RUSSELLVILLE - Michael Miller was 25 when he lost the step-father who raised him.
"He taught me everything I knew up to then, from how to tie a shoe to how to turn a wrench," Miller said.
Two skills that really have made a difference in Miller's life - problem solving and working on vehicles - also came from his step-father, Gary Vaterlaus.
"I gave you a lifetime of knowledge, not a property to inherit," his late step-father said once.
That is the legacy Miller hopes to pass on to his children, too.
His step-father actually reared five step-children, even after divorcing their mothers, in all.
That demonstration of selflessness influences Miller's decisions to give his time to the Outlaw Baseball League and help those in need when he can, he said.
"He's an amazing dad," his wife, Amy, said. "He was an ornery teen. But I couldn't have picked a better person for a husband and father."
He is the father of Lexi, 23; Ethan, 22; Damian, 16; Chandler, 13; Reese, 7; and Ashten, 3.
"I've got so many kids, I don't want to miss anything," Miller said.
During the baseball season, the family might be involved with events every night of the week.
That's why it helps for Miller to be in charge of the league scheduling, he said.
"I'm the only one out here with three kids playing," Miller said. "I'd rather be spread over three nights a week than miss something."
Russellville became home for Miller when he was about 12. Before then, he had attended 13 schools by the sixth grade, as his step-father worked for the railroad.
Staying put for his children's childhoods was a priority for him, even at age 17, he said.
"I grew up really fast; I knew I no longer woke up for me," Miller said.
He passed up career opportunities and let go of his youthful dream to live in the Montana wilderness.
"I stayed here because my children were here; they were my responsibility," he said.
One of Miller's favorite things about being a father is "questions."
"I love to see a young mind pick something apart from curiosity and explore the reasons for its existence," Miller said.
When his seven-year-old asks a question to which he doesn't know the answer, Miller said "I've gotta find that answer; you just couldn't say "I don't know.'"
Because of his father missing many of his life events, Miller said he wants his children to understand why things happen.
"I make every last attempt to be there for my kids and their accomplishment's and not be a slave to my job," Miller said.
Although Miller's children span 20 years, he values the influence the older siblings may have and the unseen bonding process.
He sees each child as an individual and encourages their strengths, whether its sports or art. And that means discipline and parenting strategies are different for each one, too.
Recognizing diverse personality types has helped him on the ball field, too, where he might coach up to 90 kids in a season, Miller said.
What he hopes both his own children and those he coaches will remember from his influence is honesty, patience, determination and persistence.
His advice to present and future parents: "Allow your children to fail and to know that they know you accept them and their failures and encourage them through the whole process, we all fall but what matters most is who is their to catch us."