Uncles and aunts can be inspirational people, but theirs is an existence plagued with ambiguity.
As babies grow into toddlers, and toddlers mature into childerfolk, one of the toughest tasks facing them is working out who their real aunties and uncles are, and which ones are just good friends of their parents who are ‘filling in’.
When introducing any of our close friends to Lucy and Ben, like many parents, we give them titles like ‘Auntie’ Susan or ‘Uncle’ James as terms of endearment.
One alternative would be to introduce Uncle James by his full name...
“Lucy, there’s someone here that wants to see you. It’s James Stewart.”
A second option would be to simplify matters for the child with a basic description replacing formalities...
“Ben, would you look who it is? Give the skinny bald man a smile.”
Having rejected the first two options as inappropriate, I considered using a more adjective term of endearment, but it reeked of sinister undertones...
“Who’s at the door, Lucy? It’s ‘Friendly’ James and he wants a big hug.”
And perhaps that’s why a lot of people choose to label their close friends with a term that should really be used exclusively for relatives.
When I was a kid, using a child’s logic, I assumed my aunts and uncles carried out a role exclusive to me.
I remember one of my younger cousins referring to my aunt as ‘mum’ and I had to put her straight that she couldn’t be her mum because she was my auntie first.
Personally, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to juggle all the different roles thrust upon me in recent years.
For 30 years I was just a son and a brother. Then in the space of a few years a ‘Responsibility Explosion’ took place and I assumed the extra roles of husband, father and uncle.
Being an uncle is one of the most difficult jobs, primarily because I feel like a bit of an imposter.
My nephew Corin calls my wife Auntie Karen and calls me Uncle Bumpy. I have absolutely no idea where Bumpy came from.
Given that Corin is my brother-in-law David’s son I feel that while my wife is worthy of the title Auntie Karen, I should technically be known as Uncle-in-law Bumpy.
How can I be brother-in-law to David, but no-strings-attached uncle to Corin?
I’m a great believer in the ‘in-law’ suffix in order to help children understand which of their relatives are blow-ins.
My attempts to explain to two-and-a-half-year-old Corin the erroneous nature of the naming convention which lumps relatives by marriage into the same pigeonhole as those by blood have fallen on small, deaf ears.
In terms of being an uncle or an aunt, whether by blood, marriage or just for the sake of ease, you get back what you put in.
Just over two years ago when my Uncle Harold passed away I paid tribute to him in this very column. He was an enigmatic, knowledgeable and cantankerous man who ticked all the boxes on the ‘Uncle Check List’.
This week my mum lost her Uncle Isaac. Like myself and Harold, mum was very fond of her uncle.
Losing someone you love feels like the worst thing in the world, but it isn’t.
Never having loved someone is much worse.