Tuesday, November 11, 2008

A Veteran's Day salute to my uncles

My dad had one older brother and my mom has two. I think the world of them and wanted to tell you all why.

Uncle D.: He's my dad's older brother. D. is one of my favorite people on the planet. He's smart, incredibly funny, very interesting, very sweet and very loving. Everytime I see him, I'm greeted with a big old smack on the lips. His voice is deep and smooth like silk, very soothing, which makes taking to him pleasant. Peppered throughout his conversations are a lot of "hells" and "shits" and "damns" and "JEE-zus Khrist," but most of those words are used for emphasis, not in anger. I hardly notice that he's cursing. D. greets everyone with a look in the eye and a firm handshake, but he's not cheesy salesman-type; it's all genuine. I love going into stores or restaurants with him because he usually talks to workers there very pleasantly, jovially, always getting them to laugh or smile. His wit is razor sharp and cat-quick. About every fourth sentence out of his mouth makes me laugh. A few glasses of wine really brings out his brilliant humor.

My dad, the little brother, had many of these fine qualities. Dad was incredibly bright, charming, funny and interesting. Unfortunately, he was a bit of a troubled person at various points in my life. When I felt like I couldn’t look to my father as a role model, I had D. While I have to say that my dad was a lot of fun, there was little security or stability he could provide a little boy. D., though, was (and is) a great family man. I always saw him as a model husband to my dear sweet aunt and great dad to my cousins. Visiting them – I only would see them once or twice a year growing up – always felt very warm. He was a model, I felt, for adult responsibility: work, pay your bills, raise your kids and have fun trying.

D. is kind. I always feel loved, like I might be just a little something more than a nephew. My daughter really doesn’t have a grandfather, and D. does have his own grandkids, but I feel like he has enough love left over to give some to my daughter. I can’t wait for us to see him (and the rest of his family) again, hopefully very soon.

Uncle E.: Mom’s oldest brother, E., is extremely generous. His heart must take up his entire 6-foot-plus frame. I’ve always really liked E. even though he can be quite a grouch. As a kid, I thought he was like Archie Bunker. In fact, I made the mistake of calling him that to someone, and it got back to him. But, he could be cranky and mean, so what I said wasn’t unfair. As much as he sometimes roars, I know he likes the people he roars at. He shows it through his generosity. For my 16th birthday he bought me a car! What a present! It needed a new engine so he bought that, too. We spent that fall and winter putting in the engine – it shouldn’t have taken as long as it did but there were problems – and got to know each other quite well over those months. I really liked his company and learned a lot from him, about cars and life. Some fundamental changes have taken place in his life the last few years. His sweetness and generosity have come to the fore and his grouchiness has somewhat receded. I really enjoy seeing him, though I don’t make the efforts I should to do so. No doubt, he has not been the easiest person in the world to live with, but Uncle E. loves, cherishes and protects my aunt. Like my other uncles, he is a funny guy. A good sense of humor runs on both sides of my family.

Uncle B.: Everyone, I think, has an Uncle B.. Mine’s the best, though. I do what I do, professionally, because of him. I work where I work because I grew up around him and his law school friends. It was almost like all his buddies were my uncles, too. He taught me how to read, how to play baseball, and how to throw and catch a football. He bought me my first bike and taught me how to ride it. His love for learning and reading rubbed off on me. My childhood love of baseball came from him.

More importantly, when I did not have an everyday father figure, Uncle B. was there as the man in my life. He came home from the Army when I was two or three and immediately took quite a liking to me. It didn’t hurt that he was so close to his little sister, my mom. Uncle B. would take to my Detroit Tigers games with his law school friends. I was the decoy for sneaking beer into the stadium. “Sean, say ‘hi’ to the nice man,” he would say, as he used my four year old body to shield his coat which was bulging with bottles of beer. Going to games, when the average person could afford to do that often, was one of our favorite things to do. When the Tigers went to the World Series in 1984, he shelled out $100 to take me. I even got a program and a Tigers jersey out of the deal. Every year for my birthday and Christmas, I got a $100 from him, even into my early 20's. Amazingly, he describes himself as “cheap.”

Even moreso than with my Uncle D., I have always felt like a son to Uncle B.. When his first child was born, I was seven and, obviously, not part of his immediately family. He lied to the hospital staff and told them I was his son so that I could see my brand new baby cousin. I can still see her through the glass, 29 years later. I felt so special that he wanted to share that moment with me. I don’t even think my aunt’s brothers and sisters got to see the baby until she came home!

Uncle B. taught me honesty, integrity, generosity (he’s much better at that than me) and how to do things the right way. He taught me to love my country and value family. Hard work and getting the most out of life are things he showed me through his actions.

I am blessed beyond belief to have such great uncles. Uncle D. and Uncle E. were in the Air Force. Uncle B. was in the Army. Each served during Viet Nam, but only E. was unlucky enough to serve there. On Veteran’s Day, I salute my uncles. They are great Americans and even better men.

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