As a high school student, driving made me nervous. While classmates eagerly got in line at the DMV to score credentials for operating a vehicle, I was happily riding shotgun with my besties. Later, when I moved an hour away for college sans car, I had a new bestie to ride shotgun with: my uncle. Numerous weekends during my first semester — when I had no friends yet and was miserably homesick — Uncle Joe would faithfully pick me up, and we’d head toward our hometown, talking about everything from how classes were going to how quickly time passes – something I, being 18, had no clue about yet.
When people talk about father figures, they don’t always mean biological fathers — or at least, I don’t. I was raised in a household with women — my mom, grandmother and sister – but my two uncles, mom’s older brothers, were regular visitors throughout my childhood. When I look back at life lessons that stand out to me as an adult, much of that “dad-like advice” came from my uncles: “Work hard, choose a practical career, save money.” “Life isn’t fair.” “Fear is OK as long as you don’t succumb to it.”
Ultimately, their words of wisdom and no-nonsense outlook have formed part of who I am. Once, at Christmas dinner, when Uncle Phil’s daughter, Gabrielle, was tossing around creative writing as a potential college major, I advised her to opt for something more practical, only to be gleefully called out by my sister Marie. “You sound like our UNCLES!” she crowed. To which I sheepishly agreed.
Who would any of us be without our father figures? This month, it’s worth pondering. I don’t always get to spend time with my uncles these days, but their philosophies have followed me from city to city, milestone to milestone. As adults, we develop our own ideas, but the valuable ones of our early years tend to stick. As I write this, it’s early May, peak spring, and the year is flying by. I think back to those conversations with my uncle, and I see how he was right.