Thursday, April 09, 2009

My TV Dad

Meghan and I were at dinner in Athens with Mom and Dad this evening, surveying the potential menu for our rehearsal dinner and catching up. In a random moment in mid-conversation, Mom seemed suddenly to come to her senses and said, "And, Oh Brett! Dan Miller died!"

As a child, I was a bit more enamored with television than would even today be considered acceptable. My first early computing experiments were with a database of prime-time television schedules for the broadcast networks. I daydreamed, before thinking of writing songs, of writing scripts for sitcoms. And at four-years old, I could identify the weekday, weekend, and daytime news personnel for the NBC affiliate in Nashville. For most of my life that list was literally and figuratively anchored by Dan Miller.

He left the station for a few years in the 80's to pursue bigger and better things in L.A. Among them was the role of sidekick in the short lived "Pat Sajak Show" which aired opposite Carson (Sajak was one of the weathermen at the same station when I was very young). Miller later returned to Nashville, and quickly resumed his role as the broadcasting patriarch of the Music City.

For me and many my age who had the privilege of growing up in Greater Nashville, Dan Miller was a trusted face in the midst of used car salesmen on local news. He had a soothing yet authoritative voice, a calming demeanor, and an honest face. The fact that he was similar in appearance to my father reserved a special place in my mind for him. Throughout my own childhood, I thought of Dan Miller as my TV Dad.

When I returned to Nashville in 2005, I did so alone. Even when I wasn't particularly interested in the news, I would frequently turn on Channel 4 at six or ten just to see a familiar face and hear a comforting voice - one that I had known as long as those of my own parents. I later began to enjoy his wisdom and insight through his blog on the WSMV website. On many lonely nights in Nashville, I thought of writing Dan Miller to tell him how he continued to affect me, but I never did.

Dan Miller, along with two of his friends from the station, returned earlier this week to Dan's hometown of Augusta to enjoy the early part of Masters week. He took a late night walk with Rudy Kalis (the sportscaster who had been around as long as Dan had), and began to point out sites of his childhood memories. According to Kalis, he continued to point with pride to the landmarks of his youth through gradually more difficult breaths. Eventually, Dan grabbed Rudy's arm and collapsed.

We make way too much of celebrity these days. We weep far too hard at the loss of people of fame and too lightly at the loss of people of substance. So I hope I don't inappropriately deify this gentleman whom I never met when I admit that his death has shaken me a bit. It may seem shallow or contrived, but I feel a little less secure knowing that he's gone. It may be the loss of a father figure, or the loss of a trusted voice in field more devoid of them than ever.

It's more likely, however, that I'm bothered because his passing is one more piece of my youth that is never coming back.

Rest in peace, sir.