Starting when I was about a decade old, Dad would occasionally ask me what qualities I’d be looking for in a wife when I got older. Through the years my answers included things like athletic, a good sense of humor, nice, smart, beautiful, a good cook, and I probably said a good dancer, too. I’m convinced all those thought-provoking questions contributed to me being married to my best friend & wife today…well, except for the good cook part. 🙂
Most summers I would ride with Dad in his tan Chevy Suburban from Fargo to Sunset Lodge on Potato Lake near Park Rapids, Minnesota. During one of those drives (in 1984 when I was 17) I asked Dad to be my Best Man…at my potential future wedding. I had been thinking about it for a long time, and it was a big deal to me. Dad’s first response was a smile. He then told me how nice it was, but that he wouldn’t hold me to it. While it was cool he gave me an out if I would ever want it, this was not an impulsive question on my part. I wanted my Dad to be my Best Man, and that would never change. He was 63 at the time and I didn’t take it for granted that he’d be able to attend my wedding (if I ever got married). If something were to happen to one of us, I wanted Dad to know that he would have been my Best Man…fortunately for me, a decade later he was.
As I said at his memorial service, Dr. James Miles was the greatest man I ever knew. From a young boy happily walking his dog (Buster) to the library for a week’s worth of books, to a husband and father who was 100% devoted to his wife and children, Dad was a total stud. I’m still amazed at how blessed I was to know him so well. In addition to all his talents, interests, and accomplishments, he also got it right on one of the most important things in life…Dad loved his family without condition. Dad (and Mom, too) didn’t get pride mixed up with love. At a moment when Dad was REALLY proud of me, he said, “I may not always be proud of you, but I’ll always love you.”
Dad served 18 years in the United States Army, from 1943 until he resigned and was honorably discharged in 1961. He was on active duty stateside in both World War II and the Korean War (including service in Virginia, Texas and Alabama), and his final rank was Lieutenant Colonel of the Medical Corps in the North Dakota National Guard.
Even though he had earned the honor of being a military veteran, he wouldn’t allow himself to be held in the same regard as those who saw combat…Dad thought those soldiers were extra special. When he’d talk about them, especially the ones who didn’t return, he would get choked up. Dad never forgot them. Later in life when he found out a military marker could be on his grave, he politely refused it. I told him he should accept the marker because he had served our country for a generation, but he calmly and quickly ended the discussion. I disagreed with his decision, but I sure respected it.
My two favorite military decorations Dad earned are the Army Good Conduct Medal and the World War II Victory Medal (both are actually ribbons, as shown below). The Good Conduct Medal is awarded for “honorable and faithful service” on a “selective basis to each soldier who distinguishes himself from among his fellow soldiers by their exemplary behavior, efficiency, and fidelity in active Federal Military service.”
Dr. Miles was a genuine gentleman, but he also believed in discipline. Dr. Sid Hughes, a good friend of Dad’s for more than five decades, told me about their service together in the Army. Sid said Dad was the commander of their unit and he admired Dad a lot…Sid called him a “good looking guy” who was “ramrod straight” and a “no nonsense leader.” Despite their close friendship, Sid described a presence Dad had (when he was leading their Army unit) that made it clear to everyone “you just didn’t mess with him.” Sid also spoke of Dad’s ability to focus on the task at hand. Dr. Hughes fondly remembered when they were in medical school together and Dad would often study standing up to stay awake. Sid described their time together as “marvelous.”
That aura Dad had (which Dr. Hughes referenced) was evident at the 1982 North Dakota State High School Boys Tennis Tournament in Grand Forks. One of my Fargo South teammates was playing an opponent whose coach had the worst reputation in the state…he would do almost anything to win, and they won a lot. During this particular match, that coach was up to his usual tricks, and it was clearly having a negative effect on my teammate. All of a sudden, in a quiet but intense confrontation, Dad walked out from the crowd onto the court directly up to that coach! No one heard what was said while they were face to face, but Dad then escorted the coach off the court without ever touching him (and the coach didn’t return). I had never seen anyone stand up to that coach before, and I never saw him try his stunts again. Bruce Cook, another one of my teammates and a lifelong friend, talked about how much that moment meant to our team, when “a parent stood up for someone else’s kid just because it was right.” We won the state team title that weekend, and my teammate — the one Dad defended — won the state singles title.
