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A relative died over the weekend in Minnesota, at the age of 58. No one found out until yesterday, because he lived alone. Mom suspected, as she received a letter from the state coroner. He was my dad's younger cousin, but we called him uncle.

As a young man, Uncle Phillip lived with us in our old house in Santa Ana. He drove a red corvette, wore a black motorcycle jacket, and studied aviation. He introduced Madonna to me, and I would bounce on the sofa to Like A Virgin whenever he played it. Phillip was cool and mysterious, but he was also caring, helping around the house, cooking meals, and getting us ready for school in the mornings. After Phillip moved to Minnesota to become a pilot, I didn't hear from him again. He had disappeared into a remote, snowbound world that seemed alien to someone growing up in sunny southern California. But Dad and Phillip called each other at least once a month.

When Dad died, Phillip stayed with us at my mother's house in San Diego for a week. We reconnected over tacos and furtive beers, talking about Dad, our homes, our hopes. Although he had a lot of girlfriends when he was young, he never married and he was thinking of moving to Seattle to take care of his mother. I helped him prepare his eulogy, drawing out his memories and reordering them, while keeping as much of his voice intact. "It's like a story now," he said, teary-eyed after reading aloud the eulogy for the first time.

12 years younger, Phillip looked up to Dad. When Phillip was a kid, Dad would pick him up on his motorbike and drive into Phnom Penh to cruise the streets and go to the cinema. Perhaps Phillip's badass 24-year-old self was a homage to his cool older cousin.

It was wonderful to get this glimpse of Dad, that young man I will never know. Uncle Phillip was a kind, gentle man, who loved Dad unconditionally, and with his death, an essential, vital part of Dad has died too.


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