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Today is My Uncle’s Funeral.

December 27, 2017

Dr. Richard C. Baldwin


Today is my uncle’s funeral, literally seven weeks after my mom’s.

Come with me a few decades ago to my rented room with flower patterned wallpaper in Mrs. Hall’s house in Atlanta. I was in seminary at Emory University.

It’s a Tuesday night and I’m staring at a blank sheet of paper in my typewriter. I’m supposed to be writing a one page, single spaced piece about who or what influenced my understanding of my gender identity. It’s for a class. We’ll read them in a small group the next day as springboards to discussion.

After three or four false starts, I ignore my formal but sketchy outline and notes, and just dive in.

Noting that my dad and my older half-brother were “gone a lot,” my family’s euphemism for things like rehab and prison, I cite three men who had been mainstays in my childhood and youth:

Mick Jagger,

Johnny Carson,

and my uncle.

Giving about one or two lines to Mick and Johnny, I quickly move to my uncle and fill up the rest of the page.

It was good to write of his examples of things like caring. Helping people whether anyone knew about him being the source or not, including the ones being helped. Taking time to listen. Setting and reaching goals. Sound financial practices. Integrating life and work. Making a difference daily. Generosity. Inconveniencing himself for the sake of someone else. Generally simply being there for me.

The next afternoon I was the second person to read my paper out loud in our small group. I could barely get through it. The type kept running and my voice kept breaking up as I fought tears.

When I’d finished, our faculty advisor, the inimitable Dr. Don Saliers, nodded slowly at me and said, “Your uncle was there. Other men left, but he stayed.”

That opened up a floodgate of lively discussion. We never got to a third student that day.

Over the following years, my uncle continued to be there and continued to be a positive role model of what it means to be a healthy, successful man.

Who gave you clues about life and about what it means to be who you are? I’d love to hear from you.

Hope to see you back here tomorrow.

Right now, seven weeks to the day after my mom’s funeral, I’m on my way to my uncle’s funeral.















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