My Best Man had a special ability to connect with people from many different backgrounds. He was sincerely curious about people and their story. When Brenna & I got married at the University of North Dakota, we had a photo shoot before the outdoor ceremony. Quite a few people were there…including the video guy we hired, Frank. Dad was having fun talking to lots of family and friends, but as I found out later he had also visited with Frank. Our wedding video shows Dad (who was not aware the camera was rolling) saying to Frank in his playful and friendly voice, “Anybody from Tabor can’t be all bad — now come on!” That was the moment I learned Frank was from Tabor, Minnesota.
Dr. James V. Miles Jr. was an elite athlete. He was 6 feet tall and weighed 180 pounds.
During his two years as the starting left halfback (which today is called quarterback) for the UND football team, his favorite stat line from a game was when he completed 8 out of 8 pass attempts with 4 touchdowns in a win. Dad wore #8 and #45 during his three years on the varsity team, and #36 on the freshman team. Many football players find it difficult to stop playing after college, especially when they’ve played for so long, but Dad said between military service, medical school, and starting his life with Mylah, he didn’t have time to think about it. He did love playing football, though. From some of his teammates, and from many of Jim & Mylah’s friends, I learned that Dad was definitely the BMOC at UND in the early 1940s…but he never admitted that to me.
In the next 50+ years Dad enjoyed bird hunting, pool, ping pong, tennis, and racquetball. He was a very good pool player, and he played two exhibition matches with Willie Mosconi. In one of the matches Dad went first, and he made his first seven shots…but then he didn’t get back to the table again. Willie never missed a shot, rack after rack, and Dad said it was a thrill. When I asked him if he wished he could have played more in front of that large crowd, Dad smiled and shook his head and said, “They weren’t there to see me.”
As good as Dad was at pool, he was an even better hunter. We always joked that in the 50+ weeks of the year when Dad wasn’t actually hunting, he was getting ready to go hunting. One of the things he’d do (during the summer and fall) would be laps around our block at night. He’d carry a solid iron bar — which was about four feet long and weighed about 40 pounds — so his shotgun would feel extra light when he was hunting. He was also very organized…guns were routinely cleaned and hunting items were labeled and neatly packed. He made lots of lists, too. Dad loved North Dakota, and bird hunting was certainly one of the reasons why. One of my favorite maxims from Mom is “Find your bliss.” Dad found his in a goose pit, duck blind, and pheasant field.
On a fall day when Dad was about 60, Jimmy was sitting across from Dad in a goose pit near Rolette, North Dakota. During a lull in the hunt for geese, Dad was eating a bran muffin that Mom had made for him. All of a sudden Jimmy saw a lone duck flying very high and very fast toward them (it was coming from behind Dad). Some of the other hunters took several shots at the duck, but no one hit it. Jimmy watched Dad raise his shotgun (still seated) as the duck came into view from over his head and behind him. After Dad dropped the duck with one amazing shot, he looked at Jimmy and smiled…with the bran muffin still in his mouth.
There are many examples of what a great shot Dad was, but my favorite is when he was trap shooting (clay pigeons quickly going in different directions) with two of his grandsons, Jay and Tom. It happened just outside of Fargo, and he was in his late 60s. Dad hit his first 10 clay pigeons in a row, then his next 10, and was 24 for 24 with one to go. During a brief pause, when Dad was looking down to reload, Tom accidentally released the last clay pigeon out of excitement. 25 for 25. Tom said the 25th was “powdered.” Jay described that moment as “legendary.”
