Tomorrow is the memorial service for my step-father Jim Morton. I say the word “step” here which, while accurate, does not convey his role in my life accurately. For when I think of the word “father” it is his memory that is invoked. And I think of him now.
Jim passed away a few days ago. Passed away – an interesting euphemism. It seems particularly apt in this case. Jim had suffered from Alzheimer’s and had been slowly passing away from us little by little over the last few years. And when he died it was quietly and peacefully in his sleep. It has not been long enough for me to truly understand and grasp the implication of this.
Jim and I did not always agree. In fact on most subjects we were diametrically opposed. With two exceptions: we both loved baseball, and we both adored my mother.
But the fact we disagreed is testament to the way I was raised. I was never told what to believe or how to think; instead I was given the opportunity to find my own way. To be my own man.
Jim came into my life at an early age. It was a difficult time, I was a difficult kid. He could have chosen to be domineering and authoritarian. Instead he chose kindness, a quiet tenderness. Always even-tempered, I rarely saw him get angry. He led by example.
I didn’t have to be told how to be a good friend; I watched him and knew. I didn’t have to be told how to be a loving husband; I saw him with my mother and understood. I learned by emulating what I saw.
Once a few years ago we sat talking into the night. In an unusually confessional moment he said to me, “Paul, I never wanted to replace your father,” he turned away just for a moment then back again, “I just wanted to be someone you looked up to.”
I remember I smiled, “You succeeded,” I said. And then I said, “I know we’re different, but I hope you are proud of me.”
“I am,” he told me. Then the conversation turned to talk of sports and plans for the summer. I will always remember that night.
So yes, we didn’t always agree Jim and me. But always there was respect. Always there was love.
I am a better man for having known him. My life has been richer for having him in it. And the world seems just a bit empty without him around.
I will miss him.