Greetings from a Mediocre Uncle

Posted on November 30, 2012


One of the benefits of living here in China so far away from my extended family in the United States is that I have an excuse for being a terrible uncle.

Although I suspect my family is beginning to realize even if I lived next door to my nieces and nephews I’d still be a terrible uncle.

It’s hard enough to remember all the details of my own children’s lives, like their friends, interests and whether they’re old enough to smoke. And every bit of relationship information I have to remember about my nieces and nephews kicks out a bit of info I was storing about my kids, like where I left them last.

I do make an effort to express a minimum level of interest. When I hear something important happened in a niece or nephew’s life, I like to send a card containing two different inserts and their parents have the option of selecting the insert most suitable for the occasion:

Hey, buddy!
Congratulations on that achievement you recently accomplished, pal! If I know you, I’m sure you’re very pleased with the level of accomplishment you achieved in this general area and I know you will continue to be successful in the future, unless by the time you receive this letter you’ve already quit.
All the best, old sport!
Uncle Paul

Hi, old chum!
I’m sorry to hear about the disappointing news you received sometime in the last 1 to 6 months, amigo. I’m sure you’ll probably grow from your experience in this area, which will only serve to strengthen your values–whatever those may be.
You’re in our thoughts, comrade.
Uncle Paul

Yesterday my sister posted a recent picture of her children on Facebook. I decided this would be a good time to fulfill my yearly minimum of interest. I made the following comment under the picture:

Me: It’s great to see how good-looking your kids grew up to be considering what ugly children they were.

(My niece responded immediately.)

Niece: That’s harsh uncle Paul.

(I didn’t know any of my nieces and nephews would be online since I assumed toddlers wouldn’t be allowed to use a computer, but apparently they haven’t been toddlers in a decade.)

Me: I’m just repeating what your parents told me. I’m glad everything turned out in the end.

Niece: I was born a princess! And u know it!

Me: Don’t take it so badly. You were by far the least ugly of your siblings. You were always my favorite and I feel validated that you’ve grown up to be so non-ugly.

Nephew: Always her favorite, huh?

Me: Let me know when your sister is offline and I’ll tell you who my real favorite is.

Me: It might help me in choosing a favorite if I knew which one of you had more money.

Niece: Stop trying to bribe us for your affection!

Me: I never promised the favorite niece/nephew any affection. As your uncle, I won’t remember the day of your birth but I will remember the month. I’ll remember you recently made a sports team but I won’t know which sport. If I manage to send you a card at graduation, I might misspell your name and the cash enclosed might be in a currency you don’t recognize. But I can promise the favorite will be the first one I rescue in case of a fire.

Keeping in touch wasn’t near as difficult as I anticipated. I might even have enough energy to do it twice next year.

Posted in: Family