By Jeff Ottman, a proud uncle
It was exciting for our whole family when we learned that my baby sister Lisa would soon be delivering her second child, a little boy. My wife Sheila and I were invited to the hospital to meet the little guy shortly after he was born. I could not wait! I’m not a father so it is easy for me to understand that because of my inexperience with babies few people would want me near theirs, but not Lisa. She handed me this beautiful baby and told me they were naming him Jeffrey, after me. I could not figure out how I ever earned such an honor but at that point on I wanted to be the best uncle possible.
I first noticed his sandy, blond hair and then his beautiful blue eyes. Jeffrey was a beautiful baby and I could not wait to be an important part of his life. I wanted to be his favorite uncle. I would never believe what challenges were ahead. It is too difficult to express the feelings of concern and fear that overtook everyone in our family when we learned little Jeffrey was diagnosed with autism. This overwhelming shock is universal among families learning of this revelation and therefore I will not go into it now. It is fair to say that at the time my heart was broken thinking what this was doing to his wonderful parents Glen and Lisa. Also I knew it would affect my niece Lauren. We just didn’t know how.
We all wanted to help as much as possible but no matter how much we tried, we very seldom seemed to get much reaction from little Jeffrey. We all strived to get that loving glance back from him, a mutual hug, or any type of greeting. As a young toddler, it was difficult for Sheila or I to interact with little Jeffrey. I remember one day that something changed. I was sitting on the couch with other family members and little Jeffrey walked by and someone asked him to sit down with us. He hesitated and just for the fun of it I raised the octave in my voice and said “Noooooooo”. To my wonderful surprise he turned, smiled and came to sit down. This became a fun new game for us.
Now whenever the time seemed right, this became my calling. This silly game would come up all the time and the reactions were always the same. They generated a beautiful smile. My favorite has always been when it is time to say “good bye”. As a wonderful mother that Lisa is, she would always encourage little Jeffrey to give everyone a hug good-bye. When it was my turn I would have the same reaction “nooooooo”. Little Jeffrey would smile and reach out to give me a hug. He is so cool!
It took awhile to have the relationship I wanted with my nephew but the extra effort early on has paid off for the both of us. Now we have so much fun together. We go to hockey games, movies, and many other activities. Most of all we like to hang out. This relationship took time to build and I had to start off slow. Now, we look like just a couple of knuckleheads having a good time. I am the uncle I have always wanted to be. There is nothing different about our relationship today for an uncle and nephew. We just are.
Today Jeffrey has become such a wonderful young man that we always have a fun time together. His new favorite joke with me is to give my wife a kiss on her cheek when I’m within view. Of course he wants to see what kind of silly reaction he will get from me and I’m always happy to oblige with some gritting of my teeth and an “I’m gonna get him”. We both laugh. I love little Jeffrey and I hope he loves me as well!
Little Jeffrey’s proud and grateful uncle, Jeff
Footnote: For Valentines day I wanted a story to share with you a simple story of love. It has been wonderful to watch Jeff and Jeff develop such an incredible relationship. My hope that it inspires other uncles out there looking for a way to connect with their nephews and nieces out there. To start with heart and to just start a relationship that will mean so much. ~ Lisa