A Tribute to My Father

Yesterday I kept thinking about my father because it was his birthday. He was born in 1918, so he would have turned 99 yesterday. For those who have read my books, you know that his pilgrimage on this earth was often filled with strife and struggles. And yet his passage from this world to the next was a peaceful one. Back when he died, my sisters and I wrote a tribute to Datt for Mem. Here is what I wrote:

Simon S. Miller

August 28, 1918 — September 30, 2004

In remembering Datt, it is tempting for me to ask the question of what is the meaning of a life as filled with sorrow as Datt’s was. He carried his burden of sorrow wherever he went. Most of us want to think that we are put on this earth for a purpose, and some of us spend our lives trying to understand and accomplish that purpose. When I heard that Datt was really ill, I started contemplating what the purpose of his life was, and whether he had accomplished it. Then one day I realized, this is not for me to understand. Only our Maker knows the answers to these questions, and all I can do as a mortal is to accept Datt’s life for exactly what it was. I don’t need to judge it, nor do I need to glorify it by trying to make him into someone he wasn’t. When I accept his life for what it was, I am able to sift through the memories I have of growing up with him as my father and remember and cherish the good memories, while letting go of the ones that weren’t so happy.

One morning, a few days before he died, I awoke and it was raining. I was sleeping right next to an open window. I peeked at my clock and muttered to myself, “Rain before seven, it’ll stop before eleven.” I was about to fall asleep, and my eyes flew open when I remembered Datt saying that so vividly, it was as if I heard him say it then and there. Here I was, in my bed that overlooks Smith College Campus, far from Datt and my childhood. However, I realized no matter where I go in the world, there are certain fundamental ways of thinking that I have internalized from being Datt’s daughter that will never change. I am happy to accept this. There are aspects of Datt that will live on in us children.

I will never forget the day David and I were in the woods with Datt, and David asked Datt how to tell the difference between a hard maple and a soft maple. Datt walked up to a soft maple and stuttered around about how the bark is different on a hard maple. He said, “The bark isn’t so, well, so prominent, on a hard maple.” That surprised the heck out of me; I didn’t know he knew what the word prominent meant, never mind how to use it in its proper context. It occurred to me that he possibly was more intelligent than the rest of us knew.

Another moment is really strong in my memory. Mem and Datt were walking in the driveway together after Communion Service the Sunday that Dan Wengerd had been ordained bishop. The two of them were deep in conversation. Mem had her shawl folded over her arms, and Datt was walking by her side with his head bent low, matching her pace instead of his usual faster one. In any other family, this would have been an ordinary moment, but in ours, it was extraordinary. Here was a moment when the two of them were a couple, walking home from a church service together, and they seemed to be enjoying one another’s company. It occurred to me that there were things about their relationship I hadn’t understood.

Yet another memory about Datt is the time when Otto Herring had paid Mem and Datt for number one maple syrup when it was clearly fancy syrup. They were both upset, but neither of them wanted to confront Otto. I offered to do that, and Datt drove me up to the Log Cabin in Burton in the horse and buggy, and then he let me go in and talk to Otto. As soon as I stepped inside to talk with Otto, he conceded that the syrup was indeed fancy, and he said he would pay the difference. When I came out, Datt was standing expectantly by the buggy. He asked, “What did he say?” When I told him, his face broke into a wide grin and he thanked me more than he had ever thanked me for anything else.

Some people would ask why Datt couldn’t have argued for himself. But if he didn’t know anything else, he knew his own limits. He was no match for Otto, and he knew it. Not only was Otto shrewder than Datt, but he had the upper hand as the buyer of his syrup. The other thing that is interesting about this incident is that though Otto intimidated him, Datt never once doubted the syrup was fancy. He knew his stuff when it came to sugaring.

Another fond memory I have is when a couple used to come over on Sunday afternoons. Datt and this other man would play one game of checkers after another. I remember Datt’s Sunday shirt at the time was green. He would rock back in his rocking chair at the end of the game, after he had won it once again, and laugh gleefully. In the meantime, Mem and the other woman would be in the kitchen making a meal and visiting. I remember Mem used to take her good dishes out of the china cabinet for these occasions.

