I met Jerry Lee Muse in the late fall/winter of 1992. He showed up with big hair to pick up the little ball of energy named Alexandria Lee Muse. Alex was 3 years old. I was a whole 19 years old starting my second year of college. Little did I know that Alex was going to become a huge part of my life and that life would include Jerry Lee.
Debi and I married in 1993. I was a whole 20 years old with two years of bad grades in higher education in biblical learning. I was very naive and had little, if any understanding of the decision I had made to get married. I became the “step-dad” of an already made family that included all of the difficulties involved with an ex-husband, ex-wives and ex-inlaws. The web was thick and the tensions were still pretty stiff between Debi and Jerry Lee. Nonetheless, we began stumbling through the difficulties of navigating “broken family.” From the beginning, I realized that I wanted to be more than “step-dad” but chose never to compete with or attempt the folly of “replacing” her Dad. I chose to be called “Tim” and swore to be the very best Tim I could be.
The early 3 years weren’t much more than pick up and drop offs. Debi always seemed better at the role of parent than Jerry and I. However, when Alex turned 6 years old I am convinced that Jerry and I began to realize we were “parenting” together. We both loved Alex. I was really inexperienced at the whole “step-dad” role. Patience wasn’t my virtue and I had no idea how to really handle any parenting role. He and I began to build some type of “co-parenting/dad” relationship at Alex’s kindergarten events. But apparently we were doing something right because Alex, was always adamant to let people know she had TWO Daddies! I never felt I lived up to that, but at this point in life, I’ll let Alex be the expert judge.
Through the years Jerry and I got past the “awkwardness” of our complex situation. I remember birthdays at skating rinks and pizza places. Jerry and I would frequently find ourselves sitting at the table together while waving at Alex as she bounced, jumped or ran around with her other friends. I remember sharing the moment with Jerry Lee when Alex decided to follow Jesus by surrendering her life in baptism. I even remember a New Years Eve beer run that he and I made together. We talked about life and marriage and all kinds of things. We laughed the whole way to Richmond and back. There was a bond, but I was never too sure exactly what is was to be labeled.
I was never the “perfect” step-dad. Nor do I think Jerry expected me to be. There were difficult times that emerged. On one occasion Jerry and I had to join forces and intervene in a less than healthy event that entailed Alex sneaking out of the house. This event included another mother who began making the situation even more difficult. To my surprise, Jerry Lee raised his voice at this lady yelling, “For God’s sake lady, will you shut up before you get Tim killed!” (language edited for the sensitive). I know that was the defining moment that Jerry Lee let it be known that I was more than just a “jerk step dad.” And still, the times grew more difficult.
There was a time when Debi and I made a very difficult decision to move our family to Florida. Jerry Lee and the rest of the Muse family was very concerned about this move. They knew distance was going to be a very difficult hurdle and obstacle to being involved in Alex’s life. One afternoon Debi and I went to visit Jerry Lee and Judy to talk about the situation. Jerry very pointedly asked me, “Tim, how do you think this is going to work out? Do you really think this is going to benefit Alex? I’m not excited about not being able to see her on the weekends.” I very honestly told Jerry Lee I wasn’t sure how it would work out but I made a very pointed promise to him I would personally guarantee he and Alex would be able to visit over more than a telephone even if I had to drive her to see him myself. I remember his reluctance, but he voiced his trust in me. That lasted about a year and we moved back to Burnside.
As Alex aged, boys became an increasing issue. There were several occasions that Jerry Lee and I spoke with one another regarding Alex and her interactions with boys. Jerry Lee and I were always consolidated on Alex’s safety. We had our own ways of making it known that we could be force to be reckoned with if the opportunity presented itself.
I suppose to many this doesn’t seem too interesting but let me sum it up with something that is very important to me:
Jerry Lee was ALWAYS very gracious with me. Jerry could have chosen to be critical of every mistake I made or every time I blew it as a “step-parent.” I made thousands of mistakes during those years. I know Jerry Lee was not always happy with me but he was always good to me. Jerry and I were never what you may call “pals.” However, I think I know what it was now.
Jerry Lee was Dad and I was Tim and through my very loosely defined role we parented together. We both made mistakes. We both irritated one another from time to time and we didn’t always see eye to eye but we were always able to unite on giving our best to Alex. Neither of us were perfect, but both of us did the best we knew how. After all, there is no manual that comes with any of this parenting stuff.
I’ve met some very good people that were friends of Jerry Lee like Eric, Shawn, Steve and Blaine. Caroline and Amileah sat with Debi and I during the memorial service. Shawn looked over his shoulder at the beginning of the funeral and whispered, “Is that the famous fluffy?” Debi and I smiled and said, “Yes, this is Fluffy.”
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking over the past couple of days. I’ve watched as Amileah, Savannah and Caroline process grief at their young ages. I don’t believe Amileah or Savanna will soon forget PawPaw. But Caroline is very young and I know that many of her few memories will fade away. I want to do my part to make sure that “Fluffy” doesn’t forget her PawPaw.
I believe my role as “stepdad” or, Tim, has an ongoing responsibility to Jerry Lee’s, his family and friends. I have always referred to Caroline as “Linabug.” However, I want as many reminders of her PawPaw as possible to be in her life. I have decided to retire my personal “pet name” for Caroline and will now refer to her as “Fluffy.”
Jerry Lee, you may have left all of us early, but you didn’t leave Alex, Amileah, Savannah or Caroline in bad hands. I promise I will do my part in keeping your memory alive in their lives. Thank you for your gracious spirit and the privilege of parenting with you through some difficult territory. I will never forget who you are because you are very much an integral part of all that I love and hold dear in my family. You taught me that there is no-one that can take the place of Dad in the life of a girl. You will forever be Dad and I will forever be Tim and I will forever remind them that they had a PawPaw that loved them dearly.
Rest in peace my friend. I will not forget you.