In Memory of Robert P. Labat
Uncles can play a special role in the American culture, and more importantly the family dynamic. In some cases, uncles can support a child through early life as a kind of family substitute teacher offering a different approach to life. As time goes on an uncle may support a young adult by recognizing their growth from a child, and viewing them as an equal quicker than a parent might. I’m fortunate in a very unique way in that I grew up in a family where my father and two uncles were an amazing trio of superheroes in my eyes. They were like the Avengers; they were all great in their own ways, but teamed up perfectly to create something truly special.
My dad was badass introducing me to rock n roll, car culture and motorcycles at a young age. My second oldest uncle was laidback and fun taking my cousins and me on bike rides through city park, and the French Quarter on the weekends. And my youngest uncle, Uncle Rob was a legendary sportsman who has more tales about him than anyone would expect from a humble New Orleanian. When you see “Sportsman’s Paradise” on Louisiana license plates, Uncle Rob was the type of sportsman those plates are talking about. A talented hunter, marksman, fisherman, barterer, teacher, animal lover, film enthusiast, cook, and a loving son, brother, father and uncle.
If somebody were to create an animated series about the various tales I’ve heard about my Uncle Rob, viewers would call it hilariously wild and unbelievable. I once heard a story about Robert as a kid catching a squirrel with his bare hands, and being bitten by the squirrel hard enough to draw blood. More interestingly, is that young Rob thought the squirrel was the one bleeding, and didn’t feel a thing. This is to be expected when considering the type of person that would torture their older brothers by keeping his unwashed hunting suit in the shared bedroom closet. Uncle Rob didn’t choose to be a sportsman, the life chose him.
I heard another story that as a teenager Robert was exceptionally fast, but had absolutely no interest in running for the track team, because it would, “Interfere with my weekend fishing.” The young teen was so fast that the Brother Martin track coach made a deal that all Robert had to do was run his races, and then he could leave straight to the lake. It was almost as if Robert ran the race, won and then ran straight to his truck to go fish. Uncle Rob was a true sportsman through and through.
Even more incredibly I heard a tale about Robert and some hunting friends getting surprised by a charging boar, but instead of running Robert took aim with a bow, and took it out with one arrow to the head. This would seem like a tall tale spun by drinking buddies, but I completely believed it, because Uncle Rob was just that type of guy. He’s the only person I’ve ever known to have an above ground pool just to house bass that he caught from the Mississippi River, which was located right across the street and over a levee from his house. That house will always be in my memory as one of my favorite New Year Eve’s ever, because nothing is as fun as fireworks and shotguns out where no one will bother you about it.
There’s countless more tales about my Uncle Rob, but nothing will top being able to grow up with him as an uncle. Teaching me important lessons about fire ants, letting me shoot my first shotgun, making some of the best fried fish I ever had and becoming a true friend as I became an adult. He not only saw me as his nephew, but as a grown man and younger brother. I’ll always remember my first Mardi Gras as a legal drinking age adult when he walked with me around the French Quarter, drinks in hand, happily telling about how he and his brothers would do this very same thing as young adults.
There was no one quite as loving and inviting as Uncle Rob either. Always greeting with a big smile, a big hug and a huge “Hey how you doing, man?” Later, he would always leave with another big hug, and a sincere, “I love you.” These are all the reasons why Uncle Rob will be dearly and greatly missed in this world. And even though there will be sad moments where I wish that I could go fishing with him one time, I know that somewhere out there he’s finally able to head back on the water with all the people he missed as greatly as we now miss him.
I love you, Uncle Rob, forever and always.
In memory of Robert Peter Labat.
April 27, 1963 - April 14, 2021