One of my other favorite hunting stories about Dad is when he was out with a group of doctors and Johnnny. After a successful morning near Rolla, North Dakota, it was time to clean the dozen or so birds from their hunt. As the group of doctors put on latex gloves to get ready for the cleaning, they noticed Dr. Miles in a nearby ditch with the birds. Dad’s bare hands were dirty, and all the birds were clean.
Dad & I spent hundreds of fun hours playing tennis, racquetball, and ping pong together. Thanks in large part to the support Dad (and Mom) gave me, I was fortunate to have some success in those three sports…but the one title I cherish more than any other is the Fargo Country Club Father/Son Doubles Tennis Championship. In the big picture it was a small tournament, but in our little part of the world it was a major. There were many teams entered, and two of the teams were surely better than us. Somehow we beat one of them in the semis and the other in the finals. I can still hear Dad saying “let’s go” and “what’s the count” during those matches. It was a very special experience to compete with Dad in a tournament (and it was a bonus to win), especially since he was 60. Those happy moments became priceless memories for Dad & me.
The sport we played most — and had the most fun playing — was ping pong. The room Dad designed specifically for ping pong (in the basement at 2404) was an ideal place to play. It had plenty of space to move, and better lighting than a racquetball court. Some of my favorite memories include: Dad organizing fun doubles matches with many family/friends, and getting into long rallies with Dad when I’d keep setting him up and he’d keep trying to put them away…we had a lot of laughs during those classic times. Most sports have seasons, but it was always ping pong season at 2404.
Dr. Miles was an avid exerciser, well before fitness became popular. He’d run, jump rope and do pushups on a regular basis, and he would either walk or ride his bike to work. Almost every morning for more than 20 years Dad would start his day with 100 pushups. Teaching by example, Dad instilled in me the benefits of finding exercises and sports that I liked, so fitness would always be a fun and important part of my life. He also used incentives to teach me.
When I was in 9th grade Dad offered me $100 if I could do 100 pushups (good ones, like his). He said it was a standing offer and that I could pick the date. Several months later I told him I was ready, even though I knew that wasn’t the case…I was hoping for a lucky break. When I was just about to start, Dad put a crisp $100 bill on the floor right in front of me. I set a personal record that day, doing 77 pushups. Dad congratulated me on my effort and then took back the $100 bill.
Years later, after putting in the necessary work, I asked Dad if I could try again. He said yes. After doing 111 good pushups — with another crisp $100 bill on the floor — the only person more excited than me when I picked up the $100 bill was Dad. Three valuable lessons he taught me through pushups were: results matter, there’s no substitute for being prepared, and don’t give up.
Decision/gut/regret were three more crucial lessons I learned from Dad. Whenever you need to make a sound decision it’s worthwhile to list the pros and cons, and weigh each one. The key factor that should get as much or more weight than any other is your own gut…that natural instinct is very valuable (and your gut instinct could more appropriately be called your God instinct). Make sure you consider the potential impact different options might have on your future. Could you have regrets by doing or not doing something? Listening to your gut (i.e., listening to God) as part of the decision-making process will help minimize regrets. After using those tools you’ll always know you made the best decision you could with the information you had at the time.
Another major area of education was managing money. Saving and spending money wisely takes effort, and you need to make thoughtful — and sometimes tough — choices. Dad would periodically show me some of the checks he had earned. He’d explain that we could do a lot of different things with the money (and he’d give fun examples), but that he and Mom had decided to save it. “Earn money in thousands and spend it in hundreds” was Dad’s unique way of saying spend less than you make. His favorite phrase when he found a bargain was, “They were practically givin’ it away.” He would also set a price at which he didn’t want to invest much time in a buying decision…and that idea resulted in, “Anything under $100 is free.” The dollar amount will obviously be different for each person (for example my version is, “Anything under $6 is free”). But whatever your figure is, it doesn’t mean you buy everything you want under that dollar amount. The point is to be able to have fun with money within reason.
