Uncle Daddy

Uncle Daddy

by Ralph Fletcher

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Does Rivers have room in his life for two very different fathers?

"The truth is Uncle Daddy isn't either my father or my uncle. He's actually Mom's uncle. I was three years old when he came to live with us."

Since Rivers's real father left him and his mom six years ago, Uncle Daddy has been taking care of Rivers in all the ways a dad cares for a son -- even teaching him how to play baseball. Then his real father returns. Rivers is confused and angry. He had always thought that he'd express his anger at his father by socking him in the stomach. Now, face to face with him, Rivers' feelings are more complicated than he'd imagined. Will the reappearance of his dad affect his relationship with Uncle Daddy? This heart-felt story, told from the point of view of a nine-and-a-half-year-old boy, is filled with insight and touches of humor.

"Beneath the wild humor, there are surprisingly subtle messages about responsibility and courage." - School Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429997539
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Publication date: 04/15/2001
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 144
File size: 121 KB
Age Range: 8 - 12 Years

About the Author

Ralph Fletcher is the author of many highly-acclaimed books-from picture books, the illustrated chapter book Tommy Trouble and the Magic Marble, to poetry collections for teenagers and writing instruction guides for teachers. His previous novels for middle-grade readers include Flying Solo, Spider Boy and Fig Pudding. Ralph lives with his family in New Hampshire.

Ralph Fletcher is the author of a wide range of books for young readers from picture books through novels. He also teaches workshops on poetry and writing. Mr. Fletcher lives with his family in Lee, New Hampshire.

Read an Excerpt

Uncle Daddy

By Ralph Fletcher

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 2001 Ralph Fletcher
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9753-9



Uncle Daddy and I are out hiking through the woods. We're surrounded by pine trees so dense the forest seems almost gloomy. But a bit farther the path opens into a sunny little meadow. We have to stop a minute, blinking, letting our eyes get used to the light. He notices something and stops to look at some wild-flowers.

"Trillium," he says, and picks one.

A little farther he bends down again.

"These are jack-in-the-pulpit."

Back home Uncle Daddy takes a book down from a shelf in his room. It's a humongous dictionary, the kind you might see in a library. This monster must weigh at least twenty pounds. It's a foot thick, and it's got two thousand and twenty-three pages in it. Those last twenty-three pages really kill me. I mean, they could've just called it quits at an even two thousand. But no! They just had to give you those extra twenty-three pages, as if you didn't already have more words than any one person could possibly use.

Uncle Daddy opens the dictionary. He flips through the pages until he finds jack-in-the-pulpit. He puts the jack-in-the-pulpit blossom into the book, right next to the word. Then he finds the word trillium and tucks the yellow blossom into the book, right next to that word.

"Trillium," I say. "That sounds more like a song than a flower."

"Or a radioactive element," Uncle Daddy says, smiling.

I was in first grade the first time I saw Uncle Daddy open the big book. That day he put a salt-water taffy wrapper (he had just taken me to visit a candy factory) next to the word taffy.

"Why are you doing that?" I asked him.

"I'm going to use this dictionary like a memory book," he explained. "Someday, when you're all grown up, you'll open this book to look up a word and you'll find this stuff."

Since then I've seen him do the same thing a hundred times. After we go to the circus, he puts one of the ticket stubs next to the word circus. A bright autumn leaf goes in the M's, next to the word maple. In the past few years he's saved so much stuff in that dictionary that it's pretty lumpy. Now he closes the huge book, hoists it up, and puts it back on the shelf.

"Someday you'll open this book and all these little things will remind you of all the fun we've had together." He smiles at me. "And you'll remember me."

As if I could forget him.



The first time my friend Taylor came over to my house she was confused about Uncle Daddy.

"Is he your father or your uncle?" she wanted to know.

"Yes," I explained.

The truth is that Uncle Daddy isn't either my father or my uncle. He's actually Mom's uncle. I was three years old when he came to live with us.

Uncle Daddy took care of me. He told me stories, gave me my bath, got me dressed, combed my hair, packed my lunch. He sat through every single one of the dumb holiday shows I did in nursery school, kindergarten, first grade, etc.

I call him Uncle Daddy.

"I had a good life even before I met you," he told me one time. "A great, big hot-fudge sundae. You're the delicious extra scoop that got piled on top."

When I was little he would stand next to me while I brushed my teeth. Brushing your teeth was real important to him.

