Remembering Uncle Mike

Uncle Mike

A short time ago, Uncle Mike died.

That’s not entirely accurate. He stopped being my uncle about 40 years ago. My aunt, who is my mother’s sister, got divorced from Uncle Mike back in the 1970’s. It was a short marriage, just long enough to have a couple of kids. She remarried Scott, who feels much more like an uncle than Mike did.

But I never did call him “Uncle Scott.” In an effort to establish my independence and maturity, I decided to call him simply by his first name. My parents and my aunt didn’t seem to object, nor did Scott. So Scott he was…and continues to be to this day.

From everything I can remember, Uncle Mike was a great guy. Small framed and gaunt, he was nevertheless the guy who ran around the swimming pool during extended family vacations at the motel in Miami Beach. He was bare-chested and pale, but he did his best Tarzan impersonation, going all macho around the diving board. He cracked us kids up.

One day, when I was probably around nine or ten years old, my parents told me Aunt Dinah and Uncle Mike were getting a divorce. I had known of divorces in an abstract sense. I knew the definition of the word. But I hadn’t personally known anyone who had gone through one. To the best of my knowledge, none of my friends’ parents had been divorced. Or maybe they were and it just wasn’t talked about. They were pretty matter of fact about it. No particular emotion. Just that is was.

They did tell me they were still friends, and would remain so. I took that statement at face value, not having any reason to believe otherwise.

Turns out, for the most part that was true. I don’t know what they went through at the time. I don’t know any of the dynamics. I do know a short while later Scott was introduced to the scene. You could say he was a stand in for Uncle Mike. But his personality was very different. Broader shoulders, not as wildly demonstrative, but still outgoing and confident.

Whatever he did, it worked. The rest of the family took to him as if he’d always been there. My grandparents loved him like a son. He slid right into the role of Uncle Scott for all of us, myself included (minus the title in my case).

Still, Uncle Mike stayed on the scene, at least a little bit. He showed up at all the Passover dinners. He was always cordial with Scott. At one point they seemed to be downright chummy! Aunt Dinah’s daughter, Wendy called them both Daddy.

And when Aunt Dinah and Scott had a child of their own, Joannie, the family blended together beautifully, including Daniel, Scott’s son from a previous marriage. I consider him my cousin just as much as any blood relative.

I don’t know what issues they had to work through. I do know Uncle Mike never remarried. He stayed in New York City, just a few miles away from Aunt Dinah and Scott. I remember Wendy visiting him frequently.

I know at Wendy’s wedding, Uncle Mike walked her halfway down the aisle. Scott and Aunt Dinah walked her the rest of the way.

And Uncle Mike even attended Joannie’s wedding!

The years rolled on. We grew up, got married, moved away, had kids of our own, built lives apart from our families of origin. We still got together for the holidays.

And deep intoour adulthood, at every Seder (Passover dinner), Uncle Mike was there. Still gaunt, less bombastic, still without a partner. But a welcome member of the family.

Uncle Mike developed cancer. He lived with it for several years. Late last year it got the best of him. He passed away in the arms of his daughter, Wendy. The relatives made it in for his funeral. I regret not being one of them.

Uncle Mike was a cool uncle and a good man. He continued to be both of those to the end. I don’t like that the marriage ended in divorce. But it did allow Scott to come into the family, which is total fun!

I do like that my first experience with divorce was one of grace, gentle transition and continued love and friendship. It proved a good reference point for seeing all the less fortunate examples of divorce all around me.

We never have to be a slave to our circumstances. We can always reach for the emotions that serve us best, even when we’re at our angriest and most disappointed.

We can interrupt patterns we grew up with. We can see things through the eyes of another person. We can recognize every ending is a new beginning in disguise. We can pull the best from what came before and bring it into the future with us.

Thank you for teaching me some of the great lessons of life, Uncle Mike.