I didn’t realize how much I enjoyed these Sunday afternoons until they didn’t happen anymore. I remember one afternoon when I was supposed to be sleeping in Mem and Datt’s upstairs bedroom (before the house was changed), I pulled the checker board and checkers out of the sideboard that was in the bedroom. Mem came upstairs and caught me in the act. As she was gathering up the checkers and scolding me about getting out something of Datt’s and not taking my nap, I asked Mem why those people don’t come anymore, so Datt could play checkers with the man. She told me the man had died. I think this was at the time that I was just beginning to understand what dying was. I was thinking about the finality of it as I lay down for my nap. Forty some years later, I am still contemplating this same thing.

The moment in which I really felt that finality with Datt is when the family was gathered around his coffin, and the four hundred or so people stood quietly in the background. I felt these people were supporting our grief. It was our final good-bye. I know that we had time to come to terms with his dying because it was more gradual than many deaths are, but it was still the end of a life, and therein lies our loss.

So, I remember the little things about Datt’s life that brought him happiness, and I leave the bigger questions to our Maker. He was, after all, the only One who could grant the grace of a peaceful end to Datt’s life on this earth. This peace was like a rainbow; a ray of hope from the heavens. For this we can be forever thankful.

Photo by Saloma Furlong: From the road in front of my home

 

I do not have a single photo of my father that I can share. So I share my thoughts of him instead. It’s been thirteen years since he left this world. I hope he has found peace in that place beyond the sunset and beyond his life on this earth.

Photo by Saloma Furlong: Sunset over Lake Rangeley in Maine

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33 thoughts on “A Tribute to My Father”

  1. This is such a beautiful post about your father. Thank you for sharing memories of him here and in your books…great lessons learned as we come to understand and know him through your writing…giving us the opportunity to forgive and move forward in our own lives as well.

    1. Thank you, Gayle, for your kind words. I believe the power of sharing stories is to learn from one another. You paid me the highest compliment by saying that it helps you in your life.

      Have a blessed week.

  2. Im jealous if i read this. But so good to read that you have such an understanding Datt. Great to have auch memories.
    Do you still have a Mom?
    Love, Wilma

    1. Hello Wilma. Don’t be too jealous. This understanding was hard to come by. Datt suffered from mental illness and was often violent with us. It was after he was being treated for his illness that he ceased being violent. Only after this was I able to reconcile with him.

      Mem died a year after Datt, so I don’t have a surviving parent.

      Sometimes reconciling with parents can be a challenge. I know this well. I wish you the best.

  3. Sadie Showalter

    What a beautiful way to remember your Dad; being able to remember the good moments, but not completely ignoring the fact there were times of difficulty.

    1. Thank you, Sadie. Yes, there certainly were times of difficulty with Datt. The rainbow keeps coming to mind as an apt symbol… rainbows are formed when there is both sunshine and rain.

  4. Darlene Britzius

    What an awesome tribute. My father also born in August 11, 1918. He passed away two years ago January. Oh reading tgis makes me miss him all the more.

    1. Darlene, thank you for your thoughts. I know the bittersweet feeling of missing a loved one. To miss them is to love them. Words come to mind from the movie series “Lark Rise to Candleford” spoken by the character named Margaret. She said that when we love we open ourselves to loss. It is the bargain we strike with ourselves, and in the end it is worth it. I so agree with this.

  5. My father’s birthday was August 18th. He was born in the year 1922, he died March 14th, 1991. After all these years I still miss him terribly. He has been in my thoughts a great deal this month and your post pulled memories from the deep crevasses of my brain, the good and the bad. Thankfully with my dad there was more good than bad. The bad for me was in his later life when rheumatoid arthritis destroyed his body, his determined spirit and eventually his will to live. Your post is like a magical band aid for me. Heals the pain of the difficult times. In reading your beautiful words I am reminded that my father was, like me, only human with his own set of dreams, sorrows,joys and struggles.Thank you Saloma for reminding me of this.

    1. Pamela, thank you for sharing a little of your story about your father. Sharing stories is powerful because we do see our own story in others’ stories.

      It is always a pleasure to hear from you!

