In recounting the details of my father’s life, I discovered something simple: Through a lifetime of ceaseless work and an unmistakable belief in family, Mike has made it possible to focus on the things that make him happy.
The Real Michael Scott
It was the fall of 1971, in Huber Heights, Ohio, a city that prides itself on being “America’s largest community of brick homes.” Michael Scott Meredith, a towheaded kindergartener with ambitions as big as his brows, was facing the greatest journey of his young life. After a successful first day of school, Mike sat worried on the bus, unaware of what stop he was supposed to get off. His first instinct was to jump off the bus, establish his bearings, and navigate his way home (a harbinger of the devoted Boy Scout he would become.) He did get off the bus, but he was met with confusion and panic rather than a sense of location. The lonely five-year-old boy was wandering the streets crying when his luck turned around in the form of the garbage man. “I was scared and crying, I told him my address, and he said he would give me a ride home,” Mike remembers. And so, with wonder in his heart, Mike climbed up the high seats of the enormous truck and embarked on the most exciting ride of his life.
The garbage truck story is one of dozens my sisters and I have heard from our dad’s early years in Ohio. They usually go something like this: my Grandma Jane would give him some arduous chore, he would complete it, and the joy he received in finally being allowed to leave the house would be amplified by the hard work he endured along the way. We usually laugh; the pastimes he so greatly looked forward to after finishing his chores seemed comedically simple, a woe that my dad loves to dramatize. Still, despite the laughs that usually accompany these stories, they are often unpleasant to recall, and have inspired a sense of comedy in my father that employs self-deprecation and theatrics to recount a childhood that wasn’t always so easy.
Mike lives in Dana Point, a small beach community on the coast of Southern California, with his wife, Susan, and his three daughters: Amanda, Ally, and me, Caroline. Susan and Mike will be celebrating twenty-five years of marriage this fall, a momentous anniversary that they will likely both forget. After stints as a vending machine company owner and an MBA recruiter, my dad has settled into his job as the managing director of mergers and acquisitions for Generational Equity, a position he has held for eight years. Life looks good for Mike as he enters a new, empty-nester phase of his life: he’s got Michael Strahan in the morning, Chris Cuomo in the evening, and Peaky Blinders at night to make the day disappear. Friday is plant-watering day, Saturday is for seeing friends, and, while my mom celebrates Sunday Funday, my dad uses the final day of the week for reflection; a time to catch up on his reading and enjoy a martini.
Quarantine has been a nice reset for Mike. He appreciates having his daughters home and sees the extra hours as an opportunity to work on himself: “I think I could be more patient sometimes.” He is constantly trying to learn new things, another ambition that has been aided by the enforcement of social distancing. As I type, he is in the backyard, putting a fence around his small (but mighty) tomato garden, a hobby he took up largely so he could enjoy fresh caprese salad. One day, Mike says, he would like to take a sabbatical and go to culinary school. He is only half-joking.
My dad, though he can be shy in certain settings, is the funniest person I know. In a house full of women, he is the drama queen, a man who likes to poke fun at his family and stir the pot, always eager to keep things exciting. I have only been witness to the last twenty years, but stories from his past lead to the conclusion that he always had a flair for the dramatic. Going into a long chat one Sunday at the end of April, I wanted to find out what makes my dad tick, and how he approaches life with such a humorous outlook. In recounting the details of my father’s life, I discovered something simple: Through a lifetime of ceaseless work and an unmistakable belief in family, Mike has made it possible to focus on the things that make him happy.
Many of the values my father holds are indisputably tied to his tumultuous childhood. He was born in Ohio but moved to Southern California abruptly during the Christmas break of his fourth-grade year. “The last thing I saw driving away from the house was Cinnamon (the family dog), watching us leave,” he recalled at a recent family dinner. This heartbreaking memory elicited gasps from my sisters. “That’s horrible!” my mom let out. “Yep,” Mike continued, “so what should we name the puppy?” After moving to California, Mike’s parents divorced, and he spent most of his time with his now-single mother. Money was tight, but that did not stop my grandma from instilling a strict work ethic and sense of organization in her two sons. Their rooms were to be kept spick and span, and as soon as they were old enough, they were to get part-time jobs. My dad rode his bike to Rice Depot, then to Baskin Robbins, and finally to Taco Bell in a string of minimum-wage jobs that allowed him to purchase a friend’s used car and make the most of his free time.