Author’s Note: The names in this story are fictitious. They were changed to protect the identities of the individuals. Except Uncle Mike. That was his real name.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

32 thoughts on “Remembering Uncle Mike”

  1. Larry, I am sorry that more people cannot adjust to the new lives that are created by divorce, whether it be comfortable or difficult. Too many people tend to carry with them that they have to be an enemy of “whomever” because they divorced my uncle, cousin or best friend. We certainly live in a society that has brought with it, a conglomeration of many marriages that developed after the first, second or even third marriage. Accepting those involved makes it a much easier presence for all of us but it seems to rarely happen. Too many of your old friends, just don’t know what to do with you – so in many cases, they do nothing. I have friends who have been very loyal to my situation, and do not have a problem with either my ex or with me. To me that is a very healthy condition for them – to not harbor resentments. The real healthy situation is where people understand and engulf it rather than avoid it. Great post with feelings that go beyond the fences.

  2. Great story, Larry. It is a pity the emotions in a divorce are often so great as to become an ongoing hatred. The children suffer greatly when this happens,often being drawn into the fight between the parents,even being used as weapons to hurt the other partner.Great that your family was mature enough to accept relationships are not always permanent,but parenthood is.

  3. Thanks, John…it’s really true! We don’t have to hang onto whatever emotion caused us to want to change the relationship. And we definitely don’t have to choose sides in someone else’s.

  4. Thank you for demonstrating a model of two people who really did remain friends. I think your Uncle Mike must have been a very special guy. It seems he also shaped your view of what divorce can be, and I am glad that it was much more positive than what we normally see out in the world.

  5. I believe most all families have story’s similar or at least relevant to yours. I’m one to take stuff at face value and always look for the positive in every situation. Interesting enough though, many choose to live in the heartache or the why or the reasons of change. It saddens me to see some of those people, people in my family, who’ve let it destroy them… destroy their whole being. Now I too see clearly the ones in my family who’ve embraced the change and made the best out of their circumstances.

    We do, in my honest opinion, have a choice to reach for what serves us best and to not let circumstances alter our true path negatively (any more than we have to).

  6. The part that hit me right between the eyes, Larry, was, “We never have to be a slave to our circumstances.” We can’t control what happens to us, but we can certainly control how we respond.Thanks…

  7. How wonderful that your first experience of divorce was not a nasty & negative one. I too was fortunate in that I never experienced divorce among any friends or family members until much later in life – when I understood that people have their differences & sometimes go their separate ways. I’ve seen both “kind and gentle” splits as well as “nasty/gnarly” ones.

    I’m glad your Uncle Mike remained an uncle in your heart of hearts (I too had an Uncle Mike who remained married to my aunt until the day he died).

  8. Larry,
    A sentimental post written with a deep sense of gratitude (I feel it). I really appreciate your ability to accept the circumstances and respond positively. Like you, i have quite a few people who are not with me now and some who are with me whom I feel grateful for their positive influence. I enjoy a sense of liberation when I thank the “paperbag girls” in one of my posts. They started me on English by giving me discarded Reader’s Digests. More than the RDs, I was and am really touched with their sense of selflessness, wanting me to succeed even though they would have nothing to benefit from it. Thanks for reminding me about them again through your post.

  9. What a great story. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Such a mature and responsible attitude your aunt and uncles had. It must have taken great effort and self-control. Pity not everyone can react that way. Bitterness and hatred is hurtful and very damaging.

    1. I really don’t know how things went at the time, Liz. Maybe it was a mutual decision rather than anger. Yeah, I guess the reaction wasn’t the “normal” one for the time. But that’s a choice. Thanks for the comment. :)

  10. Your story is a very inspiring one of how relationships can change, but still be positive.

    Unfortunately, likely because of lack of maturity, my nieces and nephews can’t tell this same story. Although I fantasized about acting differently in my divorce situation, the reality was very bad.

    Fortunately, I’m now in a position where I counsel people to take the high road, and act very different than I did. In fact, in my work as an organizing consultant, a divorcing couple hired me to help them divide up their stuff and I was able to help them to each “take the high road” so that the process was much more amicable than it would have been if I had not been able to encourage them based on my own horrible experience.

    It’s painful to admit to not being a good person; I’d like to be able to say that I did the best I could under the circumstances, but I didn’t. I do wish there could be a “reset” button on life!

    Thanks for sharing how things CAN be.

    1. I’ll say to you what you probably say to many of your clients, Brenda…you did the best you could with the awareness you had at the time.

      One guy’s opinion…everyday is a “reset button.” The people in your life also have their own button. Whether or not they use it is up to them. :)

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