This Thanksgiving I’ve been thinking about some of my extended family, those I rarely see these days, since we haven’t been home around the holidays in over five years.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be like my uncle Brad. He was different from my dad in so many ways, different from my other uncles too. He was pretty fit, not carrying a beer belly like my dad; he looked trim in his white-collar job clothes.

He also seemed to enjoy spending time with his kids: my cousins Shannon, Megan, and Jordan. At times he was a kid himself. Aunt Katy used to babysit my sister and me, so I remember him on his lunch break drinking milk and eating Oreos. (It’s hard to imagine that I’m older now than Uncle Brad was then.)

Quick with a Joke

What drew me to Uncle Brad the most was his wittiness. I remember family gatherings at Christmas and Thanksgiving and birthdays. At the time I didn’t get all his jokes, but he was always making everyone laugh. And these weren’t why-did-the-chicken-cross-the-road? jokes like Fozzy Bear on Muppet Babies (waka waka waka!!). He just always had a quick, comical reply. He could make my grandma laugh to the point of tears. The Bailey’s she’d always received at Christmas might have loosened her up, though—every comic needs an opening act to warm up the audience.

In some ways I’d wished he was my dad. He didn’t drink too much like my dad. I never saw him get angry either, though I’m sure my cousins could attest otherwise. Unlike Dad, he went to church every Sunday, sort of had to, since he was the pastor’s son. Plus, the band needed him on drums or guitar.

CCM in the ‘80s

Uncle Brad was a musician. He was in a band that I remember traveling to Blythe, California, to see. His group, New Jerusalem Band, even had a CD. Well, it wasn’t a CD. We had it on vinyl, I think, and maybe a cassette.

I’ve played music with Uncle Brad on just three occasions. The first was at my older brother’s wedding (I might have been 13), when I accompanied him and another singer on Peter Cetera’s “After All.” The second was at his piano in the house they’d moved to in Phoenix. (I always thought that was cool too, that they’d moved from Yuma to the big city.) I was 17 and we played Beatles songs and some Elton John, both of us struggling to reach the high notes on “Rocket Man.” And the third was when he accompanied me on guitar when I sang “I Know Who Holds My Hand” at my dad’s funeral a year ago.

bradEnduring Marriage

His music and the way he could make you laugh are certainly admirable, but I look at his grown children and see the effect a father can have. His son took his father’s dream further. Jordan is the drummer for Stellar Kart. Even more than music, though, is that his kids seemed to have an advantage over me and my siblings. Among my extended family, his and Aunt Katy’s marriage is the only one that’s lasted.

I want to make people laugh, and I want to sing my songs. But mostly, I want a nephew or niece who’ll admire me because of the way I love my wife and children. And I want them to see me indulge in a cookie or two, because kids are in awe of adults who can eat as many cookies as they want. Of course, I’ll need to keep hitting the gym like Uncle Brad always did.

Looking back now, I think what distinguished him from the other adults I knew was that Uncle Brad loved Jesus. I wouldn’t say that he really built into my life—as in, mentored me or spent time with me—but somehow I’ve wanted to model myself after him. I wanted to know his Jesus.

He now serves on staff at a church leading worship. I guess he followed in my footsteps.

What about you? As a kid, did you admire an aunt or uncle? Maybe a grandparent?

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