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Musings from the Edge of Forever

Note: This blog expresses only the opinions of the blog owner,
and does not represent the opinion of any organization or blog
that is associated with RONIN ON EMPTY.

In Memory of My Dad

On the Tractor

Robert McMillin (December 22, 1943-February 17, 2011)

Today, I have been granted both the honor and the privilege of paying tribute to the life of Robert McMillin – husband, father, family member, and friend. We have all gathered here today in mourning, but also in gratitude. Yes, we mourn my father’s death, but we must also be grateful for his life – for just getting the chance to know him. That in itself is a blessing.

As the youngest of his four children, I must confess it is difficult and daunting to truly do justice to all sixty-seven years of my dad’s rich and wonderful life. There are too many good memories to share, too many funny stories to tell, and too many nice things to say about this great, great man. All I can do is speak from the heart and tell you about my dad as I knew him.

Undoubtedly, his tragic passing has disrupted our sense of reality in significant, irreparable ways. Although I have been out on my own for some time and am no longer quite as young as I tend to think I am, my father’s passing has made me feel a little more vulnerable and little less safe in this crazy world in which we live. His death came too soon and in a manner that was so completely unfair. My dad had worked so hard his entire life, and on the eve of achieving his dreams of retirement and taking a long overdue vacation, he was stricken with a debilitating illness, one which sadly claimed his life only days ago.

So many things left unfinished, so many things left unsaid, and so many plans never to be fulfilled. Prior to the events of this past summer, my dad had been fixing up a boat to go fishing. It was something we had always liked to do together back when I was a kid, but as I got older and he busier, we hardly ever got the chance to go. We had also planned to fix up that barbecue pit we had built together during my college days so I could take it back to Michigan. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a mechanical marvel – a BBQ pit that attaches to your truck, and swings out, giving an all-new meaning to the term, “tailgate party.”

And those were just plans for 2010. In the coming months and years, there was the hope he’d attend my eventual graduation or finally see me find gainful employment as a professor, and beyond that, there were even bigger dreams I’d hoped he’d live to see me achieve. Words cannot express how deeply saddened I am that fate had other plans in store for us.

But as I grieve for the years that have been stolen from us, I must also be thankful for the time that I did spend with him. To paraphrase a line from a much-loved film, “He’s not really gone – as long as we remember him.” And so, too, does my father’s memory endure. For he lives on in the stories we tell about him, the jokes we continue to share, and the memories we cherish. He shall live on in our hearts forever.

As I remember my Dad, I must pay tribute to my mom, too. She has been so strong and so amazing through this whole terrible ordeal. Although my dad may have referred to her as a “drill sergeant” at times (at the hospital, my sister Donna once called her “the general,” and Dad corrected her, claiming he hadn’t promoted her just yet), her strength and determination to make him well again was crucial. Her tireless efforts bought us more time with him – and so we were given the chance to make new memories with Dad, ones that will last us a lifetime. Also, in these past few months, I have witnessed firsthand a real sweetness and genuine love between my parents. In this day and age, I’m afraid very few children get to see their parents in such a wonderful light.

And for Dad’s children and grandchildren, his legacy endures – whether it’s in our faces (or noses, as it were), our mannerisms, speech patterns, way of dress, or perhaps even a good head of hair, our lives are unmistakably touched by him. His influence is especially apparent in our collective sense of humor. On occasion, people tend to find what I say to be funny, but the truth is I owe it all to my dad. I’m proud to say that all my best material is just stolen from him.

And that is the one thing I will always remember about my dad – just how funny he was. Dad was like the Mark Twain of the oilfield, only his uniform was a ball cap, Wrangler shirt, blue jeans, and a pair of boots. As was stated earlier, my dad loved jokes – both the hearing and the telling of them. In many ways, it’s becoming a lost art in our increasingly impatient, fast-paced world because it requires the ability to listen attentively to others and also take one’s time with a well-placed punchline.

In fact, Dad had a particularly resilient sense of humor. As our family found out, a debilitating illness coupled with a lengthy hospital stay can strip any person of his dignity. But even in the face of insurmountable odds, our dad was still somehow able to maintain a sense of humor, a fact to which my mom and siblings can attest. For example, during one stay at OU Medical Center, my dad was roaming the halls as a part of his daily exercise. Dressed in nothing but a hospital gown and dragging along an IV, my dad got a hold of a stethoscope somebody left behind and, well…he went around offering nurses free chest exams. What can I say? That was my dad.

He faced death as he faced life, teaching us important lessons in his deeds alone. Time and again, when faced with setbacks and disappointments, my dad always demonstrated his innate ability to accept the hard truth that nothing in life is guaranteed – but even so, we can still make light of our troubles, even as we bravely strive to overcome those seemingly insurmountable odds. That’s just how Dad operated. Some men lead by words alone, while others simply lead by example.

My dad is an American original – a man of integrity, of strength, and for those who knew him well, a man of hidden sensitivity. He didn’t have all the opportunities in this world, but he made the most of what he had. Thanks to key figures in his formative years – like his grandparents and uncles (one for whom I am named), my dad got at least some measure of the love and attention every child deserves. He came from humble beginnings, but through sheer hard work he was able to forge a life for himself. That’s not to say he never took a break, as he was prone to watch a little idiot tube, as he called it, and take a nap or two in his trusty old recliner. But he had a hard work ethic that allowed him to overcome the limitations of his environment and was even able to run a successful business of his own – but more importantly, he grew up to become a good friend, father, and husband.

