the one that got away


[Each Father’s Day since Dad’s passing, I add to this story. My new entry is at the end as will be each annual entry until I’m finally fishing again with the big fish who got away October 2, 2014]

My final Father’s Day 2014:

If I could simply make out the words on the paper, I might be able to finally choose one and get out of here. But my eyes are flooded with the reality that this will be the last time I ever shop for a Father’s Day card.

My dad is dying.

The news this early spring was that he’d be gone by the end of summer. I often feel selfish about my thoughts of him not being around any more. But then I’m humbled when I imagine what it must feel like to be him, knowing the same thing. and feeling it happen a little more with the passing of each day.

Thanks to Sonora Dodd who conceived of the holiday in 1910 and President Richard Nixon who signed it into law only as recently as 1972, today is Father’s Day. It’s the official time we thank and think about our dads.

My dad is Mike Miller. I need no holiday.

I’ve not been the kind of number one son he’d hoped. But he would never admit it. And before you start disputing me on this point, know it is one that we’ve already discussed and is water long under the bridge. I failed at many things in my life and only very recently am becoming the kind of man my dad had taught me to be. I’m sure if you asked him, he would probably tell you every reason why he, himself, was no better, albeit for different reasons. We have much more in common than could ever drive us apart. Except cancer.

Mike Miller is a humble man. If you’ve met him, you know this already. Perhaps that’s why, of all humanly virtues, I prize humility most of all. In my life and in my writings, it’s pervasive and my dad is the reason.

An accomplished artist of life in so many ways, as a little boy and young man I watched him fend off compliments and minimize the value of his gifts right and left. Though I didn’t learn the word to describe it until I was much older, he had long modeled the lesson that would eventually save my life. Now it’s his at stake, and I am helpless to return the favor.

Everything important I have learned in life was taught and caught while fishing with my dad. It is the sport of fathers and sons, richly embedded with the virtues that turn a young boy into a young man.

The appreciation of the morning, the art of the water, the craft of the lure, the precision of the cast and the thrill of the catch. And, as with most young men, fishing will always be a first experience with matters of magnificent life, gruesome death and incredible off the hook mercy.

We had the privilege recently to take one final fishing trip together. It was much like old times and many trips before, but on this trip, dad was tired. He’s been fighting his enemy much longer than any of us had ever realized and on our last evening at the campfire he put his arm on my shoulder and told me, “Don, after this trip, I think I just wanna go home.” He meant that with a capital H.

The wait of cancer is ugly. Every tick of the clock is punctuated with grasps at fond memories of times past. They are floods of bright color which wash away more quickly now as the grey moments encircle and encroach on a big fish who’s getting tired of swimming.

We know that someday soon, we will look up and see the hook sinking down into our family waters to reel in the biggest catch of His day. And yet still, we desperately hope he will yet be the one that got away.

So I wrote my inscription, sealed and stamped the envelope and sent it on its way just now to meet my dad in time for Father’s Day. I would give anything to be with him today and I know he knows that.

Dad, you saved me many times over. And in doing so, you taught me that life means so much.

Happy Father’s Day. Keep swimming. Don


One year later, Father’s Day 2015…

People say I look more and more like you every day. Sometimes I scare mom when we’re out and I come around the corner. She acts like she’s seen a ghost.

Maybe so.

A lot has happened since you’ve been gone. Mom’s doing well back in Vegas. The three of us look out for her every day. The grandkids are moving along with their lives and marriages, and nine months since you’ve been gone we’re expecting our newest Miller family member any day. As much joy as it brings us, nothing seems to fill your vacancy. We all find ourselves awash in tears at unpredictable moments and today is a particularly tough one.

I remember when I first wrote this story about “the one who got away,” hoping for a miracle that would keep you around a little longer. It was last Father’s Day and I’d come home from shopping for your card. Mom hadn’t even known I wrote the story last year so I read it to her for the first time this past weekend in small chunks until we could both finally get through it. I decided then and there that every Father’s Day, I’d add a little more to the story as an update on our family happenings and what life is like without you.

After you left us that Thursday evening last October, we had big events on the immediate horizon. Emily and Ryan were married on October 11th and we honored you at a memorial service with all your friends on Todd’s birthday, October 17th followed by Allie’s birthday the next day and what would have been your own on Hallowe’en. It was one of the most beautiful yet difficult months for the family on record.

And then all the holidays drove home your absence and I think we would have all rathered just let them pass if we could. But the New Year brought Mom back to Vegas to a new home you both had seen and loved on a former visit. She’s all settled in now and much happier. Shelly’s getting a well-deserved break but still fills in all the gaps that Todd and I miss in caring for her every week. We set up the den at her new place as “Dad’s Studio” filled with things and walls of all your memories about which we can easily touch and not so easily hold back the tears. It’s a comfortable place to cry.

