My dad’s name was Mickey. Like the freckle faced kid Mickey Daniels in the silent Our Gang comedies. Or his counterpart, the brash Mickey McGuire who was played by the equally brash Mickey Rooney. The name carried a stamp of street smarts and self assurance. And that was my dad all the way.
His official name was Mitchell. And when I asked him how he ended up with that name he said that when he started public school in San Francisco, the teacher could not pronounce his given name Mikh-ah-ale’, so she asked him what name he would prefer to be called by. He answered “Mickey” because that’s what all his friends called him. “Oh, we can’t have that”, said the teacher. It sounded a little too rough around the edges. “How about Mitchell?” And so Mitchell became his legal name. But Mickey was the one that most truly defined him.
He spent most of the Depression hanging out with friends on the streets of San Francisco. He walked across the Golden Gate Bridge on its opening day. In 1939 he spent a lot of time hanging out at the San Francisco Fair on Treasure Island. He also whiled away a lot of hours down at Playland at the Beach. He was a native San Franciscan all the way.
But he wasn’t much for academics. When it looked like he might not graduate from George Washington High School, he enlisted in the Navy with aspirations to crew on a submarine. But a bout of rheumatic fever put an end to those dreams and forced him to stay stateside for the duration. Nevertheless, his spirits were not dampened. He tended bar for his fellow seamen in San Diego. He became good at talking to people. At developing a kind of self confidence.
After the war, he did what a lot of others did. He did what was expected. He got married and began a family, working a menial job at the Deluxe Café at Playland. And as familial obligations grew, he began his long run as a salesman, working for Kraft Foods….and ultimately for the beverage business. And he excelled at it, and enjoyed it.
Now I don’t know all the details and probably never will. But I know this. As a family, we never wanted for anything. We were always comfortable, well fed, and well cared for. When San Francisco became too confining, we all moved down to the Peninsula…a move which certainly changed my life for the better, and probably my sisters’ lives as well. Sunny, warm. Protected. I can say that we had a good life growing up in Mountain View…back in the day when there were still a few hints of bucolic landscape left, back before it became the Silicon Valley.
Through all of this, my dad worked steadily. He also started woodworking, and building fine furniture. He always enjoyed working with his hands. He haunted junk shops and yard sales. I remember going with him to the Mountain View dump to rummage through discarded treasures. One time we got so distracted we got accidentally locked in.
Anyway, things being what they were we kids grew up and moved on, and my parents moved too….first to Pleasant Hill, then to Carson City. It was a pretty big deal when he and I traveled to Greece together back in 1995. It was the first time I had spent any appreciable time with him, and I noted later on in my journals of that trip “Traveling with my dad has been fun and generally easy. I only wish I had the same uncomplicated approach to life that he has. He is always the optimist, the glad-hander. He pretty much accepts whatever life doles out to him - a “que sera” philosophy… being with Dad helped me keep positive. With him, what you see is what you get. ..An example from a few days ago: Coming into Kalambaka and the Meteora area, it was raining and windy and right away I thought that our trip there might have been in vain. The next morning there were threatening clouds and more wind, but Dad said, “Don’t worry. It’ll probably clear up once we get up into the rocks”. And, of course, it did.”
I know he would have liked to travel more but time and circumstance caught up with him.The last trip we took together was last year when he turned 90. He and I spent the day circumnavigating the bay area, stopping first at his boyhood home on 38th & Fulton in San Francisco where we got out of the car and he regaled me with stories about his boyhood times in the neighborhood; then a stop at our first family home at 45th & Taraval Streets. We even went by my mother’s childhood home on 48th and Fulton before heading south toward Mountain View and our first real family home on Lloyd Way. We could have stopped there but we continued on around the bay, circling back through Pleasant Hill and the house my folks had there. And finally on back to Santa Rosa. A seven hour day full of good memories and conversation. I think he knew that it would probably be the last time he would see these places. And for him, it was all good.
And that is how I would like to remember him. The appreciator of life. The meticulous craftsman. The self-made man. Sure, there were conflicts. He could be incredibly stubborn and single minded. Our values clashed mightily in the late 60s. But for him I think it was mostly all good. He loved his kids, his grandkids and his great-grandkids, and he kept his sense of humor almost to the end. In the last conversation we had over the phone, I asked him how he was doing and he said, “Well, I’m staying alive.”
There is certainly a lot more I could say, but I think the best way I can celebrate my father is to keep stayin’ alive. Live life one day at a time. Don’t dwell in the past but keep moving forward. I now have some of his ashes in a little pouch, and I intend on taking it with me when I travel…taking him to all those places that he missed and would have loved. That was Mickey.