By Keysha Drexel
There may be a lot of ways to tell if a man is a good father, but perhaps one of the most telling illustrations is when a teenager cancels his plans with his friends so that he can hang out with his dad.
That’s what happened to Mark Midyette of Homewood on May 29 when he was honored as the Father of the Year by the American Diabetes Association.
“This is such a big deal for my dad that I cancelled all my plans with my friends so that I could be there at the awards ceremony with him. It was important for me to be there to show my support for him,” said Matthew Midyette, Mark’s 17-year-old son.
Mark received the award at a ceremony at The Club presented by the National Father’s Day Council.
Since 1999, the American Diabetes Association has partnered with the National Father’s Day Council to host the Father of the Year Awards dinner. Each year, men from across the nation are recognized for their outstanding strength and the commitment and love they exhibit as fathers.
The Father of the Year events held annually in cities across the country have raised more than $25 million to help the American Diabetes Association fund advocacy, education and research initiatives.
Joe Dean Jr., the athletic director at Birmingham-Southern College, and Dr. George T. French Jr., president of Miles College, were also honored at this year’s awards ceremony.
Past honorees include Tim King, program coordinator at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama; George Davis, vice president of Wells Fargo and W. Brian Hilson, president and chief executive officer of Birmingham Business Alliance.
Mark, who is the benefits coordinator at EBSCO Industries, said he was humbled to be included in the group of men who have been honored with the Father of the Year award.
“It’s certainly quite an honor to be included on that list of previous recipients,” he said. “It’s kind of hard for me to imagine why they chose me.”
But the reason he was selected for the honor is a no-brainer for his son.
“My dad is the best. He is always there for me, and I always feel like he’s got my back,” Matthew said.
Matthew is the youngest of three children. Mark and Paula Midyette have been married for 32 years and have two adult daughters, Sara Litten and Claire Midyette.
Sara was 13 and Claire was 11 when Mark’s mission trips to Eastern Europe with Covenant Presbyterian Church led him to expand the family by adopting Matthew.
Between 1990 and 1995, Mark made several church mission trips to Hungary, Ukraine, Turkey and Romania, where he worked in orphanages and to provide food and clothing to the thousands of children living in poverty in the former Soviet Bloc countries.
“It was a pretty dark area at that time,” he said. “There was massive poverty and whole areas of cities that were just abandoned. The children living there had no electricity, no plumbing–those things that we tend to take for granted here.”
While Mark helped establish an evangelical Christian school in Romania and a restaurant and hotel to fund mission work there, he could not escape the feeling that he could do more.
“I felt like God was leading us to adopt a child,” he said. “It wasn’t really a formal kind of thing. It was more of a deal where it was churning in the back of my mind, and then I woke up and knew we had to do this.”
Mark said adopting a child from a Romanian orphanage was a logical extension of how he views his mission work.
“The way I view it is when you say you are a believer of Jesus, this is just kind of what you do,” he said. “It’s not a sacrifice. It’s just part of the deal of meeting needs where you see them.”
Mark said his wife and children were immediately receptive to the idea of expanding the family, so the Midyettes set out on the long road of the international adoption process.
Around 1995, when the family first started looking to adopt, the Romanian government stopped international adoptions, Mark said.
But as soon as international adoptions were allowed again the following year, the Midyettes starting filing paperwork with a qualified adoption agency.
In June of 1998, the agency sent the family a photo of 2-year-old Matthew.
“We only saw that one picture of him, but we knew he was our son,” Mark said.
Matthew was living in a small orphanage in the northwest part of Romania, Mark said.
“It was one of the nicer places. There were maybe 30 kids there. A part of me just wanted to bring them home,” he said.
After tons of legal and immigration paperwork and home visits from the adoption agency, the Midyettes got word in October 1998 that Matthew’s adoption had been approved.
“I was about 45 when we finalized the adoption,” he said. “It took almost two years and wheelbarrows full of paperwork. It was a big process.”
The Midyettes set out for Romania as soon as they could to bring Matthew home.