At work, we pulled of that February event I told you last July was in the works to posthumously honor you. Lots of your friends came and even Oscar and Carolyn gave you a little roast to remember.

Spring has come and gone and summer is gonna be a hot one for sure. We’ve made plans to spread your ashes over the course of this year in the places you asked.

But today is Father’s Day, again.

It seems each passing day has been Father’s Day since you’ve been gone.

And while things may change over the year, we will always remember you and how you taught us how life means so much, every day.

Happy Father’s Day, Pop.

Love, Don


It’s Father’s Day again, 2016:

Well, I lost 20 pounds, gained a beautiful niece and your wife has a new lease on life since my last entry, but the world is a different place since you left, Dad. The family is doing fine but the events of the past year and recent weeks point to a coming civil war, if it’s not already begun.

I spent this morning to escape into all your paintings on my wall because they are soft and peaceful and offer solace at these times. Who’d have thought that just two entries later, this planet would be so much uglier? Sure, there are bright spots, but we’re all getting a little older, creaking a little more and life remains uncertain.

As you know, Mom made it through the heart surgery okay. She might last forever. It seems when we talk and reflect, we cry less and stay closer. You’d be proud of me. I keep her laughing just like you did, call her every morning and evening, spend every weekend with her bitching about something new, and honored each time she says “You’re just like your Dad!” Shelly and Todd and I make a pretty good safety net together. We have grown a lot closer as a result.

But as the grandkids grow up, they’re moving on. We got little Addison a couple weeks after last year’s entry and she said “I love you” for the first time ever this very week. I wish she had known you, Dad. We keep your memory alive whenever we’re together, and we learn the urgency of making each day matter, and how life means so much.

Here we are, Father’s Day 2017:

Those 20 pounds I lost? They found me again. Another year and more ways people find me your doppelganger. A first time grandpa this year, I tend to agree. Makenna is a wonderful bundle who’s being packaged off and shipped with Allison and Alan to their new home in Florida next week. Glad for the kids, sad for the rest of us who will miss them so much but will visit often. I’m sorry you never got the chance to meet her. She’s beautiful.

As for your wife, this past February, she got the same news you did the February before you left us. Doctor gave her a while longer though. While heaven can wait, she certainly cannot. She’s gone off some meds, declined treatments that might keep her around here any longer, and we’re trying to make the best of the time she will give us on her fast track to eternity. No more curtailing symptoms yet, but we know they’re just around the corner. We will care for her up until the last moment she’s back in your arms.

While most of the family is buying houses, graduating, moving away and changing jobs, surprisingly I’ve become the most static of them all. I do need a break though, and I smell fish.
Four long days at work helping seniors followed by each weekending three with your darling dinosaur is taking its toll. It’s back to Panguitch this fall where we made our last casts together just a few years ago.

This world is a different place from when you left, and that’s not a good thing. Optimism is harder to come by and what were once distant fears of what might have been seem to be arriving daily. But because of you, your family is well equipped with wisdom, faith and love to be good influences on this bad world. I’m grateful for what you taught me and for what I’ve passed on.

This next 12 months are liable to be our most difficult since you left. But we’re holding on for the ride and thinking of you again every day and especially today. Sure miss you, dad, and your reminders that life means so much every day. Happy Father’s day from grandpa to grandpa.

Love Donnie.

Father’s Day again, 2018 and Mother’s Day was rather empty around here without her. She got what she wanted most in life and afterlife, to be by your side once again and for all eternity. We were with her at her exit from this world and entry to yours and we were more happy than sad because she was back in your arms again where she’s always belonged.  It’s been only 3 months or so and it seems a lot like yesterday. But with both of you gone now, the harsh reality of a generation passed leaves the next in our hands and that’s a huge responsibility.

You have another grandchild on the way, maybe two, and with every passing day I become a little more like you. I survived pancreatitis and three heart attacks last fall and dropped 45 pounds so my eventual arrival to join you may be a little delayed. Next week is our annual boys fishing trip to Panguitch again and we’ll be spreading yours and mom’s ashes there together and have a good cry. By this fall I hope to be fully moved in to your home on earth here that mom left us where I’ll spend the rest of my days gazing at the gorgeous walls of artwork you left behind.

Still hate that my job even exists but thoroughly love the work that I do there. Hungry homeless people continue to be my passion and the reason I sleep well at night, albeit brief at times. I’ll be 58 in November and dad, I’ve never felt more purpose in my life than I do these days. You taught me that and I’m forever grateful.

The rest of the family is thriving too. Siblings, kids, grandkids, cousins, nephews and nieces, all are doing great. You left an incredible legacy and big shoes to fill but we’re hitting it hard and strong every day. Tomorrow is Father’s day and we’ll be celebrating you as we’ve done every day since you left.  Give Mom our love and keep her dancing on the clouds as you both deserve. Love and miss you.