Births in my family are infrequent. My brother and I were born nearly forty years ago, and we have three cousins who were born fifteen or so years ago. That’s it for descendants of either set of grandparents. And in my wife’s family, there was a cousin born about fifteen years ago. Where most families have traditions, routines, and expectations around things like births and marriages, my family does not, and whenever these events arise (however rarely) I don’t know quite what to do. I have some vague notion from watching television and movies, but my family has never really looked like those on television or in the movies.
We have plenty of friends who’ve had children, so we know what it’s like–the joy, the upheaval, the wonder and mundanity of it all–but we’ve always been just observers. Now I have this vague sense that I should be more involved in this. At first, it kind of felt like I was. I actually heard Cassius cry over the phone less than twenty minutes after he was born, and I started seeing pictures the next morning. Technology has changed some things, but it doesn’t erase three thousand miles. Until I can get out there (and it’s likely to be a month before they’ll be ready for visitors, of which I may not be the first), I suspect I’ll have a vague sense that I should be doing or feeling something that I can’t quite generate out of pictures. People keep asking me what it feels like to be an uncle, and I don’t know how to answer them. I felt like an uncle to my cousins when they were born, and I don’t feel that way now. Maybe I feel more like a grandfather.
I am very happy for my brother, though. Him I know, and his happiness is abundantly palpable to me over the phone. His life is clearly changed, and I hope it stays that way for him.