I’m Going To Be The Favorite Uncle If It Kills Me

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I don’t have any kids – heck, I’m not even married, so you’re probably wondering what I’m doing on a website devoted to parenting. What I do have is four younger brothers, and as you can imagine that was a bit of a competitive atmosphere growing up. Every weekend we’d head off to the park to play basketball and it was as if you had four Metta World Peace‘s facing off. Which growing boy got the last roll on the dinner table was likely to turn into an episode of Springer. If some overwhelmed women are resigned to wearing mom jeans and house dresses, my sainted mother had to wear Kevlar.

Anyway, one of my younger brothers finally gave my parents a grandkid – show off. My two-year-old niece is so adorable, it’s one of the two things that my brothers and I can actually agree on (the other being that Ohio State’s football program sucks). Now obviously, my brother who is the father to my niece is too overwhelmed by the changes in his life and generally making too much of an effort to be a responsible father that he’s all but extracted himself from our petty sibling rivalries. Did I mention he’s a show off?

That hasn’t stopped the remaining three of us from making our new niece but a pawn in our never ending battle to demonstrate which one of us got the fewest number of recessive genes. In this case, it amounts to spending as much time with our niece as possible – doing everything we can to delight her, hoping that the next time the family is together she’ll squee our name the loudest and all will know which uncle is her favorite.

This is easier said than done, as we’re all spread across the country but we’re all doing our best bond with our niece. And in the arms race of avuncular affection, I’m proud to say I’m winning. Last time my brother and wife came to visit me it was in February. The day after Valentines day, I convinced the manager of the grocery store to give me the holiday-themed balloon display that they were about to throw out. My niece tottered into my place and found a giant heart with about 100 balloons attached. It looked frankly ridiculous jammed into my two-bedroom bachelor pad, and I practically had to get out a machete to make it from my bedroom to the kitchen. But can you put a price on imagining your brothers seethe with jealousy while you text them videos of a delighted toddler flashing a nascently-toothy smile while chasing a heart-shaped balloon around the couch? No, you can not. (Putting some photos of this on Facebook also garnered me some positive attention with the ladies, as well. Relationship status: Fatherhood material.)

Anyway, I joke about all this but the weird thing is that lately our sibling trash talk has been somewhat perfunctory. Over time my brothers and I seem care less and less about our silly competition for our niece’s affections. If we started out trying to outdo each other, now we’re just involved uncles. For instance, one of my brothers, who’s contemplating an academic career in literature, has been collecting antique nursery rhyme books for her and reading them to her. How cool is that?

But seriously, if one of my brother’s finds a way to top 100 balloons, he’d better prep for an elbow to the ribs during our annual game of hoops on Thanksgiving.

(Photo: Andresr/Shutterstock)