In May 2008, Rick Mounts, of Hillsboro, clenched the phone number of his younger brother, Michael, in his hand and anxiously paced around his house.
Mounts was afraid. He was afraid that the man on the other end of the phone would want nothing to do with him, that he would want them to stay strangers.
He had always known he had another brother who had grown up in Kansas — he had searched for him for years — but he knew the brother did not know him. It was through a successful search by the Army Research Organization that he found his half brother, who was an artillery Private First Class.
Mounts wasn’t a stranger to a son’s anger at his father affecting other parts of his family. While Rick’s older brother, J.R., was caring for Rick and their sister, Dianna, J.R. expressed no desire to meet the sons and daughters of his father’s three other marriages.
“I don’t have time in my life for anybody else,” Gina Mounts, Rick’s wife, recalls J.R. saying.
“My older brother doesn’t like the way he treated all our mothers,” Rick said.
All of the negative consequences of a phone call coursed through Rick’s head, as he continued to pace the floor of his Lehigh home. Finally, Gina interrupted his laborious path saying that if he didn’t call she would.
Of all the outcomes of the call, Rick did not expect a woman to pick up the phone. The contact number Michael had given the Army was actually for his mother, Fredonia, who lives in Holton.
Rick had met Fredonia one summer while visiting his father. The two of them had gotten along. Even though Rick was only a few years younger than her, Fredonia “just mothered him to death,” Gina said. At the time, Fredonia was pregnant with Michael.
Although he held strong memories of Fredonia, this was the first time Rick had spoken to her in more than 20 years.
The good times they shared in those two summer weeks so many years ago were rekindled in the call — “she was thrilled I even remembered her,” Rick said. But Fredonia did nothing to cool his apprehension about meeting Michael. She was also wary that Michael would not want to meet a brother, but Fredonia promised to give Rick’s number to Michael.
“That’s great I don’t want to bother him,” Rick told Fredonia. “If he wants a brother, I’m here.”
Michael called within days and all of Rick’s fears were relieved. The two of them talked for hours on the phone. Their similarities came through immediately. They both share an affable outgoing personality coupled with a raunchy sense of humor, which Gina and Mike contend is a Mounts trait.
“His sister, Dianna, cracks me up, Michael cracks me up, and Rick cracks me up,” Gina said.
Another similarity between them, and all the Mounts, is the honor of serving in the military. Rick has been in the military since 1992. He started in the Army and is now part of the National Guard. He has been deployed overseas to three countries: Kosovo, Somalia, and Iraq.
“I really believe everyone should have the opportunity to be in the military,” Rick said, “to see how we are treated and the respect we receive.”
Several other members of the Mounts family have served in the military including Rick and Michael’s father.
“We were actually in Iraq together,” Rick said of his father.
Rick’s two oldest daughters are in the Air Force and his second oldest daughter is going to join after high school graduation.
Another trait that Rick and Michael share is a sense of duty to one’s family. The drive to be a “family man” and be there for his siblings is what sent Rick on this quest.
Michael talked two or three times a week to Gina the last time Rick was in Iraq to take care of “his little sister,” even though Gina is nine years his senior.
But, all of this happened before Michael and Rick ever met.
They talked on the phone several times, before they met for the first time October 2008 in Fort Lewis in Washington where Michael was stationed and where Rick was headed for training before his past deployment to Iraq.
Rick was a little confused before the first meeting. “I didn’t know exactly what to do. I didn’t know whether to give him a hug,” he said — but Michael quickly broke the ice and gave Rick a hug before he even had a chance.
“There was a little bit of awe,” Michael said. “It just set in: ‘Wow, I actually do have a brother.’”
Michael also said that Rick’s non-commissioned officer friends were taken aback — it was as if there were two of them.
“I don’t see the resemblance,” Michael said. “Gina says she can definitely tell we’re brothers by the way we act.”
One of Rick and Michael’s differences is their feelings toward their father. Michael harbors a lot of animosity toward his father for the abandonment and the way he was treated.
Rick was never like that. He was only 3 or 4 years old when his father left their home in Southern California. Even though he lived under the tutelage of his mother and stepfather — who Rick called an “awesome” man — he yearned for his father’s approval. He was the only one of his three siblings to keep in touch with his father, but instead of being rewarded with the attention he craved, he was used as a news source to relay information about his brother and sister.
“I’m the one you’re talking to,” he said. “Don’t you want to know how I’m doing?”
But, he didn’t hold this against his father; today, he maintains a relationship with him.
“My dad is not a good father for children,” Rick said to Gina. “But, he is a good father for adults.”
Generally, Rick is both patient and forgiving. When raising his four daughters and two stepsons, Rick will often let them make their own mistakes.
“You don’t interfere with their lives,” he said to Gina. “They’re going to make their mistakes.”
Before getting a call from Michael, Rick had already met his sister, Nickey, and his brother, David, from his father’s second marriage.
With the final ice broken after meeting, Rick and Michael have the chance to act as brothers.
Michael felt he had a family member and a confidant for his military experience. Michael was awarded two purple hearts when his Humvee was hit by a roadside bomb. He still has visible scars on his face, and mental wounds that take much longer to heal.
“Some nightmares I have I know he has,” Michael said of Rick.
Rick tried to advise Michael over the past couple of months through the last stages of his military career. Michael ended his service to the Army two weeks ago and is now looking at going to Kansas State University.
Rick doesn’t always have to be an acting older brother. Two weeks ago, Michael visited Rick and Gina in Hillsboro. They went horseback riding and were frustrated trying to assemble a grill in the dark.
Through everything, Rick has succeeded in connecