On February 24, 2016, I lost my Granduncle Fred. He was nearly 88 years old, lived more than 500 miles away for my entire life, and saw me twice per year (when I was lucky). Based on those facts alone, you wouldn’t think I’d be close to him. But he was and remains one of my favorite men of all time.
He and my Aunt Dare never had children of their own. For that reason, they were more involved with my father’s family than most aunts and uncles are with their nieces and nephews.
Growing up I took for granted that I had a third set of grandparents. Once I discovered that, like them, my only “children” would be future nieces and nephews and godkids, I finally appreciated all the years of love they’d poured into me.
I think that I was closer to my Uncle Fred than my cousins were. I hazard to think that I was his favorite. He never made differences between us–gifts were always equal, and that’s how a kid knows who loves her best–but I always felt closer to him. Probably because I got to see him every summer, which my cousins did not. Maybe because he expected children to be tiny adults, and I was “born 30” according to everyone who knew me. Since before I was able to sit still insomuch as a church service, he loved to show the same bazillion slides every summer when my parents and I would visit Richmond. I happily listened to his narrations of Bermuda during the Korean War, Aunt Dare’s parents’ store, and Daddy’s gangling childhood. By the time I was 16, I could have done the narrations myself.
I don’t know why some families have favorites while others don’t. Someone once asked my father-in-law, “Anna is your favorite child, isn’t she?” He was mortified by the thought. They equally love their children (and children-in-law, as it turns out). Truly.
I grew up with both “sides” of that favoritism coin. On one side, I had a grandmother who had favorites. I knew I wasn’t it because my Christmas gifts were always noticeably cheaper. She also sent something called “birthday dollars” to my cousins that I never received. Granny would send a dollar bill for every year of life in the birthday card. As an adult I found out about them, but I was about 5 years old when my mother found out about them. As she told her own mother what was happening, Grandma was so incensed by the situation that she decided to put 5 dollar bills in my birthday card that next year. Now, I have no doubt that my other cousins on that side also received an extra $5 that year. Because this grandmother made no differences–every Christmas one or two of us would have a couple of quarters taped to the top of our presents because she had accidentally spent just 50 cents more on one grandchild!
So why have these joys and wounds of my childhood been dredged up by Uncle Fred’s death? Because just 3 weeks earlier, I became an aunt with 2 nieces. And I don’t want to have a favorite. (The same goes for my 2 godsons, who are brothers.)
I never thought showing favoritism would be an issue for me because I know how psychologically damaging it is to feel less loved than those around you. I have felt it myself, and I have watched other not-favorites experience it. But I worry that my physical proximity to one niece may mean I am naturally closer to her than I am to her cousin who lives 2 hours away. Will I love one more than the other? No way. But will I know one better than the other? Maybe. And will that make the girls think that I favor one over the other? I fear the answer is yes.
Uncle Fred and Aunt Dare filled a gap for me. There was something intangible about the way they loved me that made me feel better about not being my grandparents’ favorite. I am eternally thankful.
I want to be a gap-filler, too, not a gap-maker. I know we won’t be filling love-gaps for the kiddos because their parents won’t pick favorites. Instead David and I want to be the cool aunt and uncle who take all the kids on adventures and have an awesome play area on “the kids'” as-yet-unfinished third floor of our house. We want to give them things they wouldn’t have otherwise. And we would love nothing more than for all of them to think of us as second parents–as I thought of Uncle Fred as my third grandfather.