As President of NFI, I speak quite a bit about the need for dads to intentionally reach out and be “father figures” and mentors for children in father-absent homes. So, inevitably, since I grew up without my father around much, I am asked if a dad reached out to me. Well, the answer is “yes.”
He entered my life when I was about 7-years-old, around the time that my parents split up. Despite having a child of his own, he took time with my siblings and me. Interestingly, when my older brother and I first met him, he was introduced to us as “John,” but for some reason, we decided to call him “Uncle,” not Uncle John…just Uncle. Kids do the darndest things…
In any case, when I was 8-years-old, my 10-year-old kid brother drowned while we were on vacation. As you can imagine, I was devastated and could have certainly used a dad to help me make sense of it all but my dad wasn’t there. Uncle was.
I visited Uncle, who is now in his 80s, a few months ago and it struck me just how consistently present he was in my young life. So much so, that I have actually taken it for granted that he would always be there as if he was timeless and eternal. But of course, no one is. And now that he is moving into a season where one has more yesterdays than tomorrows, I realize just how much I will truly miss him when he is gone.
You see, just about every “first” that most boys do with their fathers, I did with Uncle. He gave me my first baseball mitt and taught me how to throw and catch. He took me fishing and helped me reel in my first catch. He took me to my first little league football game and cheered me on from the sidelines. He even took me to buy my first car and helped me fix it…often. Indeed, Uncle was first and foremost just there and I am truly thankful that he was.
So, I guess it was prescient that my brother and I named him Uncle right from the start. Because whenever the pain and sense of loss from not having my dad around was a bit too much for me to bear, I could always just say “Uncle,” and his presence would ease the pain.