After forming a bond over sports, it’s time to watch him exchange vows

When my nephew was born nearly 27 years ago, I wasn’t much of a “baby” person. I had never changed a diaper or warmed a bottle or crammed a big head into a little onesie. I’m not sure I knew what a onesie was.

It was several months before I was able to get away from work and meet the little guy, and I didn’t think I was missing much. Then he cried during the first night of my visit, and before I knew what was happening, I had him out of the crib, changed his diaper and popped his bottle in the microwave. I’m not sure which of us was more surprised, but probably me.

Just like that, I had a nephew, and so much more: a pseudo-son, a buddy, a man in my life who never let me down.

He didn’t have the easiest childhood, my nephew. His biological father dropped out of his life when he was around 2, and thankfully never turned up again. Like me, he eventually got a stepfather who adopted him and raised him as his own, but he had a longer wait than I did.

I tried to fill the void during his fatherless years; thank goodness for sports. Although I didn’t see him as often as I would have liked, we wrote and talked on the phone. We played catch, we collected and traded baseball cards and discussed sports. I took him to his first professional football game (Lions-Broncos, Thanksgiving Day). I was with him when he attended his first Kansas football game and his first KU basketball game. We had a memorable trip to spring training. I gave him his first cellphone and his first car (a gently used 12-year-old Ford Probe, driven only by a little old lady: me).

But I didn’t get all the fun stuff. Over the years I was frequently called in for the difficult talk about something he had said or done . We’d go into a room, close the door and hash things out. Sometimes, those talks ended in tears — his, not mine — as I tried to impart the same values that my parents had taught me. Honesty matters. When you’re wrong, admit it. Don’t steal a street sign, on foot, in the middle of a snowstorm. (I still don’t get that one. The police also offered some words of wisdom.)

He turned out to be a fine man, a nephew of whom I am incredibly proud and a person I’d want to know even if we weren’t related. We still talk about sports. He follows my early dictum: You can be a fan of any team you want, but you stick with that team. No front-runners. I still try to impart a life lesson every now and then but he’s a grown man now, so I pick my spots. Recently he said to me, “You know, when I was a kid you said not to be in a hurry to grow up, that being an adult was not all fun and games. I get it now.” That made me both happy and sad.

Saturday, my nephew is marrying a lovely woman. I am playing the part of event trouble shooter and organizer extraordinaire — playing to my strengths. His mom and dad have roles in the wedding; so do my parents. I will be the invisible aunt, trying to make the trains run on time and giving him the best day I can. Hopefully we’ll have a few minutes for a quick talk before he goes off to start the next phase of his life. This time, I’m pretty certain the tears will be mine.

For previous columns by Tracee Hamilton, visit washingtonpost.com/hamilton.

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