|My dad was a very special man. Most people think that about their parents,
so I'm not saying anything special here. However, it's the things that made my dad an individual that differentiate him from everyone else.
My dad only had two ambitions in his entire life. The first was becoming a sergeant in the armed forces. I asked him about that once, and he said the only thing he ever wanted to be in the service was a sergeant; anything else was just gravy. The fact that he finally made master sergeant didn't make him any prouder than the day he actually became a sergeant; that's just the kind of man my dad was.
The second was he wanted to be like his father, Red Mitchell Senior. My dad loved his father with all his heart, and though he realized that he would go a different path in his life than his father, and that he would make choices and go in different directions than his father would, my dad always asked his father for advice before doing anything. The calling to go back to his hometown during his time in the service was for his father, more than anything else. If his father had lived elsewhere that would have been home for Dad; he loved his father just that much.
I know the favorite story my Dad loved to tell about his father was the time the four of us, including my mother, were driving in a small town in northern Maine. My grandfather said "I knew a time when there were four black people in the town of Fort Kent, Maine." Dad said "Really Dad? When was that?" My grandfather replied "Right now!" And my dad always laughed aloud at telling that story because it was a story about his father, and his family.
My father was a prideful man, but not like most would think of it. He was proud of the achievements of my mother and myself; he was proud of the achievements of other members of his family; he was proud of the accomplishments of his friends, no matter how close they were to him. Everything in my father's life centered around caring about others.
Dad always listed the order of things he cared about and why he cared about it, and this was just the way it was with him. First on the list was my mother, the love of his life. He always told me that he knew my mother longer than he knew me, therefore my mother was at the top of the list. I was second, and in our family dynamic I didn't mind being second on the list.
The three of us traveled all across the United States, with a short stop in Tokyo, Japan, together just like the Three Musketeers. Man, the stories we got to share. I remember when I was a very young child watching the Friday night fights with my dad, and having one of those nights become the only time I ever put a can of beer to my lips, with his permission; nasty! I remember him taking me to my first bowling alley at age two and letting me try to push the bowling balls around.
I remember the two train trips back and forth across the lower United States during segregation, and my first encounter with a handicapped person. Dad made sure that I was okay, and even sat with me and this other young person while we played some games and talked to each other.
I remember the years in Tokyo when my dad and I would speak Japanese with each other, while at the same time he taught me how to read while I was only 3 years old. I remember the first watch he bought me, with a space ship on it, as well as the first military watch he gave me, with the black background and the glowing numbers. I remember him taking me with him when he went to shoot pool, and how he allowed me to have my own table where I could throw the balls into each other because he knew I enjoyed it so much. I remember the cherry cake he tried to bake for my mother and how it didn't come out right; he was a father after all.
I remember the years at Hancock Field when I got my first American bike that he put together himself, only to realize later on that he really didn't know how to put one together at all. One would have thought he'd have remembered that when he tried 6 years later to put another one together, one that I was never able to ride.
The year we were in Kansas City and he was in Vietnam, when he used to send us cassette tapes so that we could hear his voice, and then send him back cassette tapes so he could feel the kind of life we were living. I remember before he left for Vietnam that he took me to my first horror movies, which I laughed at while watching then screamed crying at night because the fear had suddenly hit me, and how he came and sat with me and told me the logic that little kids can understand so that I could go to sleep.
I remember when he came back from Vietnam early and showed up at my grandmother's house in an upper body cast because he had pulled his arm out of the socket once more. I'd had a tough year in Kansas City, going to a school I didn't belong at, and the next day my dad accompanied me to that school. He was an instant hero; all the kids thought he'd been shot in Vietnam, he didn't tell them anything different, and suddenly I was accepted as one of the gang, and never had another problem up to the time we left Kansas City.
I remember the days up in Maine when Dad had to wake me up at 5AM to walk out and hold the flashlight for him so he could put the battery back in the car because the temperatures had dropped to 35 below or less, and how every night when he'd come home he'd come get me to hold the flashlight so he could take the battery back out of the car.
I remember the ping pong tournaments my dad won up in Maine, then traveled to a few places across the country and won those tournaments also. He'd always come home, show us the trophy, then promptly throw it away, never to be seen again. My dad played the game for the enjoyment of it all; if he happened to win, well, it was expected, but he wasn't proud. It was just the way things were supposed to be.
I remember the time I asked my dad to go to school with me because this teacher in town refused to give me the kind of grades I thought I deserved, and I had shown my dad the grades on my papers. Dad went to the school with me and confronted this teacher with me, and as this teacher kept telling Dad I wasn't doing the work that was assigned in class Dad kept pulling it out of his briefcase, asking if this was the work he was accusing me of not doing. This teacher finally said that I wasn't turning it in on time, and therefore he was deducting points from me in his ledger book. My dad turned around and left with me without another word to this man, waited until we got home, and told my mother that she wasn't to believe any grades that I received in this class because the man teaching the class was an idiot; I always appreciated the fact that my dad took my side on this issue, because he understood that I wouldn't lie to him; he had raised me pretty well.
I remember the Friday nights that my dad would sit down in his favorite chair, put on Mendelssohn, set a glass of bourbon on the table, get all of his boots and shoes for work and the polish, with a little bit of water in the top, and just sit and polish his shoes for hours. Occasionally I'd sit with him while he polished, because I loved the smell and the stories he would tell me about his childhood.
I remember one night, and this was during the days when we were a little more innocent in what we knew than today, when I started fearing going to bed at night because I thought aliens were going to come down and get me. My dad, handling things the way he did, told me that I was on the base of the strongest military in the world, and if all the weapons they had on that base couldn't stop the aliens then there was nothing to worry about because I couldn't do anything about it anyway. That was my dad's type of logic; he didn't just tell people things would be okay or all right; he told them logically why things would be as they were.
