There can be few things on earth better than being an uncle.
It’s only happened to me once, so far. My nephew is, like me, called Adam. He’s so named for a lost best friend of his father, for generations of paternal ancestors, and because ‘Adam’ is both Arabic and Scots. Like him.
Like me, he was born in Ninewells hospital, Dundee. I sat up all night with my mother and my sister. We played Scrabble. I lost. I always do with my sister. It was driegh late January, and the labour lasted for hours. But then, eventually, there he was: my blissful brother. And there he was, his tiny son. I remember losing my breath slightly at his beauty, my heart slowing to appreciate the moment.
Ten months later, it was the start of the Christmas break. I carried him round a posh drinks party hosted by my uncle and aunt. He had a game he played. He would point at something, and say ‘that?’. I’d tell him what it was. He would point at something else: ‘that?’ I would tell him what this thing was. And then, sometimes, he would giggle.
But I didn’t see him nearly as often as I would have liked. Soon after he was born I got a very busy job. A year later, I moved from Scotland to Oxford for another job. With my nephew in St Andrews, my visits were infrequent. And so when I heard from my sister that he had started to call her ‘aunt Sophie’, the obvious jealous fear set in. When I next visited, would he recognise me? I wasn’t – I am not – a regular feature in his life. Would he know who I am?
My next visit was a month or so after this conversation with Sophie. My brother let me into their flat, and led me to the sitting room. The toddler ran at me. His arms were spreadeagled for a hug: “UNC’ ADAM” he shouted, with glee. There was my answer.
By the time he was two, he was into dinosaurs. I can’t believe I had forgotten quite how awesome dinosaurs are. I did once, a couple of years ago, spend a week insisting on reading a New Scientist feature on plesiosaurs to anyone I came across. But plesiosaurs aren’t dinosaurs, they’re pliosaurs. And apart from that one foray, I had somehow forgotten the excitement of all prehistoric animals.
Until I asked Adam what the toy animal he was clutching was. “Edmontosaurous”. He took me through each one. How had I ever forgotten the excitement of the real life monsters that once ruled our planet? Never again. Now, I’m often found gaping in awe at the Oxford natural history museum. At work, they’ve put up a new wall chart to keep me happy: “carnivorous dinosaurs”. I suppose I’ve never stopped being amazed and in awe of the world we find ourselves in. But to be reminded of the true awesomeness of these animals that every small boy loves, but that grown men are supposed to grow out of – what a gift a nephew gives.
That, and sharks. More recently he’s got into sea life. So when he came with his parents to Oxford, I asked him what his favourite shark species is. “Goblin Shark” he said, with earnest. “It has a sword”. “Are you sure?” I questioned. “Is that real?”. A shark named after a mythical creature and with a sword seemed implausible. That’s just too perfect for small boys to be real. I’d certainly never heard of them. But, thank you wikipedia. He was right. I was wrong. And he was right twice. Not only do they exist. They are also the coolest kind of shark. It’s objective. They dislocate their jaws when they bite. Like a python. I happened to be heading north the same time as them, and we got the train together. To keep him quiet, I carried him up and down the carriage. In exchange, he did for me impressions of every kind of sea life I could think of – contorting his face, using his hand as a fin or as fins or as a tail, trying to seriously convey what each of these animals looks like.
The last time I saw him, this Easter, he had recently turned 3. He spent most of his time running around the kitchen table at our parents house, shrieking with excitement. Which is pretty much how delighted I was to see him too.
There can be few things better than your siblings having children. I thoroughly recommend it.