There are people who touch our lives in ways we often don’t recognize until much later.
I’ve always believed my Uncle Paul to be a good family man. What I didn’t realize until recently, was the positive effect he had on how I raised my son, and how my son is raising his children.
When I was born, my teenaged parents were living in the home of my father’s parents and their three younger children. Uncle Paul was next in line, five years younger than my father but older than their two sisters.
My mother told me many times over the years that Uncle Paul was good with me as a baby, holding me carefully, speaking to me gently, and making sure that I didn’t get into harm’s way as I began to toddle. She has said he was nurturing, playful, and protective, even though he was only 14 years of age when I was born. Uncle Paul also demonstrated responsible money management, nice manners, and attention to his academics. He treated his mother with respect and his sisters with tolerance when they picked on him.
When my sister was born, Mom was perfectly comfortable asking Uncle Paul to be the Godfather, a tradition in our Catholic family. He accepted the honor and took his responsibility in that role as seriously as one could expect of a very young man.
Three years later my father left our family. Uncle Paul remained quietly supportive of my sister and me, and our newly divorced mother.
Uncle Paul has always been gentle and soft spoken, not aggressive in his actions or voice, as was sometimes true of my father. As a young man, he became a diesel mechanic like his father and helped with projects around the house. He appreciated the arts and was musically inclined, teaching himself to play the organ. Although he was lean, strong, and agile, he had no interest in playing sports.
When I was 10 years old, Uncle Paul got married. I always noticed he demonstrated loyalty to his wife and his parents, and this was consistent over time. A couple years later when he became a father to my first cousin, he was present with his wife in their home tending to the baby, a concept and image that was new to me outside of television programs. Uncle Paul would prove to be an excellent father to his two children, providing financial support and discipline, as well as physical and emotional nurturing.
I remember feeling happy for my cousins – that they had such a good father living at home with them – even though I also felt a bit of jealousy. Why couldn’t my own father have been more like his younger brother? Writing this today, I bawl my guts out: Although I’m no longer jealous of my cousins, I am occasionally still pained by thoughts of my father’s absence. But, I digress.
When I was a young, divorced mother, my mother would remind me of stories of Uncle Paul. Without directly comparing him to my father she would emphasize Uncle Paul’s good man qualities and how to encourage the same in my son. Apparently it worked. My son grew up to be the same kind of man Uncle Paul was and still is, a loving, nurturing father and dedicated husband who is financially responsible, reserved and soft-spoken, physically strong but gentle, intelligent and modest, and who contributes to the care and upkeep of the home.
I’m not sure what I would have done, how I would have raised my son without Uncle Paul as an example of a good man in the absence of my father. While I know my son’s father was and continues to be a good influence in our son’s life, I believe my son’s outcome may have been different without the benefit of Uncle Paul’s influence on my mother, me, and my son, and my son’s children.
So, think about my Uncle Paul when you are being your good man self. You never know how your behaviors and demonstrated attitudes will influence others around you, and around them by extension.
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