Michael John Mendoza of Oxnard lived with a spirit of adventure and died tragically with questions unanswered.
Born in Long Beach, he moved to Oxnard early in his youth. It’s not clear in what decade he came, but he moved when his father was stationed at Point Mugu, serving in the Navy, and then graduated from Hueneme High School. As a young adult, Mendoza followed in his father’s footsteps and served in the Navy from 1979 to 1982. He then chose a career in maintenance, caring for facilities such as the Oxnard Performing Arts Center. He met his first love in high school and married in 1982. In 1983, his first daughter, Jayme, was born. In 1988, his second daughter, Melissa, came into the world. By the early 1990s, Mendoza became a single father after divorce. He remarried in 1999 and had two more children, Michael and Nicholette, but that marriage dissolved shortly thereafter and he became a single father again.
“He was Mr. Mom for a lot of years,” Melissa said. She reminisced about some of her favorite meals made by her father, including London broil with rice and chicken adobo.
While some may think single parenthood is limiting, Mendoza did his best to keep spirits high.
“My favorite memories of my dad, he would take me on rides on his motorcycle every now and again. He had several motorcycles and had a Harley later in life. He used to love to drive the PCH,” Jayme said, but motorcycles weren’t his only hobby. “He liked to sing karaoke. One of the ones [he would always sing], 3 doors down, ‘Kryptonite.’ ”
Jayme remembered how he would try to teach her how to play pool on the pool table in their backyard.
“We would watch documentaries on trick shots,” Jayme said. “He just liked to play pool.”
Jayme and Melissa both remember him as the “Fix-It Man.”
“He was very well-known to be the local handyman,” Melissa said. “Everyone would go to him to fix cars, their houses; he had answers to everything. He knew how to fix anything.”
Many of Melissa’s memories included his inner prankster and desire to make people laugh.
“He was always laughing,” Melissa said. “There was always laughter with my dad, [for instance] telling me that I was found in the trash can after I was born. It became the family joke.”
She recalled his subtle tricks.
“He used to smoke in house, and he would play tricks on us and ash in our sodas,” she said with a laugh.
“One of the things he always did, he would take me to the little magic store at the car wash at Five Points. Inside the convenience store used to be a magic shop; we would pick out some magic toys. He would get a kick out of playing tricks.”
Even when the kids grew up, Mendoza never stopped trying to get his children to laugh.
“A month ago, he walked into my house, handed me a card that read, ‘I love you this much,’ and inside was a picture of someone flipping me off. That was his humor, and he never lived it down,” Melissa said.
Mendoza was also a fighter, having been diagnosed with stage 3 oropharyngeal cancer, a cancer of viral origin.
“He was diagnosed with cancer at the end of 2017,” Jayme said, relaying that he checked into USC in January to begin treatment. The second week of July, he was in the final week of radiation. He had also recovered from facial reconstruction and a tracheotomy.
When his treatment began, Melissa, who lived about a block away, converted a room for him to stay in through his recovery.
“It was a long several months,” Jayme said. “It was a rough year, but we were very optimistic, they [doctors] were optimistic. We went through whole grieving process that he might not make it. He did a 180; we were hopeful he would be a cancer survivor. To come to something entirely violent, that’s a hard pill to swallow.”
On July 11, Michael was shot in the head at his apartment near Fremont Middle School in Oxnard.
“He said he was just walking up the stairs from being at the store and heard gun shots,” Jayme said. “He had very minimal recollection. He didn’t even realize he had been shot until after he came out of it. He wanted to see the brain scans.”
Michael stayed in the hospital three of the four weeks after he had been shot. The hospital discharged him once, but due to the seriousness of the injury, he was ambulanced back and stayed there until he died from irreversible cerebral hemorrhaging on Aug. 13. Mendoza’s killer is still at large.
“Even if I didn’t have a related connection to my father, to think that somebody … he was weak, old, not a threat. I just can’t fathom why somebody would want to injure somebody in that state.”
Coping with the loss has not been easy, but Jayme tries to keep a happy face and stay busy.
She recalled her last memories with him around a new hobby.
“I really enjoyed when he became a fan of remote-controlled airplane and we could sit out there for hours and watch him flying them,” Jayme said.
Mendoza leaves behind three daughters (Jayme, Melissa, Nicholette), four grandchildren (Calvin, Charlie, Myles, Leo), life-partner (Donna) and a close-knit circle of family and friends.
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