Surrey Hills’ Most Eligible Bachelor,
Carey Grammar’s Best Looking Student,
Top Magazine Editor,
Academy Award Nominee,
Queen of the Dance,
There’s a few titles I’ve always desired for myself,
Titles I thought that once I possessed, would then bring me the boundless happiness I was so eager to have in my life.
If I had even just one of these titles, I thought, then I’d be satisfied, then my life would mean something, and only then would and could I be happy.
But as I lost sight of the bigger picture in this quest, and realised that some would just never eventuate, I wondered what life would be like if I never gained one of these titles.
If I wasn’t that person, I thought, if I didn’t have that title, then what was the point of my life?
When I looked back on it, would my life mean anything?
But, as it so often does, life had a plan for me,
And five years ago, without an ounce of effort on my behalf, I had a completely new title bestowed unto me.
One Monday morning in February, 2015, I became ‘Uncle Mike’.
And in that moment, I became someone completely new, and I was changed forever.
In those five years since, I’ve seen five nephews and nieces born into the world,
And gained one more by marriage,
And each time I meet them for the first time, I fall head over heels all over again.
I don’t know what it is about them,
But these kids, every one of them, in their own way, has waltzed into my life, kicked open my ribcage, and found their own little section of my heart, perhaps just to the right of the aorta, upon which to chisel their name.
A place in my heart for them, and them alone.
After a lifetime of believing that I could only love a child if it was a child of my own,
I have been bowled over by my narrow-mindedness, and the distrust in the openness of my own heart.
I thought I could only love something so unconditionally if I played a hand in its creation.
That only by seeing myself in them, could my heart be truly taken.
That if you weren’t a child’s parent, then the love you felt, and the role you played, would always be somewhat second-rate.
To me, being a dad was always the endgame.
I thought that to be an uncle could only mean being someone seen at the dinner table every other Christmas,
To love and get along with, but always at a distance.
I didn’t think that when I became an uncle, that I could possibly love these kids as much as I do today, nor did I ever believe it would be a title I treasure so dearly.
Was it because I had never thought too much of the title for myself?
Was it because it certainly was not something I’d ever held in the same vein as ‘Dad’?
Or was it that I didn’t trust in my heart that having that title, and having nieces and nephews of my own, could ever mean that much to me?
It was only after my mum’s cousin passed away, and I said goodbye to a man I got to call ‘Uncle’,
That I could see just how much joy that title brought him, and the meaning it brought into his life.
If he wasn’t going to be a dad, he was fine, because he was always an uncle,
He had three nieces of his own, and the love they shared seemed to overflow and pour out of them it filled them all so much.
It took being able to see his three girls stand in front of a church full of people, and read a poem for him as they said goodbye,
Whilst my first unborn nephew sat tucked up inside my sister-in-law next to me,
That I realised that this was all I ever wanted from life.
That this was a life well-lived.
To have had love, and shared love,
To have been able to teach, and been able to nurture,
And to witness something grow, and having played some small part in that,
I realised that it didn’t matter if this ‘something’ didn’t come directly from me,
If I didn’t create it,
All that mattered was this bond he had with his nieces; and this bond that I now have with nieces and nephews of my own.
What’s truly important, is simply that I adore these kids.
This realisation was a powerful moment of clarity for someone who thought that I’d only be happy when I stood out on my own.
Who thought happiness would come when I was recognised and applauded for my own achievements; when I was commended for doing something for myself.
By holding a position of power, or for being rated number one in something.
Someone who thought that a bond like this could only come from having children in a certain way.
The thought that happiness came from being the best at something, from earning external praise, from having something of your own was what I believed before becoming ‘Uncle Mike’.
Well before my life was changed.
Because the reality is that almost every personal achievement, every happy and proud moment of my own, can be trumped by those perfectly average moments of having a niece or nephew.
Whether it’s milk being vomited down my back, or having a ball thrown at point blank range into my “upper-quad-lower-hip” area.
