I don’t like kids. I find them irrational, inconsiderate, irresponsible and far from self-sufficient. Their taste in music is derivative, clap-heavy. Urine often ends up where it shouldn’t. Don’t get me wrong: I respect the propagation of the species. And I enjoy the act of reproduction, if not the result. But I don’t want kids, which has been an issue both in romantic relationships and with my parents. I do, however, have children in my life. Children I love.
That last sentence would contradict my opening sentiment, if not for the fact that being an uncle is rife with contradiction. My sister has two kids, Finn and Piper, seven and five respectively. I think. I mix up their ages. But they’re important to me, maybe as important as anything in my life. I have no illusions about my role as an uncle. I am to provide knowledge that my sister, brother-in-law and parents won’t: appreciation of David Berman and The Muppets, how cheering for the Toronto Maple Leafs is a sin, why a degree in fine arts is a bad idea. I’m in their lives to explain the tangible result of mistakes. The curse of regret. The intricacies of the broken heart. You know, stuff a single 30-something writer with commitment issues and insurmountable debt is an expert in.They, on occasion, teach me (which is humbling). Piper especially. Her intuition is beyond her years, and at times frightening. One day, she asked me why I didn’t have any children, and I launched into a diatribe about love; about error; about a girl who was there and then wasn’t. Piper took a moment to consider this and replied, “Uncle Michael, you have no children because you are alone.”
That kind of honesty is refreshing, born of innocence and limited vocabulary. It reduces life to its essence. When once asked what Uncle Michael’s job was, Piper responded, “Hmm. Watching baseball?” Close enough. After I made Finn a soup he really liked, he asked, “Uncle Michael, have you ever considered working in a restaurant?” Unbeknownst to him, I did, for 15 years, before leaving for the riches of Canadian literature. For a second, he made me wistful for that time. But my favourite responses are triggered when I warn them that Uncle Michael’s remarkable run of less-than-moderate success means I’m going to live with them when we’re all older. I share these visions of dependency, of asking them for money, of having these children-who have yet to discover the wonders of caffeine, unexpected victory or happy hour-bail me out. To these playful notions rooted in adult truths, they laugh, “Uncle Michael, you’re silly,” as if the reality of my fears is humour itself.
My parents think I’ll eventually have kids-when I get older, when I find success, when I meet the woman who makes me. But I remain steadfast in my uncledom. This is the closest to having progeny I’ll ever get, and I worry about them growing up, listening to One Direction, morphing into Yankees fans, becoming experimental poets. But for the time being, I will treat them to banana smoothies, scatological humour and too much TV. What’s not to love?