And then there were eight, more
This Father’s Day, Bill Miller of Chugiak has quite a bit to celebrate.
He recently became “dad” to eight new children.
That’s a quadrupling of the two boys he and Wanda Miller, his deceased wife, shared. Included in those eight new kids are six girls. They officially became part and parcel of his life shortly before Valentine’s Day this year when he married their mother, Hiedi Kroeker – a Peter Creek woman two and half years into being a widow after her first husband, Ken Kroeker, died from a heart attack. While Bill has interacted with the Kroeker girls through church and homeschooling events, he’s never been dad to girls before.
This indeed is a new experience – emphasis on “new” and “experience.”
And he is lovin’ every moment. Well, most of them, he concedes with a chuckle.
“Occasionally I want to pull what is left of my hair out,” jokes the 63-year-old retired firefighter. “But mostly I am very much fulfilled.”
It wasn’t like that on June 11, 2013. That is the day his wife of 35 years died from cancer. It was a short 90 days from diagnosis to death; time too short to accommodate the bitterness and anger Bill soon began to feel toward a God he’d trusted all his life.
“I was not a happy man. I was a very angry man,” Bill recalls. “I was very angry with God for a couple three months. I wanted absolutely nothing to do with God, I did not pick up my Bible, and I did not go to church. I did not talk to my Christian friends. I was doing nothing but sitting here at home with the windows closed and the blinds shut.”
If properly grieving the mother of his two sons was the goal, Bill admits he wasn’t working very hard toward that.
Others – including the friends of his 12-year-old son, Chase, noticed. One of those kids was Kessler Kroeker – Hiedi’s insightful 16-year-old with a mentoring spirit who knew the pain of losing a parent from the death of his father, Ken, in 2011 and wanted to help Chase. Kessler spent more time with Chase listening to him pour out the ache he felt.
It didn’t take long for Kessler to pick up on Bill’s hermitage.
Hiedi recalled Kessler telling her in October 2013, “Mom, I just don’t think Mr. Miller gets out too much right now.”
The collective Kroeker gang decided to do something about Bill’s self-imposed solitary confinement. They hoped in the process of further engaging Chase that perhaps Bill would come around as well.
Six degrees of separation
In a community where the infamous six degrees of separation are regularly cut in half, the Kroeker’s knew the Miller family relatively well. They went to church together. It was Wanda and Bill that had welcomed Hiedi and Ken to what was then Birchwood Baptist (now The Crossing) in 1992 when Hiedi and Ken’s daughter Emerald Jordin, now age 21, was just a sweet little bundle of joy with an adorable bow on her head.
A decade or so down the road, Jordin became the Miller’s babysitter. She watched their pets when they went on vacation. Ken and Bill shared men’s fellowship events together. The families weren’t the tightest of matchings’, but they were more than acquaintances. Hiedi, the former president of the Eagle River Christian Homeschooling Association, gave Wanda advice and curriculum when she opted to homeschool Chase. When Ken died, Wanda regularly sent Bill and Chase over to plow the driveway and to help with household repairs. When Wanda was diagnosed and sought treatment, Hiedi prayed for her friend; cooked meals for the family and organized a massive leaf-raking yard work party before Wanda came home from the hospital last spring to be attended to by hospice and her family.
In the minds of both families, it was Christian love in action.
So last October, when the Kroeker family asked with a hint of insistence that Bill and Chase meet them at a girls basketball game featuring two of Hiedi’s daughters, Bill admits he agreed more for Chase’s benefit than his own.
Little did he know that same God that he was so angry with for having taken Wanda to heaven, as Bill describes her death, had already laid the foundation for a new relationship. Or at least that is how Bill explains the next few months of his life to that was quickly being drawn to Hiedi’s and that of her family.
Little did Hiedi know either that the pure act of kindness because she knew the isolation Bill felt would lead to a whirlwind courtship, a very romantic pre-Valentine’s Day wedding whipped into shape in a week by the local community and the formation of a new family in which it is safe, acceptable and encouraged for everyone to share the loss of their former spouse and parent.
A blended challenge
They are doing what many psychologist label “challenging.” They are blending two families with children ranging from 24 to eight. They don’t see it as impossible. In fact, their Christian faith allows them to trust that God not only has their best interest at heart, but also orchestrated the rebuilding of their broken lives.
Both say they take the words contained in the Authorized King James version of Jeremiah 32:27, “Behold, I am the Lord, the God of all flesh: is there any thing too hard for me?” and Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose,” to heart and to the life they are now building together.
Not that doing so is easy. The gang is in Bill’s three-bedroom until the interior of Hiedi’s much larger house is finished. It’s a bit crowded with kids and five dogs.
“Anybody want a dog,” Hiedi jokes. “We might have one available.”
The lack of elbow room isn’t limiting the emotional space. In the new household headed by Bill Miller, it is completely acceptable for Hiedi’s kids to say they miss their father and for Bill’s sons to say their miss their mother. Bill will say he misses Ken as a friend and Hiedi the same of Wanda. The new couple acknowledge the immense losses for their children and themselves and are committed to honoring those memories as they create new ones.
And Bill is adjusting to the female side of child-rearing. A conservative man, he seeks dress code guidance from his new wife. He’s formulating dating rules for daughters that are coming of age and the suitors that he knows are coming for the “very attractive red heads” now calling him dad. He knows he won’t see a full roll of toilet paper for at least a decade and he is delicately tip-toeing around the monthly schedules. He hasn’t taken to keeping a bottle of Midol in his front pocket ready for dispensing, but he is acutely aware that girls have different needs. He’s also looking forward to someday walking some of those redheads down the aisle at their wedding. And it will be just fine with him if when he stands at the back of the church, the young lady on his arm tells him she wishes her father was there when she thanks Bill for willingly taking on the task of being Dad.