I wish you had appreciated I’m not only your father but a graduate of the Naval Academy and was at Pearl Harbor and didn’t panic when the Japanese sneak-attacked our big warships across the harbor. From the little minelayer Pruitt we fired antiaircraft guns at the bastards and I later volunteered to be a pilot and excelled in flight school, as in all schools, and not long after you were born, in December 1943, I qualified to roar off aircraft carriers and attack our enemies over Wake Island then their big home island, Honshu, and celebrated when Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war. I’d helped make the world safe for America and our family.
You should’ve also respected I served in the Korean War and won the Bronze Star for combating the communist North Koreans and Chinese. They weren’t going to get near the United States. General Douglas MacArthur would stop them just as he had the Japanese during World War II. That’s why your name is James Douglas Morrison. Try to emulate MacArthur. Aspire to be like me. You know I’m a gentleman as well as warrior. Men under my command would’ve never smirked at me. You’re fortunate your mother and I decided we didn’t want to spank you and the other kids. Maybe that was a mistake. If I’d periodically tanned your fanny maybe you wouldn’t so often have been rude, even obscene, to your mother or pinned your little brother to the floor and farted in his face or constantly been firing oral gas at teachers in the many schools you attended as a navy brat. I’m sure you understand I once had to wield my belt when, shaggy and sloppily-dressed, you insulted some wives of fellow officers. I couldn’t risk having a beatnik son.
I was an officer moving up and received special security clearance to work in our nuclear weapons program in New Mexico. I still can’t talk about that. You weren’t interested in discussing my career anyway. You disappeared into the desert and collected exotic insects and reptiles. I was happy you read so much, though I’d have preferred you study more war and less philosophy. I did appreciate your academic potential and sometimes praised your good grades though not as often as I rebuked you for loafing in some classes. I had been trying to train you to become a navy man, one of the distinguished seafaring Morrisons, but eventually realized you were too sullen and strange.
After graduating from high school in 1961 you at least attended a community college and did all right your first year then completed a year and a half at Florida State University, and I thought you understood when I said no way are you going to transfer to liberal UCLA and study useless films. You knew I captained one of the most powerful aircraft carriers in the world and was the man who told the men President Kennedy had just been assassinated. They looked to me for guidance.
I wanted to share my counsel with you during your Christmas visit home, now Coronado by the sea, so early in January 1964 I prepared a special surprise.
Come on, Jim, let’s go fishing, I said.
Down to the pier we went to be greeted by uniformed men who addressed me as Sir and escorted us to a launch taking us to the flattop. On board six marines, trained to crush mutinies, received me deferentially. Then as if by magic nine football fields of ship began to move, just as I’d earlier ordered.
I knew you’d recently had a haircut but hustled you to the ship’s barber for more trimming so you’d look like a captain’s son and worthy to meet some of my top officers who now enthusiastically shook your hand and posed for pictures. That’s a great shot of you and me, son and father, on the bridge of the mighty USS Bon Homme Richard. Relaxed and looking out to sea, I’m the polite and charming man most people perceived, and you’re so young and chubby-cheeked and interested in what’s going on.
Let’s go take some target practice, Jim.
Back on deck we marched to watch two hundred sailors firing into the sea at targets carved to look like them, and I said okay Jim, take some shots.
No thanks, you softly replied.
Here’s your gun, Jim, ready, aim, fire. Wasn’t that great, I said on shore as we walked to the car to drive home.
You just mumbled yeah and didn’t look my way again until back home your mother scolded me for not having taken out the garbage that morning, as she’d assigned, and there was your smirk again. Our home was your mother’s ship, Jim.
We could not accept your deceiving us and transferring to UCLA. I might’ve come up there to discipline you but had more urgent duties in the Gulf of Tonkin. The communists were trying to knock over countries like dominos and dominate Asia in order to control the Pacific. We had to act. Don’t blame me our destroyer Maddox had been supplying information to the South Vietnamese. It was in international waters and simply trying to bring peace and freedom to the region. My comrades said the North Vietnamese attacked the Maddox twice in August 1964. They really didn’t, but that’s not the strategic point. President Lyndon Johnson, through the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, could now justify attacking our enemies. By late 1964 I was out of the region. Parts of three Pacific wars sufficed. En route to my next assignment, in London, assisting the commander of our naval forces in Europe, I stopped home for Christmas.
Your dishonesty disgusts me, Jim, I said.
I’ll graduate next spring.
With a degree in film? Worthless. Put that damn beer down. You drink too much.
I didn’t want to see you and in 1966 wrote your long hair was freakish and to forget singing since you had utterly no talent and could expect no help from me. In 1967 you’re aware a friend told your brother about your debut album, The Doors, and he brought it home and I shoved my face into the newspaper and tried not shake but couldn’t stop when in “The End” you allude to murdering your sister and brother then say you want to kill me and violate your mother.
He doesn’t mean you, Steve, some people said. That’s his art. He’s speaking metaphorically.
Then, in all these interviews, why is he telling the world his family’s dead?
Jim, your mother and I understood your reluctance to communicate with us but never stopped loving you. Thankfully she saw you one more time, even if from a distance backstage during a concert, and had to watch you sing “The End” then look over and snarl at her. Afterward, she was told you’d left the premises. Your brother enjoyed his few visits with you but knew where you were headed. I guess I should have. That handsome young lion photo of you was a poster on many bedroom walls of our friends’ children. What happened to him? What happened to you, Jim? The stunning features we’d never noticed beneath your chubbiness were soon obscured by a bloated alcoholic face and Charles Manson beard. I wish I’d accepted your long hair and beard before 1971. Should we have done something? You know we couldn’t have. No one could.
I continued my career and became the youngest admiral in the U.S. Navy, an accomplishment I imagine didn’t impress you but am sure you’re proud that in command of our naval forces in the Marianas I coordinated the rescue of a hundred thousand Vietnamese refugees sent to Guam in 1975. You know I was more than just a sailor. In retirement I learned Italian and Ancient Greek, and one Paris afternoon in 1990 your mother and I walked by the tombs of Chopin and Moliere and so many other great artists to install, on yours, a tablet I had inscribed in Greek: True to his own genius. And we believe you whispered thanks.
Editorial Note: Admiral George Stephen Morrison died in November 2008 at age 89. His wife Clara passed away in 2005.
Sources: Break on Through by James Riordan and Jerry Prochnicky; No One Gets Out of Here Alive by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugarman; London Times, December 11, 2008; New York Times, December 9, 2008.