I should’ve written this forty years ago, because that’s when I thought of it. Anyway, it’s here, now.
One of my family members was Uncle John. Uncle John raised four boys. Their ages ranged from the same as mine to a decade older. I liked all the boys, but I did not like Uncle John. He was too strict. This opinion first sparked into existence when I was about six years old, and overheard an exchange between my same-age cousin, and his father, Uncle John. My cousin asked for a cookie for himself, and one for me. My expectation for what I was about to receive was based on my own personal experience, which was to ask for a cookie then be handed the cookie jar. Not so with Uncle John. We, my cousin and I, each got one cookie along with the admonition to “make it last.” I was taken aback. More like appalled. One cookie! That was just as wrong as it could be. Over the following years came many similar experiences at my uncle’s home, and with each one I liked him less.
Beyond cookies were other preposterously restrictive barriers to my own happiness. My cousin couldn’t play with me because he had to practice the accordion, or the piano, or the flutophone. Other blockades included that stern father forcing his young sons to learn about silly things, like the good and bad aspects of religion and politics, handling money, rational thought processes, learning how to learn then how to teach what they knew, recognizing good and bad people, and goal-setting tempered with common sense. Totally ridiculous garbage to a child.
However, as time progressed, and I reached points in my life when I needed any one of those traits, I had to struggle to identify what it was, how to attain it, then how to put it into action. Sometimes I noticed that all four of those cousins already knew about what I was striving for, and they had known for years. So, as you can see, there was nothing at all wrong with Uncle John. In fact he was pretty cool. Nothing about him was disproportionately stern or strict or overly-demanding or ridiculous. He made sure his sons were prepared to live in a perplexing world which demands many mental abilities.
I didn’t get that growing up, because my Methodist Minister father, pulled in every direction by his churches and parishioners, had no time left for his own family. I don’t fault him for that. It just left me to learn everything the hard way, alone and unguided. But, I can look back and see what was needed in my young life. Can you guess what it was? Mean ol’ Uncle John.
Though this is four decades late in telling, I’ll say right now, “Uncle John, I no longer think you were too strict. In fact, I have nothing but respect for you, and though you’re gone, I admire how your life still shows through your sons.” -AB