I also remember the other Friday nights when he'd sit with me and we'd play cribbage or dominoes, and we got to talk trash to each other when we'd win. I remember when my dad retired from the service after 28 years of active duty split between the army and the air force, and when we moved to Liverpool it was the first time that I learned that my father, who was the smartest man I'd ever known, had never graduated high school; he joined the service on his 17th birthday and had never given it a second thought.
This man, who promptly took a position at Xerox that his father told him he should turn down because it was beneath him, not only went to get his high school equivalency, but went on to receive a bachelor of sciences degree in both business management and psychology, and he always teased me that he got his college degree three months before me. By the way, he was valedictorian of his class; he just was never going to master algebra.
I remember all the awards my dad won from Xerox as he moved up the ladder very quickly, and how most of the time he'd bring the awards home, and if they were monetary he'd give them to Mom, and if they were shirts or jewelry he'd give them to me, and if they were plaques he'd try to throw them away, but Mom finally said it was time to keep some honors because one day they'd own a house and need something to put on the walls.
I remember my dad driving me all around Syracuse on Saturdays for a traveling league, and also driving me to tournaments around the state, and how I learned to keep my temper in check whenever my dad was with me because I didn't want to ever embarrass him in front of others.
I remember my dad taking me to learn how to drive in the Wegmans parking lot, and I remember him taking me to the driving test in a driving snowstorm, and feeling secure enough in my ability to drive in the snow for my test, which they still conducted; my dad always trusted my judgment, even if he didn't always appreciate my logic, and I thank him for that.
Most of all, though, I remember my dad going out to play tennis with me when I didn't know anybody, initially beating me all the time, joining me in doubles to beat everyone else who challenged us, then finally taking his medicine when I learned how to play the game, and would still come over to play with me and my friends for awhile before his job duties started taking away his free time from us. I think that's the only thing I never got to thank my dad for, but I'll forgive myself for that one.
I remember when my parents moved to Rochester, and I totally alone for the first time in my life, and how my dad would come down on weekends with my mother to lift my spirits and check on me until each of us were comfortable with not being able to see each other whenever we wished. I remember my dad coming to my aide time after time without my asking him for it; he just seemed to know when I needed him; both he and my mother were always there for me.
I remember my dad conspiring with my present wife to make sure I'd eventually do the right thing by asking her to marry me and being the best man at my wedding; he knew a good thing when he saw it.
I remember my dad owning up to stealing cookies from under my bed that I had sneaked into the house when I was a teenager. I remember giving my dad his first lessons on the computer and how his eyes just seemed to sparkle when he finally learned how to do things that not even I had learned. I remember my dad's joy when, for the first time in his life, he got to finally be the kid, and bought all the Sony and Sega games he could find, and how he'd enjoy sitting for hours playing these games on his large screen TV, and how he'd tell me the kinds of scores I'd have to beat if I had the guts to try when I visited.
I remember when my dad retired and called to tell me that he was volunteering to work for a local politician he had checked out and decided was worth spending some time with for the community, and how proud he seemed to be that he was still able to contribute in some way to the big picture.
I remember the big conversation we had one day when it was just myself and him and he talked about the things he cared about in order. First was Mom, then came me. After that came his siblings, truly the first generation of Mitchell's since that wasn't my grandfather's original name. Next came my mother's mother, who was living with them at the time. Afterwards came all the rest of the relatives, nephews, nieces, cousins, uncles, aunts,… anyone who was associated with the Mitchell bloodline.
Next it was his country; my dad was an American throughout his body. He didn't always agree with everything that the government may have come up with, but he was ready to pick up a rifle and fight for the lives of his country at a moment's notice, even after he retired.
Next was his belief in his God; belief was important to my dad, yet even though he knew I didn't share his views, his respect of how others believed, including his own son, was a true measure of the type of man he was. After that it was the friends he and my mother had made throughout their married life; my parents never let a friend ever be forgotten, no matter where we moved to, and that's a major tribute to the kind of man my father was.
Finally it was whomever my dad met during each day, whether it was an acquaintance he would see more than once, or a person he knew he was only going to meet that one time. My father used to pick up the phone on Christmas, call the operator, and whomever answered tell them he just wanted to wish them a Merry Christmas; he always smiled because the people would be surprised, then happy that someone had thought about them on that particular holiday. As I said before, my dad was a caring man, and I'm sure the people who are here today are a testament to his caring.
Finally I remember how my dad and mom came to us a little over a year ago to talk about the first of his illnesses, and how they tried to put a positive spin on everything that was about to happen. My dad wanted all of us to be in this together, yet deep down kept the most serious parts of his illness from all of us. That's the kind of man my dad was; it was never about himself, but always about others.
Master Sergeant Mitchell fought the good fight, not for himself, but because he felt that was the wishes of his family, and in the end, when things weren't looking good, he fought the good fight to eliminate the pain of the rest of his family. Though he wasn't able to clearly communicate with us, he was clear in his own mind, and he took it upon himself to stop the rest of the family from suffering. It was a fitting tribute that my dad waited for not only Father's Day, but the final day of the Mitchell family reunion, because when it was all said and done it was all about family for my dad, and about making the best decision possible to make the lives of his family easier.
And the way he did it, up to his final breath, was in the reverse order of what he cared about; acquaintances, friends, his God and his country, the Mitchell family, Uncle Red, Aunt Lucy, Uncle Morris, myself, my mother, because these were the most important things to him.
I love my dad, and I will always love my dad, and I got to tell him that before his final breath; what better way for my dad to let us know how much he loved us.