One month ago today, my dad slipped away for his tee time in heaven, surrounded by nearly all of his family (we’re talking 4 kids plus spouses, nine grandkids plus spouses, ten great grands, and one devoted wife). We’ve now celebrated his life with a room overflowing with people he’d touched — and teased! — along the way. Dad was never happier than when the family was all gathered around and he especially loved the commotion that is Christmas in the Miltenberger household. After looking at the tree surrounded by presents, he would always joke, “Looks like another slim Christmas.”
A friend emailed after she learned of Dad’s passing. “If you’ve written anything about your dad,” she wrote, “I’d love to read it.” I suspect the friend was thinking along the lines of an obituary. (If you’re curious what we said about Dad, you can read that here; my mom came up with the terrific line about the kids being the main course, the grandkids the cupcakes and the great-grands the sprinkles on the cupcakes.)
I was thinking about my friend’s request while I was walking on the beach the other morning and it occurred to me that every book I’ve written contains something about my father.
There’s a bit of him in the “scoundrel” Uncle Chester in Hattie Big Sky (Dad loved to gamble!); and there’s a lot of him in Hattie herself, a young person leading a knock-around life, looking for a place to truly belong. Seattle Times paper routes, baseball games and dogs appear in my stories because those are all part of my dad’s life. As a ten-year-old, during WWII, he managed three paper routes, because so many of the teenage paper boys had gone off to fight. He loved baseball and was proud of once pitching a no-hitter; and in recent years my parents had dogs that, truly, only my father could love. Naughty dogs. Barky dogs. Chewy dogs. No matter what mischief one of his four-legged buddies got up to, Dad would offer yet another treat.
I can’t tell you the number of times Dad gave money to someone in need. When he coached Little League, every kid played. Every. Kid. And, with Mom, he made our home a safe haven, not just for us four kids, but for our friends, some of whom took up residence at 522 Fern Road for varying lengths of time. Scenes I’ve written where a character shows kindness or compassion — say, Mrs. Bowker in Dash, or Erich in Liberty, or Madame Volta in Audacity Jones to the Rescue – are all scenes about Dad.
And when one of my characters breaks a rule, I am definitely writing about him. (You cannot imagine the consternation my rule-avoiding father caused me, a type A, firstborn, i-dotter and t-crosser.)
He thought no parking signs were meant for others (that doesn’t mean his car didn’t get towed from time to time) and fussy Club rules about where golf carts could and could not be driven? Surely, they didn’t apply to him.
My dad not only loved us, he liked us. And he loved Mom with his whole heart and being.
And while he wasn’t right about everything, he was right about one thing:
It’s going to be a very slim Christmas without him.