This is the last of an eight-part series on "Driven: An Autobiography" about the life of Larry H. Miller written by Deseret News columnist Doug Robinson in collaboration with Miller. Each begins with Robinson's personal observations and experiences from the project, followed by an excerpt from the book. "Driven" is available at Deseret Book
The first time I met with Gail after Larry died, I asked her the obvious question: How was she doing? With trademark Miller candor and tears, she said, "I don't want to sound cold. I've been waiting for him my whole life. It's not that different now." She began to cry as she added, "The only time we were really together was when he got sick and could no longer go to work."
After reading the manuscript for this book, my friend and fellow columnist Lee Benson made an astute observation: "Really this is a love story. That's the thread that runs through the book. Larry had a lifeline in Gail, and they lived this whole thing together. It's about two people who started out with nothing, and it ends with her sitting in that house that he let her build and she's overseeing their empire. It was quite a ride."
Gail was the calm in the middle of Larry's storm. He was intense, driven and creative, and she was serene, wise and patient. His admiration and love for Gail seemed to come up in so many of our conversations. They met in junior high; she was pretty much the only girl he ever dated. They certainly had their ups and downs — life with a man of Larry's artistic temperament was never easy — but as Gail writes in the book's epilogue: "I have often said I am grateful that there was never an occasion when we both wanted a divorce at the same time."
I wrote the book in first person in Larry's voice, but after he died I decided to add what I called "post scripts" written in third person following many of the chapters. This provided a forum to utilize insights from other people to fill in the gaps left by Larry's absence. The main source was Gail. In the end, I thought the addition of her voice added much to the book. It certainly provided the woman's point of view in a powerful way.
This is an excerpt from a lengthy chapter on the emotional costs of Larry's driven, workaholic nature. I should note that Larry said one of the primary reasons he wanted to write the book was to teach others the lessons he learned; otherwise, he believed, there was no real reason to tell his story.
Spurred by the epiphany I had as a young man (see May 4 excerpt in the Deseret News), I worked nearly every waking hour. Initially, it was fear that drove me to work those 90 hours a week for 20 years — this overwhelming feeling of being responsible for the needs of my wife and children and not having a college degree to fall back on — and my solution was my ability to outwork everyone else. I worked when other people were home watching TV or sleeping or eating breakfast. I was getting the next day's work done a day early. I was sleeping about six hours a night.
It made me successful.
It made me a failure, too.
I missed most of my children's youth. I missed ballgames and science fairs and back-to-school nights. I missed the first day of kindergarten and playing catch in the yard. I missed dinner at home with my wife and kids. Gail had to do everything. She was a single parent with our five children — Greg, Roger, Karen, Stephen and Bryan.
I didn't take any time off. I worked all the time. I worked six days a week, and on the seventh day — Sunday — I played softball. As Gail likes to say, I didn't go to my kids' ballgames; they came to mine.
Even when I was at home, I wasn't really there. Greg, our oldest child, says he learned that when the door to my home office was shut, you didn't open it, and if it was ajar you entered at your own peril. Gail says that if there was a family problem I would get really angry and make it worse, so she just didn't tell me about it unless it got so bad that she had no choice. By the time a problem reached me, it had already spiraled out of control, and I would step in and overreact. I was the bad cop to Gail's good cop.
The kids were in bed when I got home from work. The only time I saw them was at church on Sunday or at my softball games. Gail says we raised our kids at the ballpark. It was part of her effort to put the kids and me together. When the kids were young, Gail would bring them to the dealership in the evening and we'd go to dinner, and then afterward they'd drop me off at work again. When the kids were about 12, I started to give them jobs at the dealership, which was another way for them to at least be around me. But as the kids got older they resisted the trips to work and softball and became angry.
Gail had to create ways for me and her to be together, as well. She would find something to do at the office, for instance, such as posting parts in the evening. When we dated, we were inseparable; once we married, we hardly saw each other. When I came home at night, I would soak in the tub to unwind, and she would sit on the floor in the bathroom and listen to me talk and talk and talk. Or we'd go on a late-night walk, which was another way for me to unwind and be with Gail. I would have Gail walk with me to the car in the morning to see me off to work. These were our dates.
The great irony of my life is that I originally began working those long hours to benefit my wife and kids but wound up hurting them. The children suffered without a father figure in the home. Most of them were strong-willed and angry; some caused trouble and did poorly in school. Four of our five children did not graduate in the traditional way. Greg was kicked out of one high school late in his senior year and had to graduate from another. Roger married in February of his senior year and graduated from Alta's adult program. He divorced twice, but is now happily remarried. Bryan wound up at Valley High, which is for non-traditional students, and eventually graduated from Granite High with college credits from Salt Lake Community College doing concurrent enrollment. Karen didn't graduate — she got a GED. She had a baby at 15, and she was in and out of the house. I remember Greg standing at the bottom of the stairs once shouting at me, "I hate the car business! I'll do anything but the car business." The kids all said things like that, but all four boys are now in the car business, and Karen worked for the company in various capacities for a while before deciding to be a stay-at-home mom with her twins.
It's remarkable that Gail was able and willing to handle all this. She didn't like it, and it did create serious stress in our marriage. She needed more parenting partnership. I look at it now and wonder what was I thinking? After one of these belated realizations, I asked Gail, "Why didn't you tell me?" She said, "I did; you weren't listening." She tried many times to get me to slow down, to be home more, but after a while she decided two things: It made no difference and it was actually easier not to have me home. I was so wound up all the time that I was difficult to be around. Gail says that when I was home it was like I was running another business (with the family). One day she scolded me — "I'm not one of your employees."
The only thing I can conclude — and I have given this much thought — is that I didn't know how to be a father. As I achieved success in my career, I felt safe and confident in that environment. I knew what I was doing... As a husband and father, I viewed myself much more as a breadwinner than an emotional leader. As long as I provided for my family financially, I fulfilled my role, or so I thought. I didn't realize, until my late 40s, that not only did my kids and wife have an emotional need for a father and husband, but it was my responsibility. I grew up in a family in which we didn't talk about emotions or feelings; we talked about work and achievement. I didn't have much interaction with my father. He was a breadwinner and that was pretty much it. For me, things got worse as I got older. It was a case of moving to higher planes as the world sees it and those things demanding more time, and I allowed myself to cater to those demands. I was repeating my father's life, the life that had left me emotionally wanting.
If there is one thing I'd do differently — only one — it's this: I would have been there for the Little League games and the scraped knees and the back-to-school nights. Would we have accomplished as much? There's no way to know.
e-mail: [email protected]