I ran into a former student the other day. We got caught up on his work experiences and family. It was a nice conversation. I asked how his sister was doing, another former student. He brought me up to date and mentioned that she was now a mother. He was worried because she and her partner had broken up, and thus was concerned that his young niece would be lacking a positive male role model in her life. I asked if he would like some advice. He agreed.
I suggested that he become a favourite uncle. I then gave examples of activities I did with my own nephews and nieces.
Combined, my brothers and their spouses have seven children. I explained to my former student that for each one I had a secret handshake, and that we would exchange our handshake whenever we were together. This gave each child something special that existed just between us. They are all adults now, but we often still communicate our unique grips when we meet.
Another variation to the handshake is a secret sign. This I did with a few students over the years. When passing in the hallway or at the end of the day, a scratch of my right ear or an adjustment of my glasses meant, I am here for you if you need me. A similar ritual could be shared with nephews and nieces.
When my siblings’ children were in school, and right up until university, they would often be subject to Uncle Gary questions; in fact, when they started relationships their dates were fair game as well. These weren’t questions that required one word answers: Did you have fun this summer? What’s your favourite television show? How was school today? My questions caused them to think; such as: What is one nice thing you could do for your sister? If you could change one thing about school what would it be and how would you change it?; Imagine you are a tool in a carpenter’s shop. What tool would you be and why?
I had a few magic tricks I would often do during family gatherings; one of which I have yet to reveal the secret.
With my first niece we started a penny collection. Our goal was to find a penny for as many different years as we could. A favourite uncle could be partners in a leaf collection or assist with the finding of different postal stamps produced the year the child was born.
To be a favourite uncle one needs to listen, play, laugh and show interest. All of these activities are at no cost but represent a sound family investment.
I am proud of the relationships I have forged with my nieces and nephews. The only reason I can think of that explains why I have never received a World’s Greatest Uncle coffee mug is because they didn’t want to make the other uncles jealous.
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