By singing happy birthday to them each year, and by watching them grow more and more each day.
Becoming Uncle Mike has helped me realise that to have something be special, I don’t have to be the best at it, nor do I have to have it solely be my own.
Something that is truly special, is something that can be shared, and something that brings out a better you – no matter where it comes from.
But with the joy, comes some responsibility,
And my initial fears of not being enough soon lifted as I realised that there was no right or wrong way to be an Uncle,
Because I get to define what Uncle Mike means.
Whilst the title has been going around for thousands of years, there had never been an Uncle Mike just like me before,
Because I hadn’t been an uncle yet.
It’s a clean slate, that I could make from it what I wanted.
So all I had to do to be the best Uncle Mike I could be, was be me.
Because I’m the only Uncle Mike there is, and the only Uncle Mike they’ll get.
And whilst that may seem a daunting thought, it’s also incredibly special.
Yes I only get one shot at this, but I also define what success in this part entails.
Because I get to decide what role Uncle Mike plays in their lives, and what I too want to get out of this role for myself.
With this title, no amount of money, no job, no title, or jaw-dropping good looks can make me a better uncle, nor can it make anyone else a better aunt, mum, dad, grandparent, or carer,
Because thriving in that role, succeeding under this title, is something that comes from deep inside,
It comes from giving your heart out unconditionally, and loving something of someone else’s like it’s your own,
And these kids have planted something in my heart, and every day it grows stronger and more special to me.
They make me want to be better for them, and be better for myself.
Because by being a better version of myself, I too can be a better uncle for them, and reap the rewards of the relationship we work at and form together.
Personal achievements now, whilst forever being an important reward for hard work, and a source of pride in being recognised for what we do, take on such a different meaning.
Because now when I achieve something, it will be with the hope that from these I can maybe one day be the role-model I hope to become for my nieces and nephews,
Someone who worked to achieve his dreams, for himself and for his growing family.
Making a world for them I’m happy to leave behind,
Sharing the rewards with them, and being an Uncle Mike that they can be proud to have and claim as their own.
So to my current batch of muppets, and the inevitable influx that will come my way in the future,
Thank you for letting me be your Uncle Mike.
You didn’t choose me, but each day you allow me to keep this title and wear it with pride.
Every single time another one of you comes into my life, for no reason at all, I have a small fear in the pit of my stomach that there may be no natural connection between us.
That this one will be the one I can’t bond with.
That because I’m not your parent, maybe there won’t be a strong enough tie between us to break through the distance of the title I once feared,
But every single one of you have proved me wrong,
Every single time.
Whether you’re ten hours old with forcep marks on your head, or turning three and having a Dinosaur slash Volcano themed birthday party,
Whether you’re the coolest year eight in the world, or the world’s best eater,
Whether your skull needs reshaping, or you’re not yet old enough to read your first Vogue,
You’re absolutely perfect.
You’re kind, you’re funny, and endlessly, endlessly inspiring.
Each of you give me so much to love, each in your own individual, beautiful ways.
And the brightness you bring to my world, and the worlds you occupy, is unendingly magical.
Whether it’s your parents, your grandparents, your siblings, or your other uncles and aunts,
You each bring something into the world that we all treasure so dearly.
You light a spark so bright,
That even on the darker days, when the road ahead seems unrelentingly winding and perilous, and I can’t picture a future for myself,
I can think about you, and what you’ll be like when you’re older.
What it will be like hanging out with you when you’re ten, twenty, and thirty.
What you’ll sound like,
What you’ll look like,
What you’ll do with your lives,
And just being able to have those thoughts, to be able to picture that future, provides the warm glow of hope and purpose on the horizon that I need to get through the dark, and make it through just one more day.
I may never become a dad,
But whether it’s a hug when I walk through the door,
An invitation to play hide and seek,
Or sharing in the excitement of the wrapping paper being far more interesting than the book I wrote for you,
It’s so much more than enough for me,
Love, Uncle Mike x