My dad was one of those rare individuals whom people liked immediately upon meeting him. Frankly, if you didn’t like my dad, then there was clearly something wrong with you. To his friends, Dad was always ready to lend a helping hand – with little fanfare or return expectations. He was indeed the nicest guy in the world, but he was even more than that. My dad was that increasingly rare commodity in our modern world – a good man. Everything we are today is because of him.

Nowadays, most of the fathers on TV and in the movies are incompetent morons, but not my dad. Growing up, Dad was like some larger-than-life hero – a Clint Eastwood gunslinger, Han Solo, even Indiana Jones. He was especially like Indiana Jones in his attitude toward snakes. He hated ‘em. There was a zero tolerance policy against snakes at the McMillin Ranch. And if you’ll permit me, I’d like to tell you one of the many stories I have about him. It’s a story of a fateful encounter with a snake, one which reveals my dad’s courage, ingenuity, and humor.

A long time ago, a snake took residence in our fireplace. My mom had been voicing her concerns about our new unpaid tenant for quite some time, so my dad eventually decided to take matters into his own hands. After vetoing Mom’s idea of luring the snake out and chopping it to pieces with that rusted sword hanging over the mantle and realizing that firing a .357 Magnum indoors might be detrimental to the home décor, my dad hatched a brilliant plan. Through scotch engineering – in other words, he had a couple three scotches and got an idea – he devised…a homemade flamethrower.

The plan, as I understood it, was for me to serve as his assistant and throw open the fireplace doors as he proceeded to blast the snake into oblivion. The plan seemed foolproof. Or, as my father would say, “Sounds like a winner to me.”

Ready to begin the extermination, we assumed our respective positions. I, standing somewhat to the side of the fireplace, my hands in the ready position. My dad, standing to one side, the flamethrower poised to strike.

And then we look at each other, realizing not only how ludicrous the situation was, but how we were both…well… more than a little bit scared.

“Now, you ain’t gonna open that till I tell ya,” my dad says. It was part-question, part-command, part-sincere hope. At this moment, I realize that my dad was not quite as confident about his plan as he first seemed. Nevertheless, we were to proceed at the count of three.




Now, when I opened that fireplace, I think both of us expected the snake to just passively accept its fate, perhaps flailing around a little bit before it was consumed in the flames.

Well, it didn’t. There was nothing passive about its behavior.

It lunged for us.

Like a cobra, the snake raised its head to strike, coming right at us.

The rest is like a blur. I’m not entirely sure of all the details. Some screaming might have been involved. And not just me.

In any case, I watch in awe as my dad proceeds to flame-broil the attacking snake until finally, fatally it was reduced to a pile of orange ash.

Funny thing was, it smelled just like onion rings. We didn’t eat at Sonic for a week.


* * *


In the end, we both got a good laugh out of it, and a good story, too. This tale and many others like it will sustain me for the rest of my life. And they will be told and retold, to friends, family, and just about anyone who will listen.

Dad, I can’t believe you’re gone. I keep hoping that Mom’ll fuss at you like when you’d take a snooze in the recliner, and you’ll just sit up and say, “Woman, I’m just resting my eyes.” Alas, I know this isn’t to be.

I’ll miss you. Dad. I’ll miss your special way with words, many of which I’m unable to repeat in a church setting. I’ll miss your cooking – the steaks, the ribs, the crunchy corn-on-the-cob, and a plethora of other comfort foods you made so very, very well. And I’ll miss the way you used to come home from work and playfully ask, “Hey Ma, what’s for sup?” I will miss these and the ten thousand other little things that make you uniquely who you are.

I love you, Dad. We all do. Goodbye and safe journey.

– Calvin McMillin, February 21st, 2011

*     *     *

Memorial donations in my father’s honor can be made to

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society
1311 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 310
White Plains, NY 10605

You can also contact me here to make a donation or for further information.

10 Responses to “In Memory of My Dad”

  1. David Harris Says:

    My thoughts are with you at this time (I lost my mum this January)

  2. Diana Says:

    A very beautiful tribute, I am sure your dad is smiling wherever he is. My deepest sympathies to you and your family.

  3. Darren Says:

    That was a touching tribute and i wish only the best for you and your family during this difficult time

  4. Amy Says:

    I can see how much you loved your Dad and how uniquely special he was. It is with a writer’s gift that you let us know him, even a little bit. He was too young to die, and this disease is so cruel.

    I lost my Dad to pancreatic cancer three years ago, and I really feel for your loss.

  5. Flynn Says:

    Hold your head high with pride Mr. McMillin. Your father did an outstanding job raising a great son.

  6. Ben Says:

    My condolences. Thanks for sharing with us. I really enjoyed reading your tribute to your father. I never know what to say to someone who has lost their parent, but I do understand and feel your pain/loss. My father also passed away just as he entered retirement. It’s very difficult, but, like you said, you’ll always have the memories and stories.

  7. Sanney Leung Says:

    Very nice piece. I hope the process of carefully constructing words to honour the memory of your father provided a measure of catharsis for you.

    Sorry for your loss.

  8. KH Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’m overseas & miss my dad too. I cried all the way….
    My dad is older than your dad….teaches me to appreciate him more before it’s too late….Thanks…

  9. KH Says:

    Your dad has lived so well…he is very blessed & so is everyone that knows him…it’s a great lost but also a celebration of life…don’t be too sad….my deepest condolences….

  10. Calvin McMillin Says:

    Thanks so much to everyone for the kind words. It’s been a rough couple of weeks.

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