I remember my dad as he was in the quiet times. Present. His head bent over his Bible or a nonfiction book, glasses perched on his nose and a highlighter or pencil poised in his hand, a border collie curled up at his feet. Duane Edie Miller died Sept. 5, 2022, at the age of 87, after a drawn-out battle with cancer.
I have many memories of his … presence. Lounging on the front porch of our home in Maryland when I was a young child, enjoying the warm breezes on a summer evening. Slinging square hay bales off of the old pickup truck. (I remember as a little girl, ignoring his request to stay off the truck, climbing up and getting broadsided with a bale as he slung it off. He was at my side in a flash. I was unhurt, but I learned.) Encouraging my reading, which is how I developed my love of storytelling. Helping me make a tiny, intricate diorama of The Wind in the Willows for school.
I remember many years spent at the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival even after we moved to Ohio. Dad was always there, traveling around the fairgrounds with fellow committee members and hauling out the garbage, back before that task was outsourced. His willingness to do the less than glamorous thing made him a mainstay wherever he went. He was a constant in that regard.
He was a voracious reader and diligent student of many things. Even at his advanced age when the internet caught hold, he taught himself how to navigate it effortlessly. He helped me and college friends research topics for papers. His meticulous Excel spreadsheets even deserved mention in his obituary. If you’ve ever tried to set one up, you understand.
He retired from a lengthy career at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Beltsville Agricultural Research Center, in Maryland, and we moved to Ohio. My mother continued to work, so he was the parent who most often shuttled me hither and yon.
We spent many hours in the car — driving to church, to school, to voice lessons, to soccer practice and games. Sometimes, we’d have conversations. Sometimes, we didn’t, and I read books out loud. Sometimes, we just rode together quietly.
I remember him watching from the sidelines of soccer games in high school, helping me prepare for 4-H junior fair market lamb shows and beaming from the audience at my vocal recitals.
His faith was integral to his life in his later years. He accumulated many books and recordings of theological studies, sermons and radio programs, things he diligently scoured even after it became difficult for him to attend church in person.
That dedication influenced my life in a profound way. As the years went on, I found that I didn’t have the same views on a number of things, but foundational to all of it was the desire to learn and grow and wrestle with life’s twists and turns. My faith isn’t his, but he taught me what it meant to have it.
Getting it right
My dad was a perfectionist. He wanted to get it right. He struggled when he didn’t, which brought out his pessimistic side. As an adult, I realized he was just as human as I was. I think we all have those moments of realization with our parents. So much so, that one Christmas, I — tongue-in-cheek — gave him a copy of C.S. Lewis’s The Joyful Christian. I still remember the twinkle that reached his eye before his lips even curved into a wry grin. He understood exactly the message I was trying to send.
I inherited his perfectionist streak, although I’ve learned to punt it to the side as needed. Working in a deadline driven career, and later, farming, helped. I didn’t, however, inherit his financial acumen. As a teenager, he invested money in stocks in his father’s bank, and never looked back. He was the kind of person who bought a used vehicle with cash, and then paid himself back with interest. I can only hope I’ve soaked up a modicum of that acumen, even if it’s not instinctive.
I did things that seemed odd to him. Like, moving to Wyoming and New Hampshire for newspaper jobs, and later, Montana. But top of the list? Leaving a steady job and moving back and forth to Africa for a number of years, doing media work. I know it mystified him. We had long conversations about it, but it still concerned him, choosing to do something so different from the norm.
But he told me he was proud of me. He loved me anyway. In that sense, he got it right. That’s what anyone could wish to say about their dad. He was always there. And for that, I am thankful.
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