merchant mariner families

...a highly unusual, sometimes maddening,
but mostly comical way of life.

March 12, 2013

the original merchant mariner

   So to be equitable, I decided to let up on Beady and turn the focus toward my father, whom you may remember is also a merchant mariner.  And since I'll be writing about him frequently in upcoming posts, I figured you'd like a little introduction to the man, the legend, Big Daddy Mitchell.
   Now there are two truths I must establish before going any further.  First, I refer to my father as Daddy.  Yes, I'm nearly forty.  Yes, I'm a foot taller than him.  Yes, it was extremely difficult to write that first post about him, Love At First Sight, without using the word daddy once, hence the need for my honesty if you are to hear about him on a regular basis.  And yes, it's a little embarrassing, so I've decided when I turn fifty or so that I'll continue to call him Daddy, but with a southern accent.  It seems more refined, more ladylike, and for some reason those gentlewomen get away with it well into their eighties and nineties.
  The next truth is that my father is technically my step-father.  My biological father left before I turned one never to be seen or heard from again, although I do have half of his ashes in a cigar box down in the living room...but that's another dysfunctional story. 

   Daddy is unique.  I know, I know, every girl thinks her father is one of a kind, but mine really is.  Imagine if Spiderman and Jerry Stiller (as either Frank Costanza or Arthur Spooner) had a child; yup, that's my father...awesome.  Lightening quick reflexes, able to scale heights three and four times his size, yet tremendously concerned with the amount of toilet paper guests and family use in his home.  "Three squares of paper is all you're allowed!" he once exclaimed to a boyfriend of mine approximately ten minutes into his visit.  

   I've actually picked up some ragingly mental habits from him, so much so that my mother often accuses him of being my biological father.  For instance, I still tremble when anything but water goes down the garbage disposal and often berate my husband for using it.  We simply weren't allowed to use the one in our house, I think it was that part of Daddy that likes to keep things pristine, no chips in the disposal blade, "Let's not tax the poor thing."  And imagine Christmas morning, the house is festive, music playing in the background, friends and family laughing as gift giving is about to commence.  "STOP!" he demands.  "We can't start without this!"  And down plops the giant, ugly, plastic, green (at least it's green) garbage can from the garage, dead center in the living room, obstructing nearly everyone's view of everyone else.  "Put all of your discarded wrapping paper in here!That's really how he speaks, as if we've all come for a Wrapping Paper Removal and Elimination in-service on December the 25th.  Now as a kid, I hated it, but as an adult, I still get a little tense and flushed when the paper starts to accumulate on the holiday floor.
   And I can't tell you how many weird looks and comments I've received from people I'm having dinner or lunch with if spaghetti is involved.  It's gotten so I don't even order that item in public anymore.  Daddy was Mr. Manners, elbows off the table, don't speak unless you're spoken to, no laughing at dinner, put your napkin in your lap, don't talk with your mouth full, the list goes on.  Well, one of his rules was that spaghetti was to be eaten with a fork and spoon, "Don't you dare cut that up, young lady!  It's rude!  What will you EVER do if your boyfriend or husband's family serves you spaghetti?"  Now don't get me wrong, I was glad to have absorbed a pretty good set of table manners, but I'm definitely not glad that I feel the need to appeal to friends, family, and even my husband for permission to cut up pasta because that's what I do now and that's why I get the weird looks and comments.  "Do you mind if I cut up this spaghetti before I eat it?"  Imagine that question on a first or second date?  Probably wouldn't be a third.  
   Okay, but why Spiderman, you ask?  Here's why... summer, family dinner, picnic table on the patio about 10' from the sliding glass door.  Daddy was in the kitchen getting the last of the meal together and something moved him to come rushing outside.  Perhaps he forgot the meat on the grill needed to be turned, or maybe he was afraid I was cutting my spaghetti up, I just don't know why he started running.  But what I do remember is him flying through the screen door, just bolting right through it as if it had been wide open.  Then all in one instant, he did a Linda Blair full body 180 mid air, landed on his feet like a cat, caught the door, and put it back on its sliders all in one fast forward moment.  I have no idea how he got in front of the screen to catch it and the screen never hit the ground, it was undamaged.  Spiderman had not a scratch on him and my mother laughed for 15 minutes straight breaking the first Big Daddy Mitchell rule 'Thou Shalt Not Laugh at the Dinner Table.'
    And one more story,'s one of my favorites!  Christmas time, the first and last year he ever tried to help decorate the tree.  Apparently, he and I were arguing like teenage girls, except I was one at the time, so it was completely okay for me.  My mother insists that was the spark which propelled her into action, or rather my father's insistence on arguing with a non-adult.  She had reached her limit just as we put the last bulb on and were ready to light it up.  My father stepped off the hearth, still going at it like a champ with me and as my mother moved toward the outlet, she suddenly changed direction and put her hand in the tree.  I'm not sure how it happened, but the next thing I saw was a 7' fully decorated Christmas pine gracefully flying through the air straight at my father and what followed next was a holiday impossibility.  As the tree dropped it's altitude and looked perilously close to knocking him out, my father seemed to make a jerky motion, almost like a spasm, and a single hand appeared out of nowhere, stopping the tree dead in its tracks.  Big Daddy Mitchell caught it, one handed, not a piece of tinsel came off that puppy.  My mother left the house for an hour, completely disgusted.  I'm pretty sure she'd wanted to shed some blood.   
    Now I'm not certain where my father got all of this ...Maine Maritime Academy, his mother, long stretches at sea?  Perhaps it's a
mash up of all of them.  What I do know is that no matter his strange brand of "uniqueness" he gave me two of the most important things in this life that I needed to get by.  The first came when he told me he would marry my mother.  As he said the words, I was five years old at the time, he handed me a large, green, empty and full of possibilities binder.  My mantra to this day is 'There isn't a problem that can't be solved by an excel spreadsheet and a sturdy binder.'  Seriously, I have a binder for everything.  It was my first bribe, my very first addiction, and it's given me a great sense of organization. 

