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September 19 is International Talk Like A Pirate Day.  You can look it up on the link here, but I have my own story about pirates.

Most of my adult friends, from church and from long-ago jobs and from my college days, know that I have as much fun with the rugrat-and-ankle-biter-set as I do with grownups.  It’s unintentional, but I can be a bit of a baby-hog around infants, I’ve been blurped-up-on plenty of times without it ever killing me, and I genuinely enjoy watching, listening-to, and interacting-with the children of my family or friends at a gathering, or the younger members of my parish after (and during) Sunday services.  I have it on good authority from more than one co-congregant that “Mister Dan” is reported to be THE MOST FUN GROWNUP ON THE PLANET – high praise, indeed.

I have no kids of my own.  I think that my brain decided that I was, in spite of that, good “parenting material” – although I was wired this way long before parenting-age.  It’s been this way for so long now that the kids I used to listen-to and roughhouse-with not that long ago are now sending me college graduation announcements and wedding invitations.
<Sigh.>

All of those munchkins matter to me as much as if they were my own kids, and two of them proved the same right back at me about nine years ago.

Two of my closest college friends and their two daughters used to visit at my home about twice a year or so when they still had family in the area.  When it was time to see them off, and the little ones were being bundled into their car seats, I would stand on my deck next to the driveway and about two feet above and wave and yell … and one time, when they were about six and four years old, respectively, one of the girls yelled, “ARRRGH!” back at me.  We all asked, “why are you yelling ‘ARRRGH!’?”, and she said that I looked just like a PIRATE on a ship’s deck there, leaning on the rail and acting like just the sort of loon that might be a pirate.  (“Acting like a loon” also comes easily.)  Sooooooo:  after that, any departure or greeting involving either of these two would immediately include us bellowing “ARRRGH!” at each other, and any birthday card or Halloween card was of course pirate-oriented and/or signed “ARRRGH” … and I was thereafter always referred to as “Mister Arrrgh-Man”.  (There are three Rs in “arrrgh”.  You want that to get the pronunciation right.)

“International Talk Like A Pirate Day” has been a bonus opportunity the last few years to exchange extra emails with the two of them at college in September and to yell “ARRRGH” into their cellphone voice-mail-boxes – but something happened before that that was far more remarkable.

About nine years ago, their grandfather who lived most of his life in my village here passed away, and the girls (about twelve and ten by this time) came to spend the day with me while their parents were tending to affairs and arranging a funeral … and at the end of the day, when their mom came to claim them, I was struck dumb when they rattled off all the stuff they’d done that day “with Uncle Arrrgh”.
Without any notice, I’d been awarded the equivalent of a battlefield promotion.

Wow.

I revere the title “uncle”.  Uncles are the people who aren’t your parents, but who are family with both special privileges and responsibilities:  the ones who parents can stash you with in a crisis, or the relatives who are given dispensation to goof around with you and spoil you, or the “grownups” who do decidedly un-grownup things like send you a CARE-package in college that has homemade cookies, a few bucks for frivolous use, a Wallace-and-Gromit DVD and a rubber duckie because those are FUN in a dorm, and an AIRHORN because those are REALLY FUN in a dorm … and what other “adult” willingly sends an eighteen-year-old in a dorm an airhorn, for the love of God?  (Sample e-mail in return for one of these packages, from a different niece:  “Dear Uncle Dan:  the box came today.  The airhorn was totally obnoxious.  I loved it.  Thank you!”
Top that, Dr. Spock.)

Fast forward to this last year:  their final semester in school, the older honorary-niece of these two crashed my house one weekend with her college roommate to go shopping in downtown Chicago and goof off one last time before they graduate and become, well, adults.  <Sigh, again.>  The niece and the roommate hung out, and watched college basketball with me one afternoon, and even had beers and pizza with The Old Guy the last night they were here.  (Man, they grew up fast.  I’m drinking beers with my niece nowadays.)

A few weeks later, once she was able to stop laughing about it, my niece’s mom filled me in on something:  the roommate AND the niece’s fiancé BOTH thought for at least several months before that that MY ACTUAL NAME was ARRRGH.

Not just a promotion:  I’m a family LEGEND.

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