"You've got to fight the dragon," he told me, and I knew what that meant. He had a strict rule that I had to brush each tooth at least seven times. We counted together — one, two, three, four, five, six, seven — and when I'd done my uppers and lowers, fronts and backs, I'd tilt my head back, give him a tooth pasty grin, and demand: "Hand-cup!"

Uncle Daddy would swoop down his big hand, cup it underneath the faucet, fill it with water, and bring it to my mouth. I'd drink two or three cups of water from his hand like that. The water always tasted cool and sweet.

When I was little I was the world's worst catcher. And I mean the worst! Mom's got videotapes showing me with a glove and a Red Sox hat. Uncle Daddy throws me the ball, and I miss it every time. But he taught me how to catch.

Here's how he did it. He stood in front of me holding a rubber ball. He held the ball so close to my glove it was about one inch away.

"Here you go," he said and threw the ball, dropped it really, into my glove.

"Willie Mays!" he yelled when I caught it. He always called out the names of his favorite players.

Then he moved back a tiny step, so he was holding the ball maybe a foot from my glove. He tossed the ball and I caught it.

"Roberto Clemente!" he called when I caught it again. His face held nothing but pride.

Now back another half-step.

"Carl Yazstremski!" he yelled when I caught it a third time.

The same thing every day. We started real close together and moved back from there. If I missed one he'd just laugh and throw it again. I got better and better and pretty soon I didn't need to start out so close to him. Pretty soon we were playing catch like any other father and his kid.



My real father left when I was three years old. The way Mom tells it, he climbed into the car and drove off to get a pizza one summer night, and she never heard from him again. Not a postcard. Not even one phone call.

In her bedroom Mom's got a picture of him, and sometimes I wander in to look at it. In the photo he's a regular-looking guy with droopy brown eyes. He's got the same brown hair as me, and it looks like he's starting to go bald. I'm sitting on his lap in front of a hotel pool, and we both have the same goofy grins.

"What happened?" I've asked Mom a couple hundred times. "Why did he just leave like that?"

Usually when I ask her she just sighs or rubs her head or closes her eyes and gives me a tired smile.

But sometimes she would say, "He was going through a lot of stuff back then."

Or: "We were just kids."

Or: "I guess he had certain things he needed to work out."

As if that explained anything.

All I know for sure is the fact that when I was three years old he drove out to get a pizza and he never came back.

I've always wondered about that pizza. I mean, whatever happened to it? Did he eat it himself when he went off to wherever he was going?

My friend Taylor used to have a cocker spaniel named Scooter. One night Scooter ran away. That happened a couple of years ago, and Taylor knows he's probably dead but she still keeps looking for him. She can't help it. She checks the woods, the hills, and especially the grassy fields, because that was his favorite place to run.

Same with me. I keep looking for some thirty-five-year-old guy to stop me on the street and start talking to me like we're long-lost friends.

"I'm your father," he'd say. Then he'd smile as if he expected me to start screaming and jumping around like some fool who just found out he'd won the lottery.

"Oh yeah?" I'd shoot back. "For your information I've got a father. So why don't you go back to where you came from?"

Then I'd give him something I've been planning for a long time. I'd wind up and sock him as hard as I could, right in the stomach.



I looked at the clock: 2:35. School was almost done, but I was in a bad mood. The classroom felt hot and we were doing math, and Ethan Pierce was annoying me big-time.

"Today is the oneth of June!" Ethan yelled, pointing at the calendar. A few kids giggled. Ethan loved to show off, and when he had an audience he was worse.

"Tomorrow will be the twoth of June!" he proclaimed, making the word sound like tooth. The same kids laughed again. I tried to ignore him, but it was hard. He had two ways of talking — loud and louder.

"Rivers!" Ethan hissed at me.


"How is your super-awesome Uncle Daddy?" he asked.

"Fine," I said.

Uncle Daddy was principal at an elementary school thirty miles away. Ethan's mother had a friend who was a teacher at Uncle Daddy's school.

"You know what my mom's friend told me?" Ethan whispered. "She said your Uncle Daddy sang a song over the loudspeaker."

"Ethan, has the bell rung?" Ms. Vitkevich, our teacher, asked.

"No, ma'am."

"Then turn down the volume," Ms. Vitkevich told him. "Way down."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied.

"Hey, when you come over my house you can meet my Uncle Grandpa!" Ethan whispered to me. "You can meet my Uncle Cousin!"

"Ethan Pierce," Ms. Vitkevich said, standing up. "Didn't I just ask you to lower your voice?"

"Sorry," Ethan said meekly. He bent to his math. A visitor came into the class. When Ethan saw that Ms. Vitkevich was busy he leaned forward and whispered in my ear: "But the person I really, really want you to meet is my Uncle Uncle!"

