When Dan Miller was growing up, his family lived about a mile away from Wisconsin Rapids, Wisc. He had eight siblings and the family was poor. His father, Robert, supported them by working at Consolidated Papers Inc.
"My father did not lead a happy life," Dan says during a visit with his wife Celeste Januszewski to StoryCorps in Chicago earlier this month. "I don't know if he felt trapped in the paper mill, but by the time, you know, I was little, he was a pretty serious alcoholic. If he was mad at us for something, he would take his belt out of his pants and just hit us with it."
Robert Miller died in 2001. Click on the audio link above to hear Dan Miller, 56, reflect on the influence his childhood had on him as a dad.
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Anita Rao.
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
And it's time again for StoryCorps. This project is recording stories around the country - like today's, from Dan Miller. He grew up in a family of nine children in Wisconsin. They were poor, and his father supported them with work at a local paper factory. Dan Miller sat down at StoryCorps with his wife, Celeste, to talk about his father's legacy and what it meant for him as a parent.
DAN MILLER: My father did not lead a happy life. I don't know if he felt trapped in the paper mill but by the time, you know, I was little, he was a pretty serious alcoholic. If he was mad at us for something, he would take his belt out of his pants and just hit us with it.
CELESTE JANUSZEWSKI: How did your siblings react?
MILLER: I don't think they ever talked about things. But I remember counting the empty beer bottles with one of my brothers. Like, you know, we would sometimes keep tabs and one time, he had had my mom fix him eggs. He wanted one over easy and one scrambled, I guess. She brought it to him, and he said the wrong one was scrambled; and he just took the whole plate and threw it against the wall.
You know, when my mom told us they got divorced, it was just like a big relief over my body to know that he wasn't there. I didn't want anything to do with him. But when I went to college, I was having nightmares about him being violent, and that's when I finally went to go see him. And I just realized he couldn't hurt us anymore. That day was a revelation. I just walked away.
JANUSZEWSKI: I'm really sorry you had to go through that.
MILLER: Me, too.
JANUSZEWSKI: How do you think your upbringing has affected your being a dad?
MILLER: Well, in my 20s, having kids around was very scary. I didn't know how to relate to them, and I was so frightened, I even tried to get a vasectomy, and the doctor wouldn't do it. But once we met and decided to have a family, I just tried to be honest and make my girls laugh. I mean, I'm sure I messed up, but I was resolved to break that whole cycle of abuse.
JANUSZEWSKI: Do you think you did?
MILLER: Yeah, I did.
JANUSZEWSKI: Yeah, I think you did, too.
MONTAGNE: Celeste and Dan Miller at StoryCorps in Chicago. Their conversation, and all project interviews, are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Sign up for the StoryCorps podcast at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.