From a very young age Dad taught me that money was an important part of life…but only a part, and definitely not the most important. When I was attending Lincoln Elementary School we had to write a paper about the person we admired most in the world. I wrote about Dad. A year later Dad’s wallet was stolen. He was very disappointed, and I assumed it was because of the lost cash, but it wasn’t. Dad told me the reason he was so down was because the most valuable thing in his wallet was the paper I had written. He had been carrying it around for a year. I learned a lot that day about what has real value in life, and then I rewrote the paper for him.
Similarly, the most valuable things I got from Dad had nothing to do with money. Dad’s love for me, time with me, and words to me are what I treasure most.
When Dad gave a gift, it was fun just trying to find it…he would prehide cards in several different locations leading you from one card to the next, until you reached the present. Along the way there would almost always be a card in the freezer. Dad liked to give homemade gift certificates. My favorite one from him was only 10 words: “This certificate is good for one of anything you want.” I never redeemed that certificate. The trust it represented was one of the biggest gifts I could get.
Dad also taught me to be true to myself, and not worry about what other people think (except for those closest to me). Not everyone is going to like Scott Miles, and that’s ok…it’s not my job to get everyone to like me. Be Scott Miles. Stand up for what you believe. Tell the truth. Be loyal and trustworthy.
On the occasional nights Mom wasn’t home to cook for us, Dad & I would go straight to Duane’s House of Pizza in Fargo (the best pizza on earth). We’d share a large with a combination of beef and pepperoni over the whole thing, and then he’d add black olives and onions to his half. The only downside was when a few of his black olives or onions would creep over to my half…then Dad would have to eat those squares. After pizza we’d sometimes set up our green tent and sleep out in the backyard. Once we were in the tent, Dad would often magically produce several brand new packs of baseball or football cards. We’d trade them while sitting on our sleeping bags by the light from a portable lamp, until he got so tired that he’d just give me all his cards (which happened every time). It would always take me awhile to fall asleep because I was so excited.
Spending time with Dad was very comforting and fun. He had a remarkably positive effect on people, and I loved being with him.
Dad had a terrific smile and sense of humor. When he was really laughing he’d lean his head back and put his hand near his heart and let out a big snort. He also had a nice chuckle. When we’d be playfully wrestling or boxing he would often say, as he smiled and chuckled, “Someone’s gonna get hurt and it’s not gonna be me.” Another one of my favorite funny lines of his was, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” And then there was, “Be sincere even when you don’t mean it.” On the way to the lake one summer Dad & I were talking about Brenna, and I asked him how girls were able to bring such strong feelings out of guys? “They’re just built that way.” His one-liners continued even after he was sick. Following a session with a nurse who was testing his awareness, Dad said, “I thought some of them were trick questions, so I gave her some trick answers.” At home Johnnny asked Dad if he could learn another language, what would it be? “Profanity.” And when Dad saw a hearse: “I hope that’s not for me.”
One of my favorite memories of Dad’s big laugh (hand on heart/head back/huge smile) took place at Sunset Lodge on Potato Lake. In 1988 I invited a guest to visit us there…my future best friend & wife, Brenna. I’d never invited anyone to Sunset Lodge before. During her stay we played a lot of tennis. Several times while playing doubles, Brenna nailed a two-handed backhand past Dad when he was at the net. Each time it happened, both out of amazement and enjoyment, Dad’s big laugh would follow. Dad got a total kick out of Brenna, and he was completely taken with her from that very first visit. A couple summers later, Mom ended a longstanding debate about who was the Most Natural Athlete in our family — at Sunset Lodge in Cabin 7 she announced it was Brenna.
Dad & Brenna were often partners in doubles ping pong. When playing doubles, a team has to alternate hitting the ball. Dad would sometimes start laughing in the middle of a point because Brenna had the habit of ducking under the table to get out of his way. For the rest of that point, and for a few seconds after the point, we’d all be laughing. Ping pong and laughter are a great combination, just like Dad & Brenna were.
