“He Spoke Of You, At The End. He Loved You, You Know.”

And those are the words I heard tonight as I learned a very old friend is now gone.

The words were from his daughter, who I last saw when she was 5 or 6 years old.  She is 26 now.  She barely remembered me, but she found me after her father spoke those words.

I had not talked to this friend in a lifetime, it seems – but we were once very close – his kids were my kids, before I had kids of my own.  He made me promise to care for them if anything happened to him.

Eventually, time and a life doing things most of us can only imagine (and Discovery Channel can only dramatize) death caught up to him.  He was not just a sailor – he was a Navy Seal.

I hadn’t seen him in at least 20 years, and had not spoken to him in the last decade.

But while I am deeply saddened by his passing I am also reminded how fleeting life is – how tenuous this grip on “today” is.

I am also curious why he thought of, and mentioned me in his last moments – we were very good friends for a year or two – we were, at best, occasional friends after that.

He was a gay sailor when being gay would get you put in jail, not just put out of the Navy.  He was also married, and had two young daughters.

He balanced a life that I didn’t really understand at the time – he had his secrets, but he also had a family that he cared for – he did that by being a good Sailor, and hiding his lifestyle from his employer.

He played a straight Sailor to allow his family a better life.

His wife Debbie was probably even stronger than he was – for she accepted this news in a way I still cannot understand.  And she stayed married to him for 35 years.  Even though she knew he was gay for over 25 of those years.

I knew him for almost two years before him and his wife took me out to a porch swing – and he told me he was gay, and that they were best friends, and that everything he did was about the two girls he had – every lie he lived he lived for his daughters.

He was a proud, gay, closeted Navy Seal that was first and foremost a wonderful father.

He was also a great friend.  He taught me a great deal about tolerance, understanding, fatherhood, friendship and self-respect.

His wife Debbie, who was always the strongest woman I have known – she gave up more for her daughters than most people are capable of.  She lived a lifetime of lies about her relationship with her husband because she wanted the best for her kids.  As he did.

I’m proud that I knew him – and I am honored that he mentioned me in his last moments.  And I am completely ecstatic that his daughters have grown into such wonderful, wise, compassionate and caring young ladies.

Young ladies that are extremely  proud of their father’s service to his country, their mothers dedication to them, and mostly of who they have become through the strength of this wonderful pair of human beings.

Jim, you were a wonderful teacher, a great role model as a Sailor, and a road map to fantastic fatherhood.

Rest in Peace – I admire you, I respect you, and yes, I even love you.

And to Debbie and your daughters – I am jealous.  I knew him for two years, and you had so  much more time with him.

The best of Jim lives in the people he met, and taught.

I am a better person for having known him – and I know I am one of dozens, if not hundreds, of people that Jim mentored.

Comments

  1. Nice remembrance. You are a good friend. And a good writer.