Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bjorn Millom 1946-2012

Today would have been my father's 66th birthday. He passed away very suddenly on March 3rd from a heart attack. He was gone in an instant. I flew immediately to Utah to be with his wife, Margaret, my eleven(!) siblings and step-siblings, and his twenty grandchildren. When my grandmother Doris died in 2008, I thought a lot about what would happen, how I would feel when one of my parents died. I knew this day would come, I just didn't think it would be so soon.

I asked Romaine not to say anything on the radio show and I have wanted to keep a low profile about this. At first, I really couldn't deal with the hundreds of very well meaning but ultimately upsetting messages of condolence from total strangers. I am a private person and I like my private life private, despite my chosen occupation. But not mentioning it would just eventually get weird, so I wanted to explain my two day absence earlier this month and thank Romaine, Katie, Amber and Adam Sank for holding down the fort while I was gone and respecting my wishes.

I can't even begin to express how lucky I was to have Bjorn Millom for a father. He was always supportive of me and proud of my accomplishments and having a gay son altered him for the better. I saw his world view change in the twenty years since I came out to him (after I trapped him in the car while it was going through a car wash). "You know what word I can't stand?" he asked me a couple of years ago. "Tolerate. When people say, 'I tolerate gay people,' it just makes me furious. I can't imagine anything worse than someone saying, 'I tolerate you.' I don't know how you stand it." He wasn't the same man I grew up with. But that is how life is. We all change.

I spent three very difficult, very loud days with my family but surrounded by all of the other kids and the grandkids made it so much better. His passing was something I always believed was an experience that would happen to me and me alone, but it was there that I realized I wasn't alone in this. And we were all together, which we never had been before, which is all he ever would have wanted.

All The Kids. Twelve Is More Than Enough
I have included a link to his obituary and for those of you who are interested, I have also included my eulogy from his funeral. We had a wonderful service at the funeral home that handled his grandparents and his parents, and it was right down the road from the house he grew up in. He hated Utah, but it was always unfinished business for him, and he always kept coming back.

The service was very informal, with my sister Lysanna making the opening remarks, and then we allowed anyone who wanted to speak to come up and do so. Everyone was so warm and eloquent, including total strangers to us who were moved to come and speak, even though they had only known him a short time. After his wife Margaret spoke at the end, we played a montage of photos from his life, most of them pictures of him with one kid or another climbing all over him. I gave the closing remarks and I admit that I wrote them mostly for us, his children.

I welcome you to check out the photos I have posted and this opportunity to learn more about this man who was so important to me and I only ask that you continue to respect my privacy and most importantly the privacy of my enormous family in this difficult time for us. Thank you.

My Eulogy

Instead of a program, we should have passed out a family tree. It would have made this a lot easier for everyone to follow.

As you can see, for forty-two solid years, Bjorn recklessly pursued his greatest passion in life: parenting. And it all started with me. I was the first. The one he made all the mistakes on before he got around to the rest of you. And I turned out okay. Gay, but okay.

He met my mother when I was five weeks old and from that point forward he was the only father I ever knew. After that there was Tiffany and then Adam and Lysanna. When he met Margaret, her seven joined right in already in progress and immediately became his too. And when Zach finally came, there was an even dozen of us. Zach is 24 years younger than I am, and when Dad told us that Margaret was pregnant his rationale was that they got so tired of waiting for grandchildren that they decided to have some of their own.

He was like a child hoarder. He loved being a dad so much, more than anything. It was the fulfillment of his existence. I told him once that when it came to parenting, what he lacked in ability, he made up for in enthusiasm. And I came to that conclusion slowly over time. He wasn't always the easiest father, not in the sense that he was particularly strict. He just had ideas of how things should be. But not people. He always let us be ourselves.

Being a full time parent for forty-two years meant that each of us got a different dad, but he was also reacting to who we were as individuals. We all got a piece of him but each of us got different pieces. We got the piece that fit us. He never tried to make us be the kid he wanted, he would just find the points where our personalities met and that was home base.

Bjorn and I had a lot in common. Neither of us knew our birth fathers. We were raised by men who had other children. Growing up the father/son relationship was sometimes contentious and we often felt different, like we didn’t fit in. Me for my own reasons! But it was important to Bjorn that I not feel toward him growing up the way he had felt toward Glen. Although in the end, Bjorn made his peace with Glen and looked after him in his final years. With me, he never had to. I was just his son. And our time together, especially over the last few years just kept getting richer and richer.

I see now all the ways that he influenced me. I share his unique combination of vanity and a total lack of fashion sense. It used to drive me crazy how overly friendly he was with waiters and waitresses, calling them by their names on their nametags. "Hey Sharon. Thanks for sharin' this great cup of coffee." I would be so embarrassed but now I find myself doing it too. I find myself saying “Ready Freddie?” all the time, which I am pretty sure he started doing because after a while he couldn't remember all of our names. I have to leave the house three times before I really leave, always forgetting something. My friend Mike was with us in Hawaii a few years ago and it drove him nuts sitting the car watching the two of us go back and forth for sunscreen and sunglasses and a book, the keys to the car. Forgetting to lock the door.

