I was luckier than that. Growing up, I had three uncle and aunt sets, two of which lived quite close together: my father’s brothers and their wives. I experienced them as a thrilling vacation from my parents, whose love was necessarily mixed with judgment.
My uncle Jim was not judging. He took me to “Cats” (and, over time, I came to forgive him for that). My uncle Mario was not judging. He took me on his boat. My Aunt Vicki and Aunt Carolyn didn’t warn me about overeating. They criticized me for eating too little. When I visited with them seconds were given, “calories” was a four letter word, and the dog bag had enough leftovers for a week.
Needless to say, I loved visiting them. I also learned, for these occasions, to wear loose pants.
And because my aunts and uncles weren’t bound by firmly established standards to spend X time with me or have Y interest, their attention made me feel special in a unique way. It’s always like that.
I am sure that I have not succeeded to the same degree with my nephews and nieces. But I gave my best flawed shot, and when all is well there is a kind of ease between uncles or aunts and their nieces and nephews that is noticeably different from the relationship between a child and a parent or a grown-up. -parent. Becoming friends with my mom and dad took years after becoming friends with my uncles and aunts. I confessed things to my uncles and aunts that I would never, by then, admit to my parents, and a few of my own nieces and nephews shared sides of themselves with me. – sloppy sides, dubious sides – that I believe they were more reluctant to let their parents see.
My uncle’s experience is undoubtedly colored by the fact that I have no children of my own. This is not uncommon for gay men and women of my generation: When I graduated from college as an adult in the mid-1980s, same-sex parenthood was much rarer and less accepted, so many of us have never considered descent into our plans. We are among the most dedicated uncles and aunts in the world, and while I am not aware of any research on this, I would bet that the decrease in bigotry against gays and lesbians among Americans in their twenties and twenties. thirties owes a bit to how many of these Americans have had us in their lives.
Lately, there have been articles and news criticism of declining fertility rates in many countries – of the fact that fewer people are becoming parents and that parents are having fewer children. We could be on the cusp of a generation of super uncles and aunts.
But my sister Adelle manages to be both a devoted mother and an indulgent aunt. I am a student fascinated by his interactions with his nieces and nephews, precise measurements of authority figure (just a dash), model (a teaspoon), confidante (two tablespoons) and principal cruising (a full cup) that goes into the recipe. She is gentle with her advice, generous with her tequila. I take the same approach, but I swap tequila for white wine.