Today should be my Uncle King’s 53rd birthday. Only he left this world for the glory of Heaven a few days ago. I knew it was coming, as did he. But that doesn’t make his exit any easier. And so here I am, wondering what to do with the birthday card I bought him; wondering what to do with all of these tears.
“Uncle King”, of course, is better known as Uncle Joe. But to me, he was The King.
I must have been about four when I started to call him Uncle King. I don’t know why I started, but I know he encouraged it. And I was his princess. As I got older, I didn’t always want to call him Uncle King, but I learned early on that it was easier to go along with it.
But, as a four-year-old girl, I really did look up to him. I was desperate for his approval and he knew it. And so, Uncle King being who he was, he dangled it just out of reach. And me, being who I was (especially as a young child) did everything I could to capture that approval. He always told me I needed to try harder – unless his friends were around, in which case he would praise me. (I liked it when his friends were around.)
Over the years, I came to realise that I would never gain Uncle King’s approval. And so I stopped trying; I stopped doing the things he thought I should do (or not do) and started to live the life I wanted. And he criticised me (nearly) every step of the way.
Yet to his friends, he bragged about his niece in Scotland who sent him postcards and a golf ball all the way from St Andrews! When we’d speak on the phone, he would often ask for more postcards so that he could brag to his friends.
And then he would tell me how disappointed he was with my lack of success in life (no [living] husband; no children). He mocked me for my childhood speech problems and dyslexia. He would tell me that, of all of his nieces and nephews, I was the biggest letdown.
And then he would laugh and say that it was OK because he still loved me; I was still his princess.
Yes, my Uncle King was a bit of an arse. But I loved him. And that little four-year-old inside of me will always dream of his approval.
I don’t think Uncle King was a bad person. I don’t think he realised what he was like. I think he probably thought he was being funny; that he was just joking and thought everyone knew it. It was just his way. And as much as it hurt me, I accepted that Uncle King was who he was and that was that.
He was also a very generous person at times. If he had money in his pocket, he would always buy the next round – despite that money being earmarked for bills. If someone needed help building a house (or a part of a house) he would travel halfway across the country to help out. Yes, there are cousins around the country who will tell you all about his great deck-building skills!
In fact, his generosity extended so far that he once gave one of his brothers a kidney. And you have to admit that’s pretty gosh-darn generous!
I know this probably reads as me “speaking ill of the dead”, but I don’t mean it to be a negative reflection on my Uncle King. After all, he was a big fan of “telling it like it is”. And this is how it was.
I loved him. I will always love him. But I have to admit that I would have loved to have his approval, too. I would have loved for him to tell me that he was proud of me. Just once. But that wasn’t his way.
Instead, I must now learn to cope with the fact that the last time I spoke to him, he reminded me again that I was a disappointment. And I will always wonder if he really believed that, or if he just didn’t know how to say he was proud of me.
The tears keep flowing as I remember all of the happy memories of my dear Uncle King. And, I admit, some of those tears are because I’m sad that I never did get his approval. And now that he’s gone, I never will.
But I’m finding solace in the knowledge that his kidney is still alive and well. And it’s living in another uncle who has always made a point of letting me know that he’s proud of me. And I suppose, in a way, since Uncle King’s kidney saved that uncle’s life, there’s almost like a proud-by-proxy situation going on.
I know that’s a very tenuous link, but the thought has made me happy so I’m going to allow it.
And I think I know what to do with Uncle King’s birthday card: I’m going to send it to his kidney.
Happy Heavenly birthday, Uncle King. I will always love you!
[Photo note: That’s me and Uncle King shortly before I first moved to Scotland in 2001 for a year’s study abroad. Copyright to my father, Roy Cook.]