A Tribute To My Father


A Tribute to my Father

*** Note to readers: this started as a Facebook status update and I decided to post it here.
Missing this Irish man today.
Dad's article
He died 9 years ago in the middle of the night, technically December 11 at 4 am holding my mother’s hand. But I always feel like this is the day he died since December 10, 2003 was the last time I saw him and had to say goodbye to the father I loved for 29 years. Death sucks, but it is a part of life. Trying not to get all existential, but perhaps I should take this status update to my blog or journal. But you see I miss him. I miss him, and as grief has numbed the loss – a hole that death leaves, gaping in concave fragments of the heart, a sense of longing has replaced this. This sense of missing him, knowing he is gone. I miss him.

I miss seeing the veins on his hands, crossed in a holding pattern on his lap, a cigarette always tucked puffing solo in his lips. I miss his morning silence and two cups of coffee minimum rule: “Don’t talk to me until I’ve had my coffee.”

I miss him.

I miss watching his gait, heavy to the left, limping, shifting the weight in stride to his other leg — the leg I now know had significant damage from frostbite from Korea. I miss his odd sense of humor and his incredible intelligence. I miss how he could talk to anyone. I miss his pride. I miss his pats on the back and how awkward he became when I insisted on hugging him.

I miss him.

I miss the way he could pack a car, no matter how large with flea market finds. I miss his Cuban wedding shirts. I miss his scarves which he always called mufflers and reminded me to bundle up on cold Wyoming winter nights before I left the house. I miss his anger, sometimes dark and black. I miss his garden and the flower pots he filled them with — stacked in neat rows around the brick wall around our house on Maxwell. I miss seeing him peaceful with dirt in his hands.

I miss him.

I miss the way he wrapped his shoelaces around his ankles, tying them pragmatically in double knots as an old man. I miss his grey hair comb over. I miss his kindness and Irish pride. I miss smelling Corn Beef and Cabbage every St. Patrick’s Day. I miss the strong scent of coffee in the kitchen of our home. I miss having a hell of a hard time trying to buy him the perfect Christmas gift.

I miss him.

I miss his voice and his ability to speak only when necessary in a conversation. I miss his knowledge and the statistics he could whip out on any baseball team in this century or the last. I miss that he could give the biggest compliment to me through a third person like when he told my best friend Heidi that she had to make sure I write because it is in my blood — “Make sure Megan writes; she is a writer — a journalist a poet. She is related to Percy Bysshe Shelley, you know? Make sure she writes — it is in her blood.” I miss his smile, sometimes rare and sometimes wild.

I miss him.

I miss watching him read thick books and biographies. I miss startling him if I walked up on him unexpectedly, giving me a sense he knew fear in the strongest sense of the word and I miss the sense of relief he had when he knew it was me. I miss his car — a long maroon Lincoln Continental plastered with proud Semper Fi bumper stickers.

I miss him: John Shelley Miller, my dad — the first man I ever loved.

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My father and I on my wedding day (November 23, 2003)

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War,

My dad in Korea. He was a member of the Frozen Chosen who fought in Inchon in the Korean War, He is bured at Arlington Cemetery.

My dad and his friend from Korea.  This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad and his friend from Korea. This man called me shortly after my father died.

My dad around Christmas time 2002 -- his last Christmas

My dad around Christmas time 2002 — his last Christmas

My father had a poet's eye.  I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

My father had a poet’s eye. I believe he took these photos on leave during the Korean War.

 

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.

My dad stopping to smell the roses. This photo gives me such joy.



Fence

Fence

I send messages to my father through the birds. Cardinals deliver same day mail.  My father loved cardinals and I can’t help but think he sends me messages back when they whistle by me. My yard in North Carolina is filled with cardinals.  I see one weekly — at least.
My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

My father and I on my wedding day, November 23, 2003

Photos from my wedding

Photos from my wedding

Betty and John were special people.  Anyone that ever met them knew this.  They were storytellers and magicians.  They made people feel good.  Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold.  My magic - my love.

Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic – my love.

Irish Eyes — Irish Hearts


“Irishmen are dreamers, musicians, and stubborn people…”  That is the lead for the newspaper article that was written about my father.  That is what he said.  He was a dreamer and a true musician of the mind.  Although he did not play an instrument, his hard working spirit and his decency as a person make me honored to call him my father.

This is an article that was written about my father and his Irish heritage.

For some reason I am not really feeling the wordy stuff today.  I do feel I want to honor my mom and dad by posting pictures.

