I’m sure you all know by now that I love my niece very much. I’ve populated a lot of my social feeds with pictures of her impossibly chubby cheeks and ridiculous infant hairstyles. I like to add a ghetto voice to her photos, because I know she will grow up in a bourgeois household where she’ll wear more designer clothes at age 6 than I will ever wear in my life.
But it’s not just because my niece represents a new underlying generation of my family. My niece snapped me out of a stupor as soon as she was conceived.
Let me explain the backstory:
My sister, if you know my sister, was not expected to have a baby. If anything, I was the one who was expected to grow up and marry a nice Catholic girl and fill my parents’ house with a smattering of Oh progeny (funny, right?). My sister was going to be the one who lived her own life, my parents wishes be damned, and go travel and play the Miss Independent game plan to the improvised T.
Then she met my brother-in-law-kinda, Jared. I could tell from the start that Jared wasn’t like the other guys. He was one of the few people who could actually handle my take-no-prisoners, take-no-shit, strong-with-the-backhand, stronger-with-the-insults sister.
It came to a head one night as I was drinking with my sister and one of her best friends.
“You know, I can imagine myself married to this guy.”
I stood there in so much shock, I overflowed my beer mug. The stain ran through the pretzels and made them soggy. The sappy moment was ruined, and my sister went back to calling me an idiot.
But happily she stayed, and happily she went back to Chicago where Jared was. As the months and months went on, I could see my sister being so much more sprung than I’d ever seen her. And I’d met her past boyfriends, every single one of those whipped motherfuckers. It got to the point where one day, I got a text message with a picture of a positive pregnancy test.
“CONGRATULATIONS. YOU’RE GOING TO BE AN UNCLE.”
I sat in shock for a good twenty minutes, wondering what to say and what this announcement meant. The initial excitement gave way to an utmost fear. My clumsy hands might crush this baby’s skull. My abrasive personality might make this baby hate me. My incessant stank of cigarettes might curse this baby to some kind of baby lung cancer, where even the tumors are adorably deadly. Look at the tiny little itsy witsy tumor.
Most of all, I was afraid I would be the “loser” uncle. The cautionary tale to this soon-to-be teenaged son/daughter, where my sister and her husband sit them down and say:
“Hey kids, Joeun-samchoon is coming to visit. Now, don’t ask him if he still lives at home, because he’s really sensitive to that. And he might smell like Daddy does when the Bears are losing. Except all the time. Now _____, we love your samchoon, but just because we love him, it doesn’t mean we want to be like him. Because we’re too smart and privileged for that. So don’t think he’s that cool, because you don’t want to be like Joeun-samchoon when you grow up.”
Ah. The “loser” uncle. Very close to my other utmost fear of being “that guy” at the bar, you know, the one who’s way too legal to be there. The one who probably has a family back at home, wondering why their dad was pissing away his paycheck ogling at younger girls and trying to fight younger guys.
Let me provide some context: when I’d gotten the text message about my sister’s pregnancy, I was in Month 7 of my 2nd round of unemployment. My first job failed miserably to make me anything remotely close to satisfied. I had decided that copywriting was the way to go, seeing as I lacked the discipline needed to be a novelist (and I’d gotten rejected from every MFA program I’d applied to).
Still, I must’ve sent out hundreds of resumes in the hopes that one company would take a flyer on me. With zero luck and even less money, I spent most of my days shuttling back and forth from my house to my friend’s apartment, where I’d drink beer and watch sports and give less of a fuck about my future. I was on the fast track to becoming “that guy”, and I knew plenty of “those guys” who didn’t complain much about their lifestyle. Why not me?
Then I got the text message, and then I got my ass in gear. Although being “that guy” and the “loser uncle” were very similar, the thought of becoming the latter was more effective than any drunken pep talk my friends and family could throw at me.
Fuck it Daniel, if you’re not going to better yourself for you, then at least be an upstanding citizen for your niece.
So I went back on the job hunt, got attached to my current company, and kicked off a career path that I actually enjoy. All because my niece decided to be born, and I decided not to be a shitty role model or a cautionary tale. My niece being born gave me a responsibility over a young life. No matter how miniscule that responsibility is, it still exists.
And that, is why I will always love my niece. Because if I’m not going to do it for me, I might as well do it for her.