My Uncle Mike is one of my greatest role-models, quite possibly the only one who could even qualify for the position. When I was growing up, he volunteered to be the father-figure in my life when nobody else was. He helped my mom raise me, even though he had a family of his own to look after. No matter how busy life got for him, I was never neglected. He took me camping, canoing, skiing, helped me learn how to bowl, and many , many other things. I learned what it was to be a man by watching him. I watched how no matter who you were, he made you a friend of his. I watched him stand up for his family and protect them, even if it caused him harm. I witnessed the peaks of his strength and the depths of his compassion. A little less than one year ago, I watched him face his own mortality, and put his fears aside to comfort and reassure his family…to comfort and reassure me.
On April 24th 2008, the man that had the biggest hand in making me who I am today, passed away.
No death has ever torn me down like this one.
By our nature the men in my family face adversity with a quiet, calming and powerful demeanor. My Grandfather, my Cousin Josh, my Uncle Mike, my Uncle Doug, Uncles Veng and Ouvieng, and myself…we are all the same in this way. It is not easy to maintain. This time I couldn’t keep it controlled. This time I find my emotions flowing like the tide. They are calm and peaceful when the tide is out but, when the tide rises…the sea grows and the waves of emotion come crashing down, leveling me.
I gave a eulogy at his funeral yesterday and in all of the times I have spoken to large groups of people, I have never had so much difficulty. In fact, I can safely say that I have never been through a more difficult time in my life than I have in the past week.
Many people have asked me since yesterday to write down, and give them a copy of what I said. Thankfully I had already written it, and although I ad-libbed a bit, I remember it all. I’m posting it here because although it is deeply personal, I want everyone to know what an amazing man Mike Morgan was.
So here it is:
I’ve told myself over and over that this won’t be easy but that I will make it through this speech and keep my composure. Now that I am up here though, I look out at this room full of people and all I can think is…”uh oh”
I haven’t stopped thinking about what I want to say today, and I still barely know where to begin and I know that even when I finish I will feel like I have left volumes out.
I have been trying to figure out how to describe my family, it’s not easy. I can’t figure out the best way to sum us up. In speaking with my mom last night, she said “we are strong.” As simple as it is, it’s true. The women in this family are strong and compassionate. The men are solid and stoic, although as you can see sometimes the stoicism is impossible to maintain. We, the men in this family have a tendency to stay quiet during the hard times, keeping their emotions at bay, I suppose because there is strength in silence.
I’m going to break that mold for a moment, because these emotions are stronger than I am right now.
You see the difficult thing about being a man who keeps his feelings close is that you tend to wonder if the people you care about ever truly understand how much they mean to you. Sure, you can try to say it but, the words never do justice to the depth of love you have for them. So you say: “I love you son”, “I love you, dad”, or “I love you Uncle Mike.”
When you say these things to someone with the same quiet caring as you have, he’ll reply with “I love you too, dad” or “I love you too, son”.
Sorry, just a second please…
I actually wrote that little apology in here because I knew I’d get choked up at that part. All of the pain of this tends to hit me at once every time his voice says “I love you, son” in my head. This is something that has been happening with some frequency over the past several days.
See, my Uncle was the only man to ever call me son and really mean it. He was a father to me when no other man could be, or knew how to be. He took up that role voluntarily, because he couldn’t let me grow up fatherless. He defended me and my mother when guys came around that meant to do us harm. Yes, I am his nephew by blood but, he chose to call me son, despite the fact that my mother is his sister and I’m sure this dynamic was confusing for some people.
I’ve come to the conclusion that my father leaving us was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Not because he is a bad person, but because he could have never been the role model to me that my Uncle is. My Uncle showed me what it means to be a man. He showed me how to live with integrity, strength, and compassion…traits he learned from his own father. I have tried my whole life to be like him. I can only hope that in the end I’ll be half of the man that my Uncle was.
I’ve made many mistakes along the way. Many things that I never had the courage to tell him. I was always afraid that our relationship would dissolve under the strain of my own sins. We all have something today that we wish had done differently in our lives with him. Maybe you think you could have been better friends, better parents, siblings, a spouse, or children. I know that I personally wish that I would have gone canoing more. I wish we had gotten together for lunch more often, like the one we had before I moved to Columbia. I wish I had picked up the phone more when I had the urge but something got in the way. I wish I hadn’t told myself “he needs his rest, I’ll call him when he gets better,” I wish I had been here to hear him say “I love you, son” one last time. I have a long list of things I wish had done differently. If you have even one thing you wish had been different, let me tell you this…
My Uncle was the man that he was because of the culmination of every experience in his life. Good and bad. He held nothing against you. You were wonderful parents, loyal friends, somewhat obedient – but loving children, siblings who were always there for him, and a wife who stood by him through the best, and the worst just as you vowed you would. If any of you had changed something about your relationship with him, he would have ultimately been a different man. I think we can all agree that he was good just the way he was.
I’ve decided that one day, if I have a son, his name will be Michael, and with God’s help I will teach him what it means to be a man, like my Uncle taught me. Should I have a daughter (I won’t name her Michelle) she will learn to settle for no one who is less than my Uncle was. I can only pray that one day I’ll be as great a father to my children as my Uncle Mike was to me.
If you are still reading after all of that, thank you. I am at a loss for words now. I will put some images up when I return home. If you feel compelled to do anything on behalf of my Uncle you may do so here.
I am ready for this week to end.