So many people are getting ready to eat their corn beef and cabbage and drink their green beer.  For me, this holiday is about the roots that are deep like the crevices in the Emerald Aisle’s shoreline.  These crevices go back to Ireland, as my great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Ireland.  I have his immigration papers.  I don’t know if the Irish are secretive, but I do not know that much about my grandparents or my great grandparents.  I never met my dad’s parents as they died before my parents met.  I do know how proud my father was of his Irish heritage.  I asked my dad when he was sick with cancer, “Tell me about my grandparents.”  He said, “They were secretive,” and he gave me a cold look.  I know my dad had a hard childhood.  He was literally born into the Great Depression (October 1929).  His family owned movie theaters on the South Side of Chicago and lost everything in the Crash.  I think that is what makes the Irish so beautiful is the pain they have had to endure (as a country, as a culture, and in history) to survive.  It was never easy being green, like they say.

I get sad when I think about my dad.  Here is a link to a post I wrote about him teaching me the beauty of nature and poetry: My Father — My Thoreau.  I want to tell him so many things and hear his voice.  I know all about prayer and how “I can still talk to him,” but it isn’t the same.  Sorrow is a deep ocean.

This is what my father wrote in my journal. I ask people to sign my journal (see "The Original Journal" tab on my website at the top of the page).

I wish I could walk into the kitchen of my home in Wyoming, circa 2002, before he got sick and smell his corn beef and cabbage stewing on the stove.  I wish I could sit down in the living room (Dad would be in his white arm-chair and Mom would be in the other) and listen to him tell a history lesson or recall a St. Patrick’s Day from his childhood in Chicago.  I wish I could tell him how brave he was fighting his way out of Inchon in Korea.

This is my father somewhere between safety and Inchon. I think this is on the boat the Marines took over to Korea. If you know, please post in comments. Thanks. Semper Fi.

I wish I could tell him I finally mustered up the courage to watch, Chosinand now I understand why he couldn’t sleep through the night, why he wouldn’t let us watch M.A.S.H. on TV, and why he never talked about the war.  I wish I could tell him everything I never said, with just one more hug, one more hand shake, one more gentle Irish kiss on his cheek.  But I tell him through words, through my writing.  My best friend, Heidi, was my maid of honor at my wedding.  She is in the photo below.  My father told her at my wedding, “Make sure Megan writes.  She is a writer.  It is in her blood.”

This is a photo of my girls (bridesmaids). Heidi is the one with the long blond hair two to my right. This wedding was after my father passed away in 2003. We got married outside under the big beautiful Wyoming summer sky in 2004. So I tell people I have been married twice (to the same man).

My father with his war buddy. I got a call from his war buddy shortly after my dad died. I was too raw to really talk to this man. I wonder if the man I spoke to on the phone was the man on the right next to my father. The man I spoke to said he remembered my father's black curly hair sticking out of the foxholes because he was so tall. He also told me a kick ass story about how my father saved his ass with his calm in a crisis mentality. Maybe you could say it was the luck of the Irish, but I say my dad was one cool cat!

I wish I could tell him how deeply grateful I am that he quit drinking, cold turkey, to be a better husband, to be a better father, to be a better man, and ultimately to save his own life.  The memories of war and the Great Depression as his childhood backdrop haunted him.  He lived through so much and never complained about it.   The fact that he got out of bed each day, with 70% frostbite effects to his legs, from Inchon, to go to work as a security guard at the Northern Trust Bank in Chicago and work the second shift, makes me so grateful.  He was a man of integrity, honor, and true Irish spirit.  I wish I could tell him thank you.  Someday I will go to his gravesite at Arlington National Cemetary and introduce him to his grandson, Benjamin.  For now, I honor him on his favorite holiday, St. Patrick’s Day.

Betty and John were special people. Anyone that ever met them knew this. They were storytellers and magicians. They made people feel good. Sure, like everyone they had their problems, but deep at their core, they were the pot of gold. My magic - my love.

As most of you know, my mother has brain tumors.  She is in a nursing home.  She says my father comes to visit her.  They were soul mates.  Here is a picture pre kids, when my parents were falling madly in love.  My father, ironically, was a photographer.  He did not have a zoom lens or a fancy camera, but he captured the magic in a photo.  I get my “eye” from his Irish eyes!

My father took this photo of my mom circa 1969 I believe.

My dad took this photo of me as a kid. He also picked out this outfit. He told me gnomes and leprechauns hung out on this bridge. My childhood was a magical place and now that I am a parent, I realize how hard it is to just be present and I don't have the baggage he did.

I leave you with a video of images and music from Ireland.   Blessings to you on this wonderful day that celebrates the Irish and their tenacious and hard-working spirit.  May you find your pot of gold.  I know mine is carried within the memories and love I have for my Irish family.

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