This week I’m attending the Dad2.0 Summit in La Jolla, California. Like many of the dads attending, I’m going to listen, learn, network, and share. The only thing is, I’m not a dad. I’m just an uncle.
And while I’ve never been a dad and will likely never be a dad, dads have been important in my journey as an uncle. I’ve got a couple of great older brothers, but honestly, I’m pretty sure they were not that interested in their snotty-nosed, slightly over-energized kid brother for a very long time. That changed, pretty quickly, as soon as they had kids. It wasn’t necessarily because they suddenly wanted my babysitting services, but rather that their children started asking – and then began demanding – that I come around as much as possible.
For many years when the kids were young and grew into early adulthood, I was an extremely hot commodity pulled between my brothers’ homes and my sister's. They had all figured out just the place to direct my high energy, and their kids were more than happy to be part of it. Once, a concerned brother and sister-in-law phoned me that their two children were boycotting the planned holiday trip if it was just going to be “parents and kids.” They had apparently countered with, “What if we can get your uncle to come along?” I gladly agreed, the boycott was lifted, and family Armageddon was averted.
I’ll admit, it was fun to be in such high demand around the holidays, for vacations, and also special events. While it was fun, I came to understand the responsibility went far beyond distracting kids for worn out parents. I started to see that I wasn’t just there for my nephews and nieces, but frequently for their dads (and moms, but those stories are for another time). Although they would never say it, they needed me woven into the fabric of their families as much as their kids. Caring for the caretaker, in this case, a dad, is often the best way to uncle. I sometimes acted as a bridge between a strained father/son or father/daughter relationship, or other times as just a sounding board for a dad and brother.
Dads. I feel for them. They have to know it all, make clear-cut decisions, be authoritative about everything from diets to dating, and above all, appear to have the right answer all the time. There isn’t a ton of room for "maybe,” “I’m not sure,” or “let’s just try it and see.” On the other hand, this is precisely where uncles frequently excel.
What uncles also know, is that Dads are just faking it like the rest of us. Dads, regardless of how they posture, are just learning this stuff as they go along. Uncles, sometimes, can negotiate that divide.
I’m confident I’ll meet a good sampling of dads this week at the Dad2.0Summit. Married dads, single dads, tall dads, short dads, energetic dads, struggling dads, cutting-edge dads, and dads that are more traditional. One thing I’m sure I will not run into this week is dads who are raising their kids alone.
I’m hoping to talk to dads about their support structures and to hear from them about the social fabric in which they are raising their children. Maybe they’ve had an uncle or uncle-like character who has helped them out with their parenting, or maybe they’ve had uncles who have not been helpful at all! I’d like to learn about that as well. Maybe they’ve got a brother or close friend they wish were more involved, but don’t know how to make that happen.
This week, I’m out to test some of the assumptions and hypotheses that I’ve learned from the dads closest to me who have let me be an uncle to their kids, or even be an uncle-like friend to them. I’d love to expand the conversation around what it means for men to parent, who has permission to be involved in the process, and how we can deepen the conversation and be better men for our kids, and for the world. I can’t think of a better group of men to learn from than dads!