Baby, look at me now

The Advertiser - SA Weekend - - OPENERS - Tell us about your favourite un­cle. saweek­[email protected]

I’ve just be­come an un­cle again, so I flew to the UK to wel­come my new nephew to the world, and teach him a few lessons about life, love and other stuff be­gin­ning with “L”, such as, I dunno, lep­i­doptery or some­thing.

It’s dif­fi­cult to gauge how re­cep­tive he was, since he’s only three weeks’ old, but at least – and un­usu­ally for a baby – he didn’t vomit over me.

I bought presents for him, and for my beau­ti­ful lit­tle niece, and I cra­dled him and kissed him and gen­er­ally crooned over him but, be­yond that, it’s a bit dif­fi­cult to know what an un­cle is sup­posed to do.

There is a sad dearth of pos­i­tive role mod­els for un­cles. For gen­er­a­tions, we’ve been rep­re­sented in the me­dia pri­mar­ily by Un­cle Fes­ter from The Ad­dams Fam­ily – an ugly, bald hunch­back with weird eyes, who no­body in their right mind would let near their kids.

Of course, TV has moved on tremen­dously since the early days of the mon­ster sit­com, and the best mod­ern dra­mas are more nu­anced and pro­found than any movie – or even much of lit­er­a­ture. To­day’s most ab­sorb­ing char­ac­ters are amoral drug deal­ers ( Break­ing Bad, Weeds) war­ring bikies ( Sons of An­ar­chy) Machi­avel­lian dwarfs ( Game of Thrones) and un­re­pen­tant gang­sters ( The So­pra­nos). Surely, in this cli­mate, we could ex­pect a de­gree of re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion for the harm­less, ma­ligned un­cle. But what do we get? Un­cle Ju­nior from The So­pra­nos – an ugly, bald stooper with weird eyes, who no­body in their right mind would let near their kids, and whose very name seems like a creepy oxy­moron.

OK, we’ve had The Man from U.N.C.L.E. – dash­ing, hand­some, stylish and brave, to be played by Hugh Grant in an up­com­ing Guy Ritchie movie – but he isn’t an ac­tual un­cle. If he were the Un­cle from M.A.N., he’d be ugly and bald with a bad back and weird eyes, and played by the guy who’s Lord Volde­mort in the Harry Pot­ter films.

The job of an un­cle is to be avun­cu­lar, but there’s some­thing sin­is­ter about that word. It sounds a lot like “car­bun­cu­lar” or even “taran­tula” – and can it be only co­in­ci­dence that most un­cles have bad feet and long hairy legs? As I ap­proach 50 years old, I’ve no­ticed my­self be­come more avun­cu­lar. I’m bald“ing”, grey“ing” and smell“ing” faintly of spir­its, and I’ve al­ways had weird eyes, and I’m start­ing to sus­pect this is a di­rect con­se­quence of my re­cent glut of nieces and neph­ews.

My brother is a very good un­cle to my chil­dren. He seems to know in­stinc­tively how to treat them. He picks them up by their an­kles and swings them around and around un­til they’re about to vomit. This has made a great im­pres­sion on my daugh­ter, who re­cently ap­proached a group of strangers at a bus stop and told them, “I have a very silly un­cle who thinks up­side down is the right way up.” My daugh­ter is 29 years old. No, she isn’t. She’s five. Kids seemed to have a lot more un­cles when I was young. They were every­where. Your dad’s broth­ers, your aun­ties’ hus­bands, your dad’s mates, your grandma’s broth­ers, your mother’s lovers were all your “un­cles”.

Great un­cles, in par­tic­u­lar, seem to have gone out of fash­ion (not that they were ever par­tic­u­larly stylish). I had loads of great un­cles, and I re­mem­ber some quite clearly: there was Un­cle Ike, who wore a hat; Un­cle Max, who wore a dif­fer­ent kind of hat; and Un­cle Gaby, who chased the Ger­mans all across Europe, from 1939-45. I have his war medals, and my kids like to play with them. He died child­less, so we are the only ones left to take care of his mem­ory. He was bald – in­evitably – and short, with a sad, kind face. I don’t even know when he died, but he al­ways re­minded me of a baby. Now he re­minds me of my brand new nephew.

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