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How being a gay uncle to 22 nieces and nephews changed my perception of parenthood

In an excerpt from the new book "The Guncle Guide," author Glenn Garner details the first experience he had that made him want to become a father.
/ Source: TODAY

In honor of Gay Uncles Day 2020, celebrated annually on the second Sunday in August, TODAY is featuring an excerpt from the new book "The Guncle Guide" written by Glenn Garner.

Garner, who has gained a lifetime of knowledge as a gay uncle to 22 nieces and nephews, imparts some of that wisdom through heartwarming anecdotes and useful tips and tricks.

Chapter 9: The Guncle/Father

It was actually my sister Joan who I often looked to as inspiration for what a family should look like. She and Luke have been married for more than twenty-five years, and they share four children who they’ve raised to exemplify the kind of love and acceptance I rarely saw in Mississippi. I’m sure they hit their own roadblocks along the way, but they managed to keep it together and present a strong familial front at the end of the day.

Still, it was the image of same-sex parents that I was seriously lacking throughout my impressionable years. There was my dad’s friend Elliot and his husband Isaac, who had a son named Curtis. But it wasn’t until I was in college that they came into my life, and theirs wasn’t always the healthiest model. It was only in the last couple of years that I first felt the overwhelming vicarious joy of learning my co-worker at OUT magazine was finally fostering a child with his husband after a grueling process.

Glenn Garner

Sure, there were also sporadic examples in media through such titles as "The Family Stone" and "Modern Family," examples that have steadily become more frequent over the years. With that and the growing representation of real queer families on social media, it finally feels attainable.

I’ve had plenty of bonding moments with my nieces and nephews that warmed my heart, but there’s one that stands out as a turning point. It happened when I was in college, and I flew to Washington State to visit my brother Ollie’s family for Thanksgiving. They lived in the beautiful seaside fishing village of Anacortes, which had just been blanketed in snow.

One day when Ollie and his wife Chloe both had to be at work, I agreed to help them out by picking up my toddler twin nephews Gavin and Gabe from preschool. It was a few short blocks away, so I walked their double stroller through the pleasantly chilly suburban streets to retrieve them.

Glenn Garner

On the way back, I raced up the sidewalk and wobbled the stroller from side to side, as I could hear them giggle along the way. When we returned, it was straight to the playroom (the once-dining room filled with toys from wall to wall). All was going well until their playdate turned into hitting and pushing, a slightly more violent exchange than I was expecting from two-year-old boys. According to my brother, it was pretty normal as Gabe, the smaller twin, quickly learned how to fight back when Gavin pushed him around.

Being the (apparently) responsible adult, I stepped in to pull them off each other, which was easy enough. It was the flood of tears that was uncontrollable.

"I didn’t even know how to take care of myself yet, but I was overcome with this sense of paternal love."

I picked them up under each arm and sat at the base of their plastic Little Tikes slide, since no chair in that room was designed to fit my adult a*s. I sat them on each knee, letting them bawl their eyes out on each shoulder. We just sat there for minutes, and I rubbed their backs until they calmed down and were ready to play again.

Glenn Garner

It was an odd sensation I’d never felt before. I didn’t even know how to take care of myself yet, but I was overcome with this sense of paternal love. It was as if in that moment, my big gay version of a biological clock had begun ticking.

It was the same emotion I felt a few years later when my nephew Kirby was born, shortly before I returned home after graduating from college. He was the first of my nieces and nephews that lived close enough for me to see on a regular basis since the oldest Cassie was born.

"Being a guncle helps me build myself into the father I could potentially grow into one day."

As Devyn returned to work, she left him with our mom most days. I’d stop by her house pretty regularly on my breaks from the nearby French restaurant, where I was waiting tables while figuring out my next move. Those little daily visits established a strong bond, as this little boy unexpectedly became my best friend.

The highs also came with the lows. Kirby was often one to exhibit severe tantrums, regardless of the time or place. As it was something Devyn dealt with frequently, I was able to approach the situation with a bit more patience, calming him down whenever I could help. But the good days always outshined the bad. If he wasn’t playing around on the floor, he was fast asleep. One of the moments that consistently melted my heart was reclining all the way back in my stepdad’s chair as Kirby fell asleep on my shoulder.

Glenn Garner

Although I’m not entirely sure if a family is in my future, it was Devyn who recently told me she wants to see me settle down with a family of my own. That was honestly the first time someone in my family other than my nieces and nephews took that kind of interest in my future since I came out as gay. Although my mom always showed that interest in her daughters’ and granddaughters’ lives, I don’t think she quite considered the idea of me having my own version of a family, as she’d never seen that kind of dynamic herself.

I once seriously considered getting married to a guy I fell in love with just after he got out of a fourteen-year relationship. Granted, he was thirty-seven, I was eighteen, and I still looked to Cory and Topanga in reruns of "Boy Meets World" as the ideal relationship. I didn’t yet realize that gay men don’t jump into monogamy with the recklessness of our straight counterparts, even after we won the long-overdue battle for marriage equality.

I’ve since developed a more realistic timeline for my future that’s focused more on self-improvement before finding someone else who can handle my baggage. Luckily, there’s plenty of babysitting and formative moments with my nieces and nephews to hold me over until I figure out exactly what I want. Being a guncle helps me build myself into the father I could potentially grow into one day.

"The Guncle Guide" is out now and available everywhere books are sold.