Getting on the bus felt like climbing into a heated oven. A boy opened three little bus windows but that didn't help. Taylor and I sat next to each other, staring out the window.

"Good thing Ms. V. didn't give us much homework," she said, giving me a sly look. "You've got work to do."

I knew she was fishing, and this time it worked.

"Such as ...?"

"Such as planning for your party," she said with a smug smile.

My Un-Birthday!

See, I'm one of those lucky kids born on December 25. A Christmas birthday. It sounds pretty cool, but it's not. Ask anybody who's born on Christmas and they'll tell you the truth: you get gypped. Lots of people forget your birthday when it's on that day. Or they give you a combined Christmas-and-birthday gift.

That's how my Un-Birthday got started. Mom says my real father came up with the idea. Ever since I can remember I've had an Un-Birthday exactly half a year after my real birthday. The Un-Birthday falls on June 25, which is right around the last day of school.

"It's less than four weeks away!" I said to Taylor. "Better be nice," I warned her, "if you want to get invited."

"I'll take my chances," she calmly replied.

Our house was even hotter than the bus. The air conditioning went out a few days ago, and it still wasn't fixed. I found Mom stretched out on the recliner on the back porch, eyes closed, wearing her dark-blue U.S. Mail uniform. She has beautiful blond hair, but today it was plastered against her sweaty neck.

"Hiya, Ma," I said.

"Hellooo," she crooned, keeping her eyes shut. She didn't move her upper body, but her toes wiggled in a kind of greeting. "How was school?"


"It is soooooo hot!" she moaned.

"Don't you have AC in your jeep?"

"I wish." She sighed. "There's a little fan that pulls the hot air from the back of the jeep and blows it onto my face. I was about to faint delivering the mail."

I went into the house, got a clean washcloth, ran it under cold water, squeezed it, folded it, brought it back outside, and put the wet cloth across her forehead.

"Ooooh, thank you," Mom said. "You are a prince."

"You're welcome. Can't we get somebody to fix the AC?"

"The air-conditioning company can't come until sometime next week," she said. "But I just got a brilliant idea. Let's go to a movie tonight. They keep it so cold in there you have to wear a sweater."


Mom took off the cloth and sat up to look at me.

"I need to talk to you." She stopped to take a breath. "I think I want to go out. You know. On a date."

I stared at her.

"Did somebody ... ask you out?"

"Is that so hard to believe?" she asked. She had just turned thirty-five. She was tall (six feet) and pretty, especially when she smiled, but now she was frowning.

"No, it's a blind date," she explained. "A blind double date. My friend Trish knows this guy. I've never met him but she says he's nice. So Trish and Sam are going out with me and Walker."

"Walker?" I laughed at the name.

"I feel old for a blind date," Mom said. "But I figure: what the heck? Are you sure you're okay with it?"

"Sure, I'm okay," I said. "But, Mom, we have to plan my Un-Birthday."

"My God!" Her eyes snapped open wide. "It's less than a month away!"


"Okay, okay," she said, laughing. "So let's plan it. What do you have in mind?"

"Uncle Daddy said I can bring four of my friends to his school on a Saturday for a couple of hours." I rubbed my hands together. "He says we can run the school, do anything, play anything we want. Anything! It's going to be a blast!"

"Well, he's the principal, isn't he?" Mom said. "How are you going to decide who to invite?"

"I'm still trying to figure that out," I said. "After that I want to come back here and have a party with my whole class. We can play football and have a cookout. Then have a big bonfire on the back lawn, roast marshmallows, tell ghost stories, stuff like that."

"Okay," Mom said, nodding. "Let's just hope the weather is nice. You want to invite the whole class to the party?"


"Even the girls?"


"Even Ethan Pierce?" Mom asked.

"Even Ethan." I sighed.



It was hot in school. The building was air-conditioned, but in the morning we got a full blast of direct sun through the big windows. Ms. Vitkevich said it was a perfect example of the "greenhouse effect." Maybe so, but all that heat sure made everyone act a little cranky.

Plus, there was Ethan Pierce sitting right smack next to me.

"Your Un-Birthday party is going to be totally Un-Cool!" he hissed in my hair.

Uncle Daddy taught me that when someone makes you mad you should count slowly to ten. I took a deep breath and tried it now: one, two, three, four, five, six ...

"You inviting me to your Un-Birthday?" Ethan asked.

"Un-Fortunately not," I lied. He didn't know I was inviting the whole class. And I was in no big hurry to tell him.