He really wanted me to run for political office and I couldn’t imagine anything I would have enjoyed more than campaigning with him. It would have been the only part of running I would have liked. But it didn't matter that I didn’t run. He was proud of me no matter what I did. He was proud of all of us. The last conversations I had with him were all about the rest of the kids. How proud he was of each and every one of you, of who you were as people. The adults you had become. And he was fascinated by it. He loved how a baby in his arms would magically turn into this grown adult person with their own ideas and interests. He never got over it.

Bjorn was not always the easiest father to have. He had a temper and it sometimes got in the way of his better judgment. He wasn't great at planning very far in advance. He wasn't exactly what I would call handy. Or hip. He loved to travel but he wasn't what I would call good at it, especially when it came to family vacations. I don't know what it was about family trips, but he was obsessed with them and they were almost certainly assured to go awry. But it didn't matter how many trips ended in yelling or the silent treatment or the hospital, he was never more than minutes away from planning his next adventure.

When I found out he died, I immediately felt guilty about all the times I turned him down. "Are you coming for Christmas? Just us in Hawaii in the spring." Or that long promised trip to Norway. And I know all of us turned him down at one point or another but it was just because he was relentless. We always knew if it wasn't this weekend it would be another weekend. And he would just keep asking. As much as he loved that we had our own lives, at the same time he never got the concept that it meant we weren't able to drop everything at a moment's notice and fly off somewhere. He would tell me all the time. “Just put on a rerun. No one will know the difference.” And he admitted to me that he thought of all of us as being approximately the same age. For the last 25 years, he kept expecting that he could just write me a note of absence and we could all be together.

And now here we all are together. This is all he would have wanted. He would have hated the flowers and the crying and me in a black suit. And most of all he would have hated a church service. All he wanted was all of us together, laughing and having a good time. He just wanted to race you to the car or put you up on his shoulders or just see you one more time.

I last saw him at my house. He told me he really liked being there because it was clean and quiet. I came home and he couldn’t figure out the TV and the wifi and how to turn on my stove to boil some eggs. He told me he just drove to KFC but not to worry, he threw the bag away outside because he didn’t want to stink up the house with fast food. I put a space heater in his room and I thought the house was going to burn down from the heat. That’s how he was.

I know we are all sorry that he is gone. But it couldn’t have come at a better time for him. He was too restless to retire. He was too vain for old age. Could you imagine him in a wheelchair? Last year when he broke his foot and couldn’t ski with us, I don’t think in forty-two years, I ever saw him so disappointed. He just loved being a dad and with the last kid finally out of the house, his forty-two years of active parenting had come to an end. I don’t think he could have borne it if one of us had gone before him. He left us too quick but he left us the way I want to remember him: vital and happy and so proud of each and every one of us.

Looking through the photos for the montage together, it brought back so many nice memories. But there was one photo that really got me. Dad in the 80s with a bad sleeveless shirt and awful oversized glasses, laying on the floor, hugging Adam when he was four and just grinning.


More than any other photo, that summed up who he was for me. As Orson Welles once wrote, "He was some kind of a man. What does it matter what you say about people?" That picture says everything to me.

I’ll miss him terribly, every day. But as I look around and see all of his kids, I see a little bit of him in each of us. And as long as we are around, he will be around.

Bjorn And The Boys
Bjorn Millom 1946-2012

15 comments:

Scott said...

Derek, that was beautiful.

So sorry to hear.

Jimminy said...

Well-said. Very, very well-said.

Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

Betsy Freeman said...

Thanks for letting us know. He sounded like an amazing dad!

Naomi Ruiz said...

Derek, thank you for sharing this. My own father passed away suddenly on March 7th, and so much of what you have shared truly resonated with me. It is indeed comforting to know you are not alone. My thoughts are with you, take care.

Summer said...

Absolutely beautifully well put. Losing a parent is so very difficult, and completely life changing. I wish you all well on the journey that lies before you.

Elizabeth said...

Derek, I am very sorry for your loss. This was a beautiful eulogy.

Melissa said...

I am very sorry to hear about your father. The eulogy was wonderful.

Kathy Lake said...

Derek - That was beautiful. So sorry for your family's loss.

Raymie said...

Thanks for sharing.

Christopher said...

Thanks for sharing your eliquent tribute to your father. Your stories here round out the picture you have painted of your father on your radio show. In one month it will be six years since I also lost my father at the age of 66. It sounds cliche, but those that love us really never leave us, as I am sure you have felt from your grandmother. Getting used to the different way they support us when their physical body is gone is tough. Thank you for what you give to us, the faithful quiet listeners of the Derek and Romaine show.

Loretta Miller said...

Thank you Derek for sharing.

Anonymous said...

You have my condolences, Derek. I'm so sorry. I hope your blog entry was cathartic. Cherish your memories... Cherish the here and now.

Henry of Palm Springs said...

Really really nice, Derek. I appreciate that you decided to "come out" about this very important event in your life. Thank you for trusting your many friends and fans with this very personal moment.

GregWA said...

I love that picture of all the siblings. Your dad looks very loved. Sorry for your loss.

Unknown said...

Derek,

Thank you for sharing this. I happened across your blog for the first time today. Reading this was just what I needed after losing my Grandmother a few weeks ago. Without ever having met, you have helped me take another step in healing, and for that I am grateful.