An Interview With Donald Miller (May-Jun 2006)

By Matt Dabbs

by Greg Taylor
May – June, 2006

Donald Miller’s conversation with New Wineskins was his last in a recent round of interviews about his new memoir of life without a father, To Own a Dragon. John Murray is one of the friends in Miller’s life who came along and showed him what good fathers are like. Miller’s father had abandoned him before he could remember, and though we sense no guile in Miller and no bitterness toward his father, he admits he still carries the “father wound” (John Eldredge’s term) and wants to meet his father someday. During the interview we learned something amazing that Miller hadn’t told any other magazine up to that point. His mother had made an incredible discovery.

NW: So let’s talk about your latest book, To Own a Dragon … you’ve done a lot of interviews.

DM: This is my last one … and that’s all I’ve done the last couple days but after this I’m going to load up the truck with a bunch of yard debris and head to the dump.

NW: There you go.

DM: You know you’re tired of doing interviews when you’re looking forward to going to the dump … anything but writing and talking.

NW: Well, what have you not been asked that no one’s asked you in these interviews?

DM: That’s so funny—the last guy who interviewed me, that was the last question he asked.

NW: And you said what?

DM: I said, “I don’t think about it.” (laughs)

NW: (laughs) Well, I expected you to say when you read John Eldredge, that you didn’t like the book … then you did say you threw it across the room. But then you came back and said it was a book you really resonated with, but you really had to work through it.

DM: It was. He hit a nerve. When he started talking about “father wound” stuff. He exposed a wound, I guess you could say. He as a person, his retreat up in the mountains I went to, and the book itself did a great deal to begin to recover that, you know?

NW: So, part of his idea about manhood resonates with you but you had to work through the father wound part.

New Wineskins: The DiVine CodeDM: I haven’t been on a “John Eldredge track,” and honestly I can’t remember what a lot of his steps are, but in terms of writing about growing up without a dad, that was an instrumental—the camp up there—was an instrumental event in terms of letting me know on an emotional level that this is a big deal. He went into father wound stuff at the Wild at Heart book camp, and a hundred, hundred fifty of the three hundred guys were just taken out; guys were just hurting. It’s a huge thing, man. There’s a lot of fashion reasons … if a book gets really popular, everybody wants to bash on it, you know. But regardless, there’s some truth there, and he’s doing great work.

NW: You’re right. There’s a sense of wanting to bash it. The only thing I had a push back with him—in an interview a few years ago—was that he said his ideas are universal and totally cross-cultural, that they are translating in several languages. So I’m curious, what about To Own a Dragon, do you think are cross-cultural, universal?

DM: I don’t know. The book is a memoir. It’s just my story. If other people identify with it, they do. And if they don’t, they don’t. I don’t tend to worry too much with it because I’m not too much of an advice guy. So yeah, I wasn’t really thinking of other cultures. If people identify with it, that’s great … not everybody will identify with it: I have a friend who’s a woman in her fifties and she didn’t get it at all.

NW: I say this partly tongue in cheek, but it doesn’t sound like you’ll take a book like this to Africa because it could be good for them, for orphans in Rwanda or Uganda.

DM: The orphans in Uganda—children who are being abducted (Invisible Children) — their story is so painful that I would not … I would feel incredibly arrogant showing them this—I mean having anybody over there read this book, because they’d be sitting there going, “You’re kidding me, are you serious? I watched my dad get killed and I went into a village with an AK-47 and killed thirty people. You have no idea …”

NW: Right.

DM: So, no, it’s an American book. Or at least a book for the West.

NW: You talked about your desire to please the father … is there still a demon of your father, that you still want to please somehow?

DM: Yeah, there is desire, you know, to hear my dad say, “I’m proud of you and you did a good job.” There’s always that—it’s always there. It’s never going to go away … yeah, I’d love to hear that. I’d give anything to hear that. There’s something about his voice — I mean I don’t know him, never talked to him. There’s something about his missing voice you still long for. Which is interesting, even though you didn’t have it, you’re designed to have it and if you don’t there’s something wrong. And so, yes, it’s still haunting a little bit. I wouldn’t even say a little bit, I’d say a lot.

NW: Is your dad still living?

DM: He is. In fact, after twenty-five years of not know if he were dead or alive, about three weeks ago I found out he’s alive and where he is.

NW: Really?!

DM: And, yeah, got his phone number. I haven’t called it but …

NW: Do you mind talking about that? Have you talked about this yet?

DM: I haven’t talked about it yet, but it’s a weird thing. People ask about it (finding my dad) and I don’t feel anything on the surface. I wish I could tell you more.

NW: How did you find him?

DM: Basically, researched, found social security number. My mom talked to him. She’s the one who did the search and found him.

NW: So he didn’t see your name in a bookstore and …

DM: No, but could you imagine? You find out the son you haven’t talked to in twenty-five years just wrote a book about how he’s screwed up his life … that’s gotta be harder for him than it is me. It’s a weird situation.New Wineskins

Donald MillerDonald Miller, 34, is the bestselling author of Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality; Searching for God Knows What; and Through Painted Deserts, which have sold over 700,000 copies combined. His candid, often hilarious writing on life, faith and meaning has attracted a devoted cult following.

Miller grew up in Houston, the only boy in a family of women. His father took off when he was two. He examines how his father’s absence shaped his life in his new book, To Own a Dragon, offering the benefit of his experience to other young men growing up without fathers. “This book has been healing for me to get on paper,” Miller says. “I hope something like my experience in writing this book happens for the reader.” He will launch a foundation this year to provide support for single mothers and mentors for fatherless children.

A popular speaker at churches and on college campuses, Miller is the director of The Burnside Writers Collective and coeditor of The Ankeny Briefcase, a quarterly collection of short stories from unpublished writers, along with music from unsigned artists. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

For more information, visit [www.donaldmillerwords.com]. Interact with fellow fans at [www.donmillerfans.net]. And visit the site of the Belmont Foundation that Miller established to provide support for single mothers and mentors for fatherless children at [www.belmontfoundation.org].

An interview with someone as dynamic as Miller is bound to have some interesting outtakes, and you’re welcome to peek in on them here.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1577 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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