   The second thing he gave me, and I just know you'll agree became the most important, was the fact that even though some daddies leave their daughters never to be seen or heard from again until they end up in a cigar box...cremated...on a coffee the living room of this very house, that there are other daddies who leave their daughters, but always come back for them.  I can't imagine what my emotional life would've been like otherwise and didn't it work out so well that I had to learn to trust a man who was gone for half of the year, every year?  Was it Spidey Sense that brought him into my life?  Who knows.  But that, my friends, is why I'm not a serial killer of absent dads today.  You can thank Big Daddy Mitchell or his father, Jerry Stiller.     

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Copyright 2013 Callie's Mariner


  1. This was a great glimpse into your family! It must be so hard on kids to have their dads only home part time. I'm glad my tugboat man worked locally for 15 years before he started going back out to sea like before we met. My son was 10 when we met but it would have been hard for him to see his stepdad come and go. I admire you!

    1. You know, I bet your son would've done okay. The more mariner families I talk to, the more I see that kids are just so darn flexible. I definitely adjusted and just kind of felt that that's the way things were. It took me a while, but his stories about where he traveled to and the unique items he brought me from all over the world, kind of made up for some of the important times he couldn't be there. We did fight a lot, but that was because I was so independent, a by product of his job. I think he felt as if he wasn't needed a lot of the times he came home. However, he turned out to be the perfect father for me and still is!

  2. AH!!!! BINDERS!!! EXCEL SPREADSHEETS!!! How are we not cross-country best friends yet? I find great peace in your binders photo. Especially the textured red one...

    1. The textured red one is actually my favorite! And they bring me an incredible amount of piece as well. In fact, the best thing to calm me down is walking through Staples. I love that store and the endless possibilities of organization!