Say Uncle

In matters of love, there are uncles and there are fathers. Aunts and mothers. Both are valid, but require vastly different levels of commitment. The tireless, iron clad, heroic level of love offered by parenthood is beyond reproach. Their sacrifice commensurate with their legendary status. And then, somewhere in the margins, on the occasional weekend, there is the peculiar love offered by those one step removed.

I uncle neighborhood cats. I’ve loved a half dozen cats in my life, and not one of their collars had my phone number engraved on it. All of them have owners, and my affection for them is stitched together during bouts of outside time or incidental cohabitation. I travel frequently for work, and I sleep in hotel rooms with the same regularity as my own bed. And while my work life is a convenient excuse, there are a myriad of confounding reasons I do not have a cat to call my own.

Uncling is a genuine form of love. I love those little fuckers. All of them. Lady. Ollie. Tux. Timber. Sal. Felix. We play laser. Share snacks. Snuggle when it’s cold. There are few joys in my life more profound that seeing one of them waiting on my doorstep after a long day. My heart flutters when I hear the tiny mew from outside by door. There’s not much I wouldn’t drop to tend to their needs. As I write this, I’m wresting with a capricious black kitty vying for my lap’s attention.

And the vast majority of the time, it’s enough. My love car runs just fine on a quarter tank. I get some of the care and attention I need without consequence or responsibility. I don’t change litter boxes. I don’t pay vet bills. I am the fun uncle. But increasingly, after midnight, I’ll find myself obsessively cracking my front door hoping to find one of my part-time loves. 

As my door creaks closed, my heart sinks. I hope they are warm, cared for, and happy. The fate of an uncle is to love something that isn’t yours. If you aren’t willing to make the sacrifices, you don’t get the security. You can’t win what you don’t put in the middle. 

I’m a fantastic uncle. My love is kind, patient, and selfless. I’ve gotten so used to being loved by other people’s things, anything else feels terrifying. I fear I don’t have what it takes to be a father. Not sure I’m built for it. To uncle is to be a tourist to love. It is a jovial, marginally-fulfilling derivative form of love. It is the girl dinner of satisfaction.

I’ve spent my life as an uncle. It’s served my needs. Gave me an IV drip of joy. I’ve made countless meals of Ritz crackers. But I fear it might be time to learn to cook.

Maybe this has nothing to do with cats, parenthood, or cooking.

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