ORONO (AP) – Uncles and nephews often share tight bonds that influence both their lives a great deal, according to a study by a University of Maine professor.

Robert Milaro, a professor of family relations, interviewed 50 men from Maine and New Zealand who are either uncles or nephews to learn more about men in caregiving roles.

He says the unique relationship between uncles and nephews has never been studied but has influenced many lives, including his own.

Uncles often serve as storytellers, recounting to nephews tales about their father’s or mother’s childhood, and helping young people understand their parents as individuals, he says.

Uncles offer a “neutral third party perspective as a person outside the household,” he said, acting as “safety valves” for nephews who may need to vent during rocky times with parents or siblings.

Uncles try to be supportive and not terribly critical, he said.

“They were very careful about how they gave advice. They tried to do it indirectly” so as to not pressure their nephews, he said.

Milardo will present his research this fall in Vancouver, British Columbia, during a National Council on Family Relations conference on men and caregiving. Next spring he will present his findings to the International Association for Relationship Research in Madison, Wis.

During the interviews, which took place in a variety of locations including homes and coffee shops, the men offered poignant anecdotes illustrating the special bond between uncles and nephews. The taped interviews last about an hour and are anonymous.

One man recalled his uncle passing him a $100 bill as he was leaving home to take his first job. Another talked about shooting his first deer during a hunting trip with his uncle, and others remembered working alongside their uncles as carpenters.

Try as he might, the professor couldn’t come up with any famous historic uncle-nephew relationships.

“Maybe it’s very telling that I can’t think of one,” he said. “That’s how secondary the relationship has always been viewed.”


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