  6. Salome, Thanks so much for the tribute to Datt. Time will heal wounds and when it does then it is possible to remember the very special good times. I had a very painful relationship with my mother for many years and when she finally got medicine from the dr. who really knew what he was looking at, she became more in balance. Also by doing a lot of family research, I was able to understand the why it was like it was. It gave me peace and I am very thankful that I have some special memories I can pass on to my children and grandchildren.
    Thanks again, marye

    1. Mary, thank you for sharing a similar story about your mother. You probably know that my father ceased being violent when he was medicated. It was such a Godsend. So glad you were able to find peace with your mother.

      I owe you an email, so I will do that soon.

      It is always a pleasure to hear from you!

  7. I must admit I was touched and impressed by the respectful and sensitive way you described Datt and his life. We all have our problems and if you take away Datts problems he just might have been better than many of his peers…I was especially touched by your description of your Datts loss of his checker’s friend. (How extremely Sad!) Most people in this modern world will not realize the dramatic loss (a change in a very simple life) that occurred at this point. It is so sad that your Datt suffered from the type of illness he did and how it must have affected everyone around him so negatively. Again I realize most critically that in such a simple lifestyle the illness and the effects would have seemed greatly magnified for everyone and maybe most of all your poor Datt. I imagine he must have felt sooooo guilty as he compared himself to who he thought were his peers. This intense guilt would have made things even worst than if he had not been raised Amish. As a passionate truth seeker and believer I blame satan for almost all your Datt’s issues. (just think about how “Job” and his family was forced to suffer because satan picked on him) Yes I can vividly imagine your Datts funeral right down to the details. “Guilt by Transfer” is another way that satan plagues the living especially among us Amish and Mennonites. As for me, I being considered for over 20 years as “the fierce Rebel” of our local group must have really shocked the sombre and completely quiet and reserved crowd at my Datts funeral when sitting in the very front bench in front of the pulpit, I suddenly and completely choked up right in the middle of the main sermon. I will never forget and I will never regret!!! Yup it was like I was done reading a million page book and then it instantly slammed shut and banged me over my head and yet I felt the pain only in my heart. As it happens my last little amateur blog on my site (listed below) was all about my Datt on fathers day. (I hope you will give it a quick read) Truth is our Datts picked us, we did not pick them. A funeral is only a chapter in a book for all those attending the funeral of a human being who has passed away. Yes Datts funeral was a life changing event because Datt is gone! temporarily but we are left alive. Thank You for the Marti Research you did, I am stretching my brain doing the translation. Say Hello to David and tell him I will be actively monitoring your joint pilgrimage until you have settled in both happy and “home”.
    Best Regards;
    Delmer B. Martin
    (Elmira)

    1. Delmar, I am touched with your description of your reaction at your Datt’s funeral. There is nothing wrong with honestly expressing one’s sorrow.

      I think one of my father’s assets was knowing that he had limits. He was a humble man with simple needs. I don’t know if it occurred to him to compare himself to his peers.

      I actually think Datt’s struggles came from God. Weren’t we taught that God had our whole lives planned for us before we were even born? I don’t know what God’s purpose was for Datt’s life, but I sometimes think that with all Datt’s limits, he was still closer to something sacred than many others. We were all thankful for the Grace of a peaceful end of his life. It was a gift from God.

  8. What a lovely tribute to your father. It’s hard when a loved one is no longer with us physically. I do find comfort in remembering the good times. I hope they bring you comfort as well. I really enjoy your blog.

  9. My dad wrote and published his life story. I love the photos that he included in it. It’s nice to be able to look at photos of him as he grew up, photos of his grandparents, parents and siblings. But FAR better is being able to read of his memories and stories about them. I feel like I know these people even though many had died before I was even born. What a treasure your family members (as well as the rest of us who have the privilege of reading your blog) have in your amazing gift of making pictures with your words! That was a beautiful tribute to your dad.

    1. Donna, what a treasure your father left you! To know one’s legacy is such a gift. I did not have that with my mother, and I find it such a tragedy. I know so little of her history.

      Thank you for your compliments. I so enjoy my readers. Thank you for being one of them!

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