“We went over there as a family of four and came back a family of five,” Mark said. “We knew our prayers had been answered.”
When they first were introduced to Matthew at the orphanage, Mark said the toddler was understandably a little shy.
But within minutes he had warmed up to his new family, Mark said.
“It was quite remarkable in the sense that he wasn’t the least bit afraid of us,” Mark said. “It was a sweet time.”
But riding in a car was a different story for young Matthew, his father said.
“Oh, he hated it. He had never been in a car until we got in the car to leave the orphanage,” he said. “It’s kind of funny to think about because now he’s a fanatic about cars.”
The family spent of total of three weeks in Romania before returning home, where the balance in the household had shifted, Mark said.
“It was great because I had always been outnumbered as the only male in the house. Even our dog was a girl,” he said.
Matthew spoke what Mark called a jumble of Hungarian and Romanian, but because he was so young, he was able to pick up English very quickly.
“We just made it fun, like a game. He had no problem picking up English,” he said.
Sara and Claire immediately bonded with their new little brother, Mark said.
“There was a natural connection between Matthew and the girls. They loved being big sisters from the get-go,” he said.
While Mark and Paula found there are a few things different about parenting a boy than parenting girls, Mark said the couple stuck to the philosophy they had used with Sara and Claire.
“I guess we could be called Mr. and Mrs. Consistency,” he said. “Our deal is that we are the parents and we are in charge. We don’t pick our battles. We win every battle because all’s fair in love and war and parenting.”
Mark, who coached Sara and Claire in park league softball and baseball, was happy to get a chance to coach his son in baseball.
“That only lasted a little while, though, because Matthew didn’t really like baseball. He started playing soccer, so I learned everything I could about soccer and coached his soccer team,” he said.
Being involved in their children’s lives is another important hallmark of his and Paula’s parenting philosophy, Mark said.
“Paula and I have always been involved in their lives. They never went to anyone’s house unless we knew the parents. If you have an email address, we’re checking it,” he said.
One of the most important things he has tried to instill in his children, Mark said, is that like parenting, mission work needs to be undertaken with a hands-on approach.
“Rather than just write checks to pay for mission work, we need to really get out there and do the work on the ground,” he said.
That’s why Mark said he felt it was important to include Matthew on his recent church mission trips abroad.
“He’s been on Ukraine mission trips a couple of times, and the last time we went, Matthew worked in the orphanage with the older kids,” he said.
Mark said he thinks it is important to show all children, not just his, how lucky Americans are and what a huge responsibility comes with their blessings.
“It’s important to not only show them how blessed they are to but teach them how to translate that into the love of Christ by taking care of all God’s children,” he said.
Mark, who is assistant Scoutmaster and Eagle advisor with Boy Scout Troop 83 and also serves on the boards of the American Cancer Society and the Birmingham Boys Choir, said he has always encouraged his children to find ways to give back and help others.
Now that his children are adults, Mark said he is seeing the outcome of what he and Paula tried to instill in them.
“To see Sara pouring her heart and soul into the girls she works with at church, to see Claire starting dental school with the desire to give back or Matthew helping on the mission trips, you begin to see the fruit of all that you tried to teach them, and it just makes you proud as a father,” he said.
And as proud as Mark is to be the father of Sara, Claire and Matthew, his son said his children are just as proud to have him as their dad.
“I’m so proud of my dad and so glad he’s my dad,” he said.
Matthew said he draws on his father’s experience a lot and knows that his dad will help him work through any problems that arise in his life.
“Whether it’s a small problem or a big problem, he always knows how to make it better,” Matthew said. “Another cool thing about him is that even my friends ask me if they can call my dad for advice. He’s easy to talk to and he’s been in all these situations before, so he always knows how to help.”
Matthew said he loves spending time with his father watching sports and boating on the lake in the summer.
“He’s a big Florida State fan so we love to watch games together, and I love to go out on the
boat with him,” Matthew said. “It doesn’t really matter what we do, though, I just like hanging out with my dad.”