As a typical high schooler, Mike preferred spending his weekend with friends, many of whom remain his closest companions today. His best friend was and is Tony Gregory, who threw lavish parties on his parent’s sprawling country ranch. These parties were notorious, and my dad was all too happy to be a part of the exclusive inner circle of friends who spent Saturdays lounging around the ranch drinking Henry Weinhard beers and Saturday nights living it up ’80s style. These parties only got bigger as the group graduated to college, with annual basketball tournaments and more than one occasion in which the Laker Girls were hired to perform courtside.
The good times kept rolling in Mike’s social life. The summer between his sophomore and junior year of college, my dad met my mom. He was a busboy and she was a waitress at a long-gone restaurant inside Laguna Beach’s Surf and Sand, a hotel just fifteen minutes down the road from the eventual house they would spend their lives in together. Like many children, I was unaware of the initial force that drew my parents close. When I asked my dad, he responded simply, “She was so easy to have fun with.” His career, on the other hand, left him feeling uninspired. His mother was clear that as soon as Mike moved out for college, he was not welcome to move back in. So, my dad took the first job he was offered upon graduation, working as a manager for the Mexican fast-food chain Green Burrito. Secretly, however, my father Michael Scott was not unlike The Office’s Michael Scott in his dream to become a successful businessman. Later in life, while taking care of my infant older sister and working a full-time job, he went back to school and got his MBA, an achievement that has given him more agency in his career.
Growing up, I worshipped my dad. He was not only the funniest and smartest guy I knew, he also, for a short time, owned a vending machine company and would let me pick out whatever candy I wanted when I visited him at work. Mike has always been a devoted father, perhaps retroactively making up for the closeness he never had with his own parents. In the early 2000s, that meant being an active member of Indian Princesses, a (rightfully renamed) YMCA program in which fathers and daughters met up for sweetheart dances, camping adventures, and yearly trips to Catalina Island. He led the Halloween parade in my neighborhood, directing an adorable group of children in their finest costumes around the playground before opening the doors for the annual monster bash. He drove my carpool to OCSA, a performing arts high school I elected to attend, which meant almost two hours of driving round-trip.
Around this time, when his kids were in high school and around the house much less often, Mike read an article that seemed to reflect his attitude towards parenting. In this article, it stated how important it is to hug your children daily, “A moment of closeness everyday,” Mike says. “I think it’s a good idea.” And so, every morning as I entered the kitchen to get ready for school, my dad greeted me with open arms. At the time, I thought it was silly. These days, I think I’ve been very lucky to have Mike as a father.
In 2020, my dad approaches many aspects of his life with the same gratitude and reflection displayed by a preplanned, daily hug with his children. Why get bogged down in the negative, his actions imply, when there is so much to be enjoyed? As far as his television diet is concerned, this has meant cutting out content he deems inauthentic. He was a huge fan of Hollywood gossip shows like Extra and Access Hollywood my entire childhood, and I was curious about why these shows are no longer fixtures of the home’s early evening hours. “It all got to be too much,” he said. “And Ryan Seacrest is so fake.” Filling this gap are endless hours of Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon, and Chris Cuomo on CNN. This can largely be attributed to my dad’s increased interest in politics and hatred for the Trump administration, but it is also partially due to the camaraderie among the aforementioned hosts. “It’s hand-off time!” Mike yells excitedly every night of quarantine as he rushes to the TV to watch the changing of guards from Cuomo Prime Time to CNN Tonight. In this segment, “D-Lemon” and “Uncle Chris” gab for a few minutes about news, their families, and their friendship. In addition to the hugs, the hand-off is another guaranteed moment of compassion for Mike to look forward to every day. The highlight of my dad’s night is when the two men say “I love you” to each other.
The air was beginning to get chilly in our backyard, and Mike announced that the interview was over. I had asked him countless questions about his life, but I still felt like I was missing his essence. How could I explain my dad, a man who made me wait with him for two hours outside of the Roseland Ballroom so he could see Lady Gaga emerge? A man whose massive heart had trouble bouncing back after the death of his coworker—as he came to call Ginger—our family dog? The key to Mike, I realized shortly thereafter, lay not in his history, but in the love he has for his girls. He bumbled into the house, poured himself a drink, and listened as my older sister told him about her day at work. She had been successful in a task, and he could hardly contain his excitement as he proclaimed one of his favorite lines in movie history, a quotation from Glengarry Glen Ross that he repeated ad nauseam through the years to represent the joy in a job well done, “Coffee’s for closers. Go have yourself a cup!”