"Aw, pleeeeeeeeease!" he begged. "I want to come to your Un-Birthday! I want to eat Un-Cake! I want to eat Un — Ice-Cream!"

Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen ...

"I'll be so Un-Happy if I can't come to your Un-Birthday! It will be so Un-Fair!"

"You are the most annoying kid in this class," I told him.

"Un-True!" Ethan yelled.

"Ethan Pierce." Ms. Vitkevich came and stood right next to his desk. "One more outburst like that and you've got detention. Is that clear?"

"Yes, ma'am," he whimpered.

"Don't ma'am me!" she shot back. "Just show a little more respect for the other students in this classroom."

That shut Ethan up for the rest of the morning. But as soon as we went outside for recess he started pestering me again.

"I want to have Un-Fun at your Un-Birthday!" Ethan cried. "I want to come to your party so badly! Please, Rivers!"

Now he actually got down on his knees and pressed his hands together.

"Please!" he begged. "I promise to buy you the best Un-Present in the whole wide world!"

After school I went over to Taylor's house. She and I decided to pull names out of a hat to see which kids would come to play at Uncle Daddy's school. We had a list of all the kids in the class, and she helped me print each kid's name on a separate piece of paper.

"Everyone except me," I reminded her. "And don't do you."

She made a face at me. "Why not?"

"You're already coming," I said. "You're my best friend."

I folded up all the other names and put them into a box. Then I reached in and pulled out a slip of paper. As soon as I read the name I slapped the paper down on the table. Ethan Pierce!

We looked at each other without smiling. The idea popped into my head that I could forget about Ethan and pick three other names. I mean, who would know besides Taylor and me? When I looked at Taylor she had this little smile on her face and I knew she was thinking the exact same thing. But then I got depressed, because I knew we wouldn't. We didn't do things like that. Ethan Pierce was coming, like it or not.

"Oh, brother," I said.

"Keep going," Taylor said, and she offered me the box. I picked Jessie and Carly.

"It's going to be great," Taylor said.

"Yeah," I said, and tried to believe it.

On the day of my Un-Birthday party, Taylor, Jessie, Carly, and Ethan came to my house at two o'clock. We all piled into Uncle Daddy's car. He had the top down on his convertible.

"Can you all fit?" Mom asked.

"Sure thing," Uncle Daddy said. "You guys don't mind sharing seat belts, do you?"

In the front seat I double-buckled with Taylor.

"I can't double-buckle," Ethan Pierce announced. "My parents don't allow me to. They say it's unsafe."

"That's okay," Uncle Daddy said. "There are three seat belts back there."

"Have a great time!" Mom called as we backed out of the driveway.

"We'll try!" Uncle Daddy yelled back. "I don't have any snacks, but we'll try to have at least a little fun!"

Taylor and I laughed. On the floor of the car we could see two bags of chips and pretzels, some cans of soda, and a bag of apples. Pretty soon we were cruising down the street, the wind whipping our hair.

"Too windy?" Uncle Daddy asked us.

"NO!" everybody yelled.

"I used to have tons of hair," Uncle Daddy said. He reached up to rub his big bald head. "But driving around with the top down, well, you can see what happened. The wind blew it away. Be careful that doesn't happen to you!"

Taylor giggled.

"Are you the principal of your school?" Ethan asked. No chance the wind could drown out his voice.

"That's right," Uncle Daddy replied. He took a bag of pretzels and passed it to me.

"What's the worst thing about it?" Ethan yelled from the back seat. Taylor flashed me an annoyed smile, but Uncle Daddy smiled like he'd been expecting the question.

"Discipline," he said. "You know, dealing with the kids who get sent to the office."

"Lots of bad kids, huh?" Ethan asked.

"I've never known a bad kid," Uncle Daddy said. "But I've known plenty of good kids who get in trouble once in a while."

"Do you punish them?" Ethan asked.

"Mostly I just talk to them," Uncle Daddy said.

A truck came up alongside, and the driver waved at us. That got everybody in our car yelling: "Hoo! Hoo!" Ethan let out a scream so loud Uncle Daddy almost swerved off the road.

"Ethan, what are you doing!" I yelled.

Uncle Daddy pulled off the road and shut off the engine. For a moment nobody made a sound.

"Sorry," Ethan said in a tiny voice.

Uncle Daddy turned around and looked straight at Ethan.


Excerpted from Uncle Daddy by Ralph Fletcher. Copyright © 2001 Ralph Fletcher. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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15. - CRISIS,
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