My dad was in hospice care last week. He was hanging on longer than expected.
One nurse said, “Your dad is one spunky little guy.”
Another said, “Roy is such a fighter.”
They were the greatest caregivers ever. But they were wrong.
Granted, my dad looked little, having lost so much weight, unconscious, struggling to breathe, swallowed up in that hospital bed.
But Roy Miller had not been a little guy. He was big and husky and hard muscled. He grew up on a Nebraska dirt farm in the Depression, went into the Navy, and afterwards got a job with the public power district. In his era, he’d dug holes by hand for power poles, and he could put on a pair of shanks and belts and shimmy up a pole in nothing flat, lean out, way up there, and do whatever repairs or construction needed.
He was strong through and through.
He was a strong man, but not a tough guy.
When I was about nine, one evening in the summer, we got a call from the Daily Sun circulation manager. My brother and I delivered papers and we’d missed a house. I got on my Schwinn Typhoon (a two-speed!) and took off in the dusky evening.
I was enjoying riding as fast as I could, leaning in around a circle drive, looking at the houses set back from the street … and I met up with a mailbox. I woke up moaning a little later, sat up, got untangled from the Schwinn, took stock … my t-shirt was pretty bloody, my head was ringing, I could stick my tongue through the hole in my lip, and there were a couple vacancies in my lineup of teeth.
I picked up the bike, trudged back to the house, went in the back door, into the kitchen where my dad was sitting. The split-second he saw me he jumped up, grabbed me in his arms, held me tight until I went in to get stitches.
Dad was not a fighter.
Some men with muscles make a big deal of their physical strength. Some rely on muscles overly much. Some let their muscles cause trouble. My dad used them to work hard and provide comfort and calm.
He was a big man, and powerful, and he could have been a badass. But he was gentle and good-natured and quiet. He might have had to deal with a confrontation now and then, but I don’t think any sober person would have thought to pick a fight with him. He had that look like he could just plant you. But he never was like that.
His strength went into his work, whatever job was at hand.
When he wasn’t working at his paying job, he was working somewhere else. At home, with some help (that might have been more trouble than it was really worth) from the kids, he tore down the barn on the old farmstead where we lived, built a garage, put in sidewalks around a half a city block, jacked up our old farmhouse, slid beams under it, and dug out a basement. He helped wire the lights at the Legion ball field. He put wiring in houses, barns and garages for his relatives and their friends or anyone who needed some help. He was a Boy Scout leader. Legion post commander and drill team member. Sunday school superintendent.
He did every kind of thing for his family, extended family, friends, community. He was chosen a couple times for the town’s “Good Neighbor Award.”
He might have been fighting to breathe last week, but he was anything but a fighter. He was too busy working to get worked up enough to be in a fight.
I’ve thought about my dad for columns before. I know some of us tend to idolize our dads, maybe leave out some uncomfortable truths. I am aware of his faults -- if you tend to complain, you could make something of them. But if you were a complainer, you would not have been raised by a person like my dad (I try to remind myself of that often).
His idea for life was to work hard, never throw away anything you might save a dime by keeping, help people as much as you could afford to, smile and say something nice to everyone -- especially kids. His idea for life was to be nice.
Roy Miller was a strong, gentle, calm man. A genuinely nice guy.