Oh, you guys. I was so happy to ring in 2014 all fresh and happy, but tragedy struck immediately. At a far too young age, we lost James Avery, best known as Uncle Phillip Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. My family was big into Fresh Prince – my oldest brother basically is Will Smith (from the show) – so it feels a bit like losing a fictional father, which may not sound like a huge deal, but it really is. Just as I waxed nostalgic when Marcia Wallace passed, I shall pay homage to one of my TV fathers. Rest in peace, Mr. Avery.
EINTKILF Uncle Phil
1. Eat well.
One of my favorite parts of Fresh Prince are the recurring jokes. You know, Carlton’s height, Hilary’s ditziness and definitely Uncle Phil’s weight. Though it goes against everything in me to mock the weight of another human being, some of those jokes are outright hilarious.
Though after Uncle Phil has a heart attack, he really tries (for at least an episode), to eat healthy. Much to Geoffrey’s joy.
Uncle Phil: What the heck is this?
G: Chicken, sir! Ohhhh, you probably don’t recognize it without a thick coating of batter and gravy!
Uncle Phil: I can’t do this. I can’t give up my favorite foods cold turkey. Oh my god, turkey! With pillowy mounds of mashed potatoes, butter drenched dressing, tiny onions, swimming in a sea of cream sauce.
But seriously, though… food is delicious, but obviously eating well is really important too.
2. Respect your elders.
Uncle Phil: Look at me when I’m talking to you. Let me tell you something, son. I grew up on the streets just like you. I encountered bigotry you could not imagine. Now you have a nice poster of Malcolm X on your wall. I heard the brother speak. I read every word he wrote. Believe me, I know where I come from!
Will: You actually heard Malcolm speak?
Uncle Phil: That’s right. So before you criticize someone, you find out what he’s all about.
Now, this all hits home for me for a million reasons I don’t feel like getting into, but regardless – it reminds me that even though our generation (and all generations) have a sense of “knowing everything,” it really is important to remember that our ancestors walked in our footsteps before us. There is a large generational gap between (I’ma speak for one side of me right now) young Black people and older Black people, but honestly, it pays to respect those before you of all races, genders, everything. Generational gaps are definitely real and they can be incredibly divisive, but we can all learn from each other.
Uncle Phil and Will touched on this a lot. Did you know you were learning from Fresh Prince? You were!
3. How to be an uncle.
Though Uncle Phil is incredibly hard on Will, we all know he is hard on him for a reason. (See above.) He loves him – he is just hard on him because he holds him to a high standard. (Story of my life.)
4. Let your daughters be themselves.
Ashley (who was my favorite character) and Hilary, though they were Uncle Phil’s pride and joy(s), drive him mad. Hilary is uppity and needy (mostly financially), and Ashley is rebellious and, well, kinda sexy. Through mostly Ashley, Uncle Phil learns that eventually, you have to let your kids go. At least a bit.
But seriously, when Ash sings “Respect” to her dad, it’s like my dream moment. (Not that it applies to my life, I just love it.)
5. How to get kids out of trouble.
Speaking of everyone driving Uncle Phil crazy, Will and Carlton get into a lot of hare-brained “Lucy and Ethel” type schemes, and Uncle Phil typically bails them out. Like when he shows off his mean pool skills to win Will’s money back from that pool shark.
Uncle Phil: Geoffrey, break out Lucille.
6. Be threatening.
…I mean, sometimes! I am the last person to talk about threatening people because I get into trouble when I do that, but! Uncle Phil does it pretty well.
Uncle Phil: Look you little big ear freeloader! You and your square head cousin better find Geoffrey before I bury your bodies! And I’m a judge. I can make it happen.
7. How to soul dance.
He got the moves.
8. Defend your family.
As aforementioned, though Uncle Phil will kill Carlton and Will, he will also come to their defense at any point.
Uncle Phil: Don’t mess with my boy again. You mess with him, you’re messin’ with me.
Cop: Sit down.
Uncle Phil: Hey buddy, now you don’t talk to my wife like that!
… I’ve got a few questions for you. When you got this alleged confession from these two young men, did they have a lawyer present? No, because I’m their lawyer. Did you notify their parents? No, because we’re their parents. So officer, don’t tell us to wait, and don’t tell us to sit down, just open that damn cell and let those two boys out of there or I’m going to tie this place up with so much litigation that your grandchildren are going to need lawyers!
That’s right! Also, people who don’t stand up for their families are pretty much the bottom of my totem pole. Just so you know.
9. Black Power.
10. How to be a father.
I put this lesson off, not just because I knew it was going to make me cry (because it always does), but because while I was searching for the best image for this particular episode, I found this meme.
And I’m not a man, so I didn’t even think to make it a lesson, but when I saw it, it made me quite emotional. Because yes, he’s a television show character, but we all know James Avery and Uncle Phil paralleled one another. It is not a stretch to imagine him as the strong man that he portrayed on television, and those are the best kind of people. We all know the episode, we all know the moment, and some of us can really relate to it. That hug at the end? Avery’s natural reaction to Smith’s performance. Proof that characters leak into real life.
I can’t forget seeing my big brother cry when this episode aired, brand new and everything. Uncle Phil, James Avery, you did wonders for the youth of America. Condolences to your family, to your fans, and your friends. Rest in peace, and thank you. Everlasting thanks to you.