January 26, 2008

Vase final

"Who's your favorite uncle?"

by Chris Kelly

Standing across the room from me is my nephew Will, who is now sixteen months old. He lives with my brother Ryan and his wife Leah in Minneapolis, and I see them rarely. Several months ago, the last time we had the chance to spend time together, Will could neither walk nor utter intelligible words, two skills he has since acquired. Other than slight increases in height and weight, his appearance remains remarkably similar, but these developments make him seem like an entirely new being: he is no longer a doll, but a person. I look down at him with apprehension and wonder. He looks up at me and smiles. "Book!" he shouts, grabbing a cardboard copy of Goodnight Moon and beginning to waddle toward me.

I am 27 and have thus reached the age when it becomes acceptable for others to wonder about my long-term plans. As a single gay man, I am afforded a great deal of leeway in this area: few relatives are willing to ask me outright when (or whether) I am having a kid. They rely instead on hints, most of them revolving around my skills with my nephew. "Chris, you're so good with Will!" "Oh, Will loves you!" "Will, who's your favorite uncle?" They eye me expectantly, hoping that I might shed some light on my intentions in this area without being directly solicited. And I might, if I knew.

Straight couples are expected to reproduce. The rules are not as clear for me. My longest relationship was with a partner who was vehemently anti-child, and when it seemed likely that I would marry him, I was content sharing this outlook. More recently, I was involved with a boy who mentioned on our second date, and several subsequent occasions, that he could not wait to be a father. I don't feel the burning desire to take on an heir at present, nor does my current way of life make such a thing advisable, but I cannot undo the months I spent imagining myself as the other dad in that equation.

"Book!" Will says. It's true. I am good with him. He loves me. I am his favorite (and only) uncle. "Get over here, Billiam!" I shout, earning a grin from his Gerber Baby face. We will once again run through the familiar routine: I lift him onto my lap and read over his shoulder as he turns the pages too early, likely stopping before we have finished the story when he reaches toward the table to make a new selection as I wonder if this is something I could one day do with my own baby. This time, however, we deviate from the usual agenda. Will stops before he reaches me. Squats. Furrows his brow. Grunts. I have an idea what is happening here.

"Ryan, I believe your son needs a change."

And my brother, a lawyer, linguistic ace, wry humorist, model of patience, unapologetic nerd, and world-class father, picks Will up over his head, plants his nose in the seat of the boy's pants, and inhales deeply.

"Yep," he says, reacting as casually as if he were reviewing the contents of the morning's mail, "it's about that time."

Not for me, I realize. Maybe for you, Billiam, but not for me.

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