In June of 2016, my father Calvin Jay Miller had a health scare that forced me to think deeply about the incredible life he has led. From growing up as a dairy farmer in Ohio, to getting shot in El Salvador, to living and working for over a decade in both Bolivia and Italy, his life is certainly one worth telling. It took sitting in the hospital that evening in late June while my father was in surgery for me to decide that I needed to tell his story. My father’s surgery was 100% successful and he is fully healthy, but the seed of the story had been planted and I decided that I would write his biography in secret and give it to him as a Christmas gift.
Knowing that I wanted to tell his story in a unique and meaningful way, and knowing how many lives he has touched, I had an idea. The idea was simple, to have his biography be a collection of firsthand stories written by those whose experienced life with him. The resulting biography would be a firsthand story by story account of his entire life, to which I would also contribute, as well as edit and curate. To get the project started, I created a detailed outline of his life, highlighted key moments that needed to be written about, and set about contacting potential contributors. From each contributor I requested a specific story set during a specific timeframe that would help capture that time period in a intimate and detailed manner, as well as secrecy as this project was to be a surprise. Over the next six months, over 30 contributors had joined, many stories and images were submitted, then edited, and, ultimately, became a completed biography. My simple idea had become a reality.
In December, the printed and bound biography was gifted to my father on Christmas Day. To my happy amazement, the project had in fact been kept in secret and the final gift came as a complete surprise to my father. Phew! So now, with my father’s blessing, nigh urging, I am excited to share with others his biography, which I will roll out in parts over the next several weeks, starting with my introduction. Please enjoy.
A Life in Stories
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971)
Part 2: Goshen College (September 1971 – June 1973)
Part 3: Bolivia (September 1973 – September 1976)
Part 4: Ohio State University (September 1976 – December 1979)
Part 5: Bolivia (January 1980 – July 1992)
Part 6: Pennsylvania (July 1992 – December 1997)
Part 7: Georgia (December 1997 – July 2004)
Part 8: Italy (July 2004 – December 2015)
Part 9: Virginia (December 2015 – Present)
by Michael Miller
When I was in 8th grade, my English teacher gave my class a writing assignment. Each one of my classmates and I were asked to write a 3 page paper on our personal hero. The parameters of what a hero was had no limit, so it could have been anyone from Superman to Michael Jordan to a person we knew well. The majority of my classmates chose famous people and celebrities since they were fun to research and write about. I remember the most popular choice, due to the blockbuster film Titanic, was heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio, though a gaggle of classmates also went with Tupac (who killed him?). As for me, I went a different yet predictable direction, I chose my mother.
For me, the definition of a hero was simple: who did I most look up to and draw inspiration from. The answer was a no-brainer. My mother had always been the support system in my life who provided boundless encouragement, whether in school or on the soccer field or at home, which was a quality I deeply respected and appreciated. I also loved the continual zest for life she always maintained while also being a hard-working and dependable person, and just someone who was easy to talk to. The fact that we shared an appreciation for movies was just icing on the cake.
I don’t recall what I actually wrote for the hero project itself, but what I do remember quite vividly was that my father seemed hurt by my no-brainer decision. I remember him asking why I hadn’t chosen him, and I truthfully didn’t have a great reason. I hadn’t thought about the fact that choosing one parent as a hero would make that parent feel special while having the opposite effect on the other.
This unanticipated reaction made me wonder, why hadn’t I chosen my father? Was it because he traveled a lot for work so I was naturally closer to my mother? Was it that he was harder on me and expected more of me as his firstborn son? Was it that his way of encouraging me was to push me, sometimes critically, to be better and try harder? Was it because his father passed away when he was young, thereby making our relationship special in a way I couldn’t understand?
Though I do know that choosing my mother was accurate at the time, to this day I still don’t know the reason why I didn’t choose or really consider my father. So perhaps this biography is a huge mea culpa of sorts, or perhaps it is simply my way of getting to know my father the best way I can think of, through the firsthand stories of others who have laughed, loved and experienced life with a man I’m proud to call my dad. This process of exploring his life through the creation of this biography has been a true gift for me personally, but the large-scale completely unassigned, multi-authored hero final project is for my father.
Coming Monday, January 9 2017:
Part 1: Ohio (September 12, 1953 – September 1971)