This is — give or take a Nerf gun or Nintendo 64 — how my annual, cutely misspelled letter to Santa looked as a kid. I’d envision Christmas mornings of bounding down the stairs to a lovable ball of fur with a bow on its head and I’d name it something dumb like “Spot” or “Michael” and he might even lead my basketball team to the state title.
But the jolly man never came through.
He likely knew about my younger siblings; my parents still had their hands too full taking care of them to add the task of housebreaking an animal. Or he was aware of the small detail of my dog allergy; the red, puffy face I’d fight through around my grandma’s dogs was too uncomfortable a gift to give someone on the nice list.
A little bit down the road, after some growth of my brothers and sisters and the invention of Claritin, a wonderful puppy came into our family by means of my parents — all “let’s learn responsibility” and no “Christmas miracle.” Mocha the Dog has given my family 14 years of love and companionship.
This Christmas, though, upon a sleigh emblazoned “better late than never,” rides my wish, finally fulfilled. My roommates are getting a puppy: A tiny, golden, four-legged slice of adorable so paralyzing in its cuteness that I worry about my ability to make it to work. My hopes as a 7-year-old are coming true, and there will be a puppy in my house to play with, train and teach awesome tricks.
Yet my relationship with this dog is going to be different than the one I envisioned as a boy. My roommates, as much as I love them, are not going to be my roommates forever, and the incoming puppy is very much going to be their dog. Thus, I’m placed into an intermediate role — for which the best title I can come up with is dog uncle.
I like to envision the best-case scenario being an Uncle Jesse in “Full House” kind of situation (have mercy): Cool dude who provides some discipline and teaches a few tricks, then eventually goes off to have his own life and do a song with the Beach Boys. (Worst case? Uncle Joey, where I carry a gopher around on my hand and Alanis Morissette writes a breakup album about me.)
I can’t allow myself to get too attached, given our eventual separation, but I hope to be more than just the guy who sends a card with a few bones in it every couple of years. Is there a dog equivalent for the uncle who takes you to R-rated movies and sneaks you beer at Thanksgiving? That’s my favorite one. I can be that.
So when I look under the tree this Christmas, I’ll find not only something I’d been asking for, but also a new family member (or, perhaps, nothing, because we moved everything after the puppy got into it). I’ve always wanted to be an uncle. I just didn’t think it would be in response to a letter to the North Pole.