Original, honest, friendly, authentic, loyal, innovative, humble, confident, loving and playful are a few words I think of when I’m thinking about Dad. He liked to try new things, and he was always open to learning better ways to live. Dad was the first person in North Dakota to buy a Prince tennis racquet…he thought the idea of a larger sweet spot was very clever. Well into his 60s Dad would water ski at Potato Lake by jumping off the dock to start (which was a unique but efficient way to begin), and he had his slalom ski custom fit to his foot so he never had to spend time adjusting it.
Dad’s Best Man was Dr. Stan Saiki from Hawaii, who he met at UND. Mom & Dad visited Stan and his wife, Pat, twice in Hawaii — in the late 1970s and mid 1980s. Mom & Dad said those were two of the best trips they ever took. After those Hawaiian visits, I often heard Dad say “Okole Maluna” when giving a toast (which means Bottoms Up). Dad had a surf lesson in Hawaii and was so interested in surfing that he actually bought a surfboard and brought it home! He wanted to use it at the lake behind the boat…which we did (it was yellow with green trim). That surfboard was probably another first in North Dakota.
After graduating from the University of North Dakota in 1943, Dad next graduated from the UND School of Medicine and then the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. He initially thought radiology or surgery would be his field (part of his duty in the military was as a general surgeon), but Dad ultimately decided he’d rather spend his life helping people at the beginning of theirs. Following medical school Dr. Miles received three years of specialty training in pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic.
As a pediatrician Dad was a pioneer. When seeing about 20-25 patients per day was the average, Dr. Miles was seeing up to 100 patients per day at his clinic in Jamestown, North Dakota. My Aunt Grace (Mom’s sister) wrote: “Your dad was super strong in his time management ability. He believed no patient should wait in a doctor’s office more than 10 minutes. He also trained his nurses to do everything a nurse was allowed to do, making it possible for him to see more patients for the things he was trained to do! It made all his nurses very happy, too.”
One of those nurses was Ranelle Turman. She described Dad as a “wonderful man and a great mentor” who “had a passion for children.” Ranelle said Dr. Miles “had a twinkle in his eye and would make every child smile.” She remembered one of the many ways Dad got a lot of smiles was to hand the child a phone receiver (from inside his doctor bag) and say, “It’s for you.”
Ranelle said Dr. Miles would “stay late when there was a sick child to be seen…many mothers were so appreciative of this.” Ranelle also emphasized Dad’s appreciation for one mother in particular, who was named Mylah: “He demonstrated his love for your Mom daily, calling her and talking of her so often.”
Dr. Miles summed up 40 very successful years as a physician, caring for thousands of patients, with one sentence: “I didn’t have patients…I had friends.”
One of those friends — who was also an Eagle Scout like Dad — was Drew Wrigley. I’ve heard Drew numerous times talk about the positive impact Dr. Miles had on his life, and how disappointed he was when he had to switch doctors as an adult. Whenever he had a check up with Dr. Miles, Drew said he liked how Dad would come in with a smile and always walk to Drew first (even when Drew was very young), shake his hand, ask a few questions, and then say to Mrs. Wrigley, “And how’s Mom?”
Drew’s wife, Kathleen, told me how fortunate she feels to have met Dad…it happened just days before he died. Kathleen said Dr. Miles still had a solid handshake, and her hand felt so small in his. “I remember visiting North Dakota and Drew brought me to meet him. Drew felt it was so important for me to meet this man in my lifetime. He had such an impact on Drew and his whole family. Drew’s mom still gets choked up when she talks about Dr. Miles.”
“He was so professional,” Drew remembers. “Doc always made you feel like you were a very important person to him, and what you had to say was important…he was interested in it, even though you were just a kid.” Thinking about the many times he was with Dr. Miles, Drew said, “You knew you were in the presence of not only a great man, but a really warm, kind, and good man.”
He was my Best Man.