Don't call me uncle yet

Kids truly say the darndest things. They'll blurt out at the family gathering that Aunt Lucy's hot pink dress is really, all things considered, extremely ugly. Other times, they'll point out that Grandpa Ted is looking even fatter, if that's even possible, than six months ago. Worst of all, they've recently developed the annoying habit of calling me "uncle".

But who can blame these innocent cherubs who don't know any better? It must be their ignorant parents who are at fault.

Just the other day, I gave up my MRT seat to a pregnant woman with her toddler in tow. "Say 'thank you' to uncle," she instructed her son, in what was no doubt a teachable moment to her mind. "You're welcome, auntie," I imagined my reply to the woman, who actually looked a few years older than me. The child, to his eternal credit, kept his mouth shut.

Yes, I resent that horrific honorific that I mercilessly use on men older than me. Nevertheless, I like to think that I resist the label not just out of personal vanity, but also because I am merely falling in line with my generation's aversion towards growing up.

A New York Times report, titled What Is It About 20somethings?, explored the notion that the 20s should be viewed as a distinct life stage known as emerging adulthood, in the same way that the teenage years are called adolescence. It's almost as if grown-ups are now countries. We have developing and developed ones.

So how can I be an uncle when, on good authority, I'm not even an adult? Although, to be fair, the New York Times story is not the most persuasive of articles. It was published around the same time I graduated from university in 2010.

In a bid to save my life as I knew it from ending, I showed it to my mum to convince her I didn't need a job immediately. Well, I've been with The Straits Times for four years so you do the maths and tell me if it worked.

It doesn't help that my cousins generally have 10 years on me. When they had kids and I became an official uncle in my teens, it was ridiculous to term me as such and so their little ones address me as "gor gor" - literally elder brother. This certainly fuelled my Peter Pan delusions.

I am sure I'm not the only one of my ilk staving off responsibilities. The median age for getting married has climbed steadily over the years from 28.9 in 2002 to 30.1 in 2012. By being single and childless at 28 (my birthday is not till October), I'm merely making sure the statistics don't buck the trend.

When my dad was my age, he was already a man with a capital M, having fathered my elder brother and left Malaysia to work in Singapore for more than a decade.

Me? I'm just a man-child, still growing my video game collection and living as a squatter in my parents' HDB flat.

Perhaps I should go gracefully into the night and stop struggling against the inevitable. I'm reminded of the young woman at my primary school stationery store who would fly into a rage whenever we clueless pupils had the audacity to call her "auntie". Years later, she was the first person to pop to mind when I learnt the quote "the lady doth protest too much" in literature class.

But I'm not ready to surrender just yet. I'll keep fighting the good fight until I hit the big 3-0 next year.

In the meantime, don't worry, pregnant women out there, you're still welcome to my seat on the train. You don't have to thank me.

ziliang@sph.com.sg

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