I can buy my rightful position as an uncle.

The work of an uncle can be daunting, but it is fulfilling. The uncle is the objective one who has enough ignorance and book-knowledge to dole out parenting advice to the mothers of the kids and watch them listen keenly to his assessments of their personalities. He has to pay his way through numerous birthday parties and visiting days, and is tied down whenever some muscle is needed to take the kids to the bouncing castle.

The best thing is that he is just at the limit of the weight limit and retarded enough to, once in a while, remove his shoes and join in the fun and bounce! The falls have to be light enough to not bounce the kids out, and the long legs must be worked around the knee-high children all over the castle. If it is too full, some must be bribed to leave so the adult can have his share of bouncy fun, before going back to the adults with a wide grin on his face and wild ideas about how he should get a bouncing castle in his bachelor pad.
The ideal uncle is the complete package; reliable, efficient, resourceful, compromising, easily manipulated, and constant.  The journey to being the uncle who will have to hide his niece’s or nephew’s first night out, or to drive out in the middle of the night to punch a boy or girl who took his charge to the club begins when the child is born.

The uncle has a sacred duty to maintain a balance of trust between the parents, grandparents and the children, and to always be firm without being too much of an ass to the most important party, the child. He must handle the banter of numerous children running around his bachelor pad, ruining every semblance of a secretly-OCD personality. He must resist the motherly urge to go about screaming for order, or the fatherly one to give the look that signifies a sudden switch from play to a high likelihood of pain.

What does he get in return? Assuming he plays his cards well, he will always have a ready group of eager and possibly irresponsible baby sitters if he ever decides to take the plunge into fatherhood himself. This willing team will always have his back, at least in his mind. Secretly, he begins to view them as his own team A, a secret cartel of chocolate-smugglers and cash-deal hoodlums willing to smooch him on the cheek to get money to but a toy watch that will be dropped into the pool less than half an hour later. This cartel has no leader, for the adult is a team player who, while maintaining a face of maturity and calm, bubbles with plots of childish mischief and retarded facial expressions to amuse the little rascals.

When you begin the journey to being an uncle, and more often than not you will be forced to adapt to it, then be ready to have your sanity questioned. You will learn to hold an argument about whether the ‘o’ comes before the ‘e’ in ‘people’ during a game of Scrabble. You will learn that it is not important to win, and you should resist the urge to whip out your smartphone and show the kid she is wrong. Instead you will let her win, and hope that when she becomes older the vowels will fall into their rightful place, or they will have integrated autocorrect into some brain microchip. You will learn to sit in the middle of a group of kids, three somehow seated on you and one on your head while the others step on you at various points without flinching. You will learn to bully them by pushing them around playfully, carrying them upside down in turn and playing risky games that make you look like the ultimate stuntman. You will also learn that the way you memorized the alphabet as ‘A, B, C, ….Z” song is now outdated and has been replaced by phonetic system. Then you learn that the funny sounds the child is making whine doing his homework are not car noises but sounds of the letters of the alphabet, including ‘U’ as ‘A-open sound.’
Wait, did I mention that the small toy car whose seemingly high price resulted in a lengthy conversation with a supermarket attendant was not to bribe my way into being the crafty uncle? It was mine, this 1955 Buick Century model…a man as certain needs that transcend age

Last modified: June 5, 2015

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