It’s been a massive flood of emotions, really like nothing I’ve experienced before.
He was my step-dad, though I hate saying “step-dad” because I feel like it kind of devalues our relationship.
A more accurate way to put it: I lost the only man who ever treated me like a son.
He showed me a lot of tough love when I was screwing up a lot in my early 20s. I’d wreck my car, or run afoul of the law, and he’d always be straight up with me. But he never belittled me. I think back and run through all the moments that I can remember, sitting there at his kitchen table while he talked to me about my life.
“You’ve got so much potential.”
“You’re a great guy.”
“You’ve got to be proactive, not reactive.”
Nobody, except my mom, had ever told me I was worth a damn. A lot of people told me the opposite in fact. You start to believe it after awhile. Tom never talked down to me. He was always direct, and supportive.
Over the years, I grew to appreciate him more and more. Part of my grief has been the fear that he didn’t know I loved him and appreciated him. He was a gentle and sensitive man, yet masculine and confidant. He didn’t suffer fools, and didn’t have time for a lot of BS. If you were his friend, you were his family. He lived by a code of ethics that focused on kindness, honesty, and doing the right thing.
I say all of this also knowing that I didn’t know him as well as I could have. I spent the first half of my time knowing him pushing him away and the second half too worried about myself to take the time out. I wasted a lot of time that could have been spent learning more from him. Luckily the last couple of years brought us much closer.
So what do I take away?
- Don’t take things for granted.
- Treat people fairly.
- Give people as many chances as they need, but always hold them accountable.
- Speak the truth, the hard truth, even if it’s uncomfortable.
- Love your friends.
I know that his death is the only reason that I’m realizing the impact he had on me – and maybe that’s just how it goes, but I regret never really telling him what he meant. I hope that I conveyed it well enough in those few, private, man-to-man moments where he told me he was proud of me and patted me on the back.
Hopefully the eye contact said it when I didn’t have the guts to.
Goodbye, Tom. I love you.