The little boy grows up

I stood next to my nephew in the back of the hall. Before us, a party raged. The youngest of my older sisters was smiling like I haven’t seen her smile in years. My brother bounced. I’ve never seen a wedding more full of happy people. “He’s just good,” my nephew Mike said, nodding to the groom, his cousin and another nephew of mine. I saw Alex moving along the floor and agreed.

Mike summed up Alex damn near perfectly.  “He’s just good.”

If you could draw up the man you want your son to be, it’s Alex. If you could meet your father when he was younger, long before you were born, you hope he’s like Alex.

“Yeah, he is.”

I was an uncle at 5. Being an uncle is something that has always defined me. By the time I was 12, I had five nephews and nieces. There were 11 of them before I graduated high school. Shortly after I got married, my eldest niece was walking down the aisle. Mike, the third oldest of all the nephews and nieces, is also married.

This means I’m in a weird spot generationally. I have a great nepew who is older than two of my daughters. My siblings are approaching 50 or past it. One is a grandparent. Some are thinking about retirement. Meanwhile, my nephews and nieces are going through the same life experiences I am. More than once, I’ve had to call Sarah, the eldest niece, for parenting advice.

Truth be told, I’ve always looked at my four oldest nephews and nieces as more siblings than nephews and nieces. Even if I made them call me Uncle Pat and imposed Uncle Pat taxes.

So I stood next to Michael during the reception Saturday and marveled at how happy everyone was at this wedding. Look, I’m generally a happy guy. My wedding day was the happiest day of my life. But I wasn’t half as happy as Alex was. I never saw a man radiate joy like that for an entire day. I thought of Joe Carter bouncing around the bases after he hit a walkoff home run in the 1993 World Series. That’s how happy Alex looked. For hours. I was almost fearful. Is it OK to be that happy for that long? Might you override your system. And Elizabeth, the bride, was the same way. Brimming with absolute joy. These kids have been together for eight years and I don’t think anyone there doubted they’d be up for the task of marriage.

For a few minutes Mike and I talked about Alex. We both agreed we marveled at how good a person he is. He’s the definition of selfless. He’s dedicated. He’s a hard worker. He’s full of joy. We didn’t say it out loud, but it’s kind of intimidating.

You’re not supposed to have heroes as an adult. You’re supposed to leave those ideas behind. I guess it’s because you’re supposed to be cynical, but I’ve never bought that. I’m a believer. I’ve always had the feeling Mike is to. It’s probably safe to say, Alex has grown up to be hero for us.

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