I know a guy...

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My father-in-law, Walt Miller, was an exceptionally special man. He had the sort of talents that everyone wishes they had. You’ve heard the phrase, “Hey, I know a guy.” They’re talking about Walt. He was the real-life Winston Wolfe. The Fixer. Harvey Keitel’s character in 1994’s Pulp Fiction. Interesting movie, but spare your kids from it. Pulp Fiction not in your library? Then I’d direct you to Dos Equis’s, World’s Most Interesting Man, commercial. Other than having two ladies by his side, that’s Walt. So today, in honor of Walt Miller, who was the master of many things, I offer three New Year’s Resolutions for 2016.

I pray that I get just one of them right.

Say what you mean. Do what you say. Just after our college graduation, I felt it was time to ask Mary Lisa Miller, Walt’s third daughter, to marry me. (The first two said no.) And knowing Walt like I did, I knew to ask him for his blessing. So I scheduled a visit at his office one afternoon just before lunch. I didn’t think I’d be in there very long. After all, this was a respectful formality, right? I do my deal, he does his deal, and boom, we’re off to Applebee’s – the proud father-in-law to be gloating over his soon-to-be conquering hero son-in-law. Well, that’s what I get for thinking. After a bit of small talk and nervous chit chat, I announced my intentions and asked Walt for his blessing. What I received, instead, was this:

“Well, Billy, I have serious reservations about this.”

Serious reservations? What came out of his mouth after that is still a blur – something about being too young, marriage being too difficult, and him wanting me to pursue my dream as a musician. (His wife Jane was an accordion player in Atlanta – until they married.) After an hour or so, he finally offered his blessing – but not without reservation. And not without taking a year or so off of my life in the process. But that was the end of it. And from that day forward, I was his son and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t know I was loved and considered one of his own. Walt never held back, and he always followed through.  A blessing, indeed.

Operate in your strengths. Walt was very self aware. He knew there were things he was good at, and he never pretended to be good at the things he wasn’t. Not a lot of wasted energy with Walt. He focused on his strengths and delegated to his weaknesses. And he was the master of the transaction. If there was a deal to be had, it was Walt’s for the taking. Like buying a car, for example. Long before a google search armed the consumer with all they needed to know, Walt was getting those deals the old fashioned way; he worked for them. He never went into a negotiation unprepared and was always willing to walk away. And most times, he'd walk. And 9 times out of 10, they’d cajole him back into the building. If he really wanted the car, either for himself or for one of his five kids, he’d buy it. (He’d also do this for fun if he had an hour or so to kill.) If there was 2% profit in the deal for the dealer, they’d have earned every penny and were lucky to have gotten it. I sometimes think Walt negotiated more for sport than for need. He loved the pursuit. And through preparation, charm and savvy, he made more deals than he lost. Walt knew his giftings and he provided very well for himself and his family through them. A blessing, indeed.

Put first things first. Walt was the husband of one, father of five, and stranger to none. He was a masterful story teller and always had one on standby for any occasion. And running through each story was the central theme of family. To know Walt, was to know his family – simply because they’re all he ever talked about. And three years after his passing, we speak of him daily and miss him even more. Walt was a big smile, a gentle hug, and warmth from the inside out. He was an accomplished businessman, unstoppable community volunteer, and a relentless father and husband. Family first – and that left no time for second or third. There are too many illustrations for this post, nor could I do his commitment to family justice with mere words. Trust me when I tell you that if a man ever loved his family, and if a man ever meant the world to so many, it was Walt Miller.

Say what you mean. Do what you say.
Operate in your strengths.
Put first things first.

I can’t pretend to know what should be at the top of your list for 2016. The above are three that I saw modeled in my life, and are more than worthy of adopting as my own. For you, it may be different. A resolution is what you create to address a recognized need in your life. But it should be more than that, shouldn't it? It’s an opportunity for growth, sure, but not just for you, but for those you care about. Like it or not, want it or not, and regardless of your age or theirs – someone is learning from you. What are they learning? What are you doing, or not doing, that’s creating a lasting impression on those you love? (Ugh. Excuse me while I remove the stick from my eye.)

Maybe we’ve had it all wrong. Maybe a resolution is not about us, at all. Maybe we should start with those we love. What need do they have that only I can provide for? Somewhere along the way Walt asked himself that question and I’m a better man and husband because of it. Happy New Year Walt. And thank you for lessons worthy of learning at any time of the year.

May 2016 be the best year yet for you and for those you love.

Happy New Year!

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