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When I’m 64: Will I Forever Be Willie’s Son?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me

When I’m sixty-four

— The Beatles

It’s my 64th birthday. Aside from feeling the creeping inevitability of age, and anticipating an onslaught of Beatle jokes from my friends, there is a darker, more sinister meaning to turning 64. You see, my father was 64 when he died; 64 years and 247 days, to be exact. Making this conjunction is something that has haunted me for a number of years. And now that it is finally here, I am forced to examine and confront not only my own mortality, but to revisit my father Willie Morris’ passing almost 25 years ago.

Last year I published “Love, Daddy: Letters From My Father.” The book represented more than 20 years’ worth of letters he had written to me, accompanied by portraits I made of him. In many ways it was my attempt at coming to terms with the complexities of our relationship so many years after his death. It has brought me great peace. Just last month I was on a panel at a conference in Mississippi discussing his legacy with old friends. We all told stories and laughed and celebrated his life.

David Rae Morris’ book “Love, Daddy: Letters From My Father.” The book represented more than 20 years’ worth of letters his father Willie Morris had written to, accompanied by the son’s portraits of him. Book cover courtesy University Press of Mississippi

My father was on a roll when he left us. He had just finished the first draft of his contribution to our book, “My Mississippi,” and he had gotten to see an early screening of Jay Russell’s film adaptation of his book “My Dog Skip”—a sweet memoir about his childhood companion. He was beginning work on a narrative about his father and baseball, a book he said was going to write itself.

He was enjoying life to its fullest. He was still very much the mischievous boy. On his last birthday, his friends agreed that he was 64 going on 9.

I had spoken to him twice the night

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