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 â€“ but we were once very close â€“ 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 â€“ he was a Navy Seal.
I hadnâ€™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 â€“ how tenuous this grip on â€œtodayâ€ is.
I am also curious why he thought of, and mentioned me in his last moments â€“ we were very good friends for a year or two â€“ 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 didnâ€™t really understand at the time â€“ he had his secrets, but he also had a family that he cared for â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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 â€“ 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.
Iâ€™m proud that I knew him â€“ 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 fatherâ€™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 â€“ I admire you, I respect you, and yes, I even love you.
And to Debbie and your daughters â€“ 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 â€“ and I know I am one of dozens, if not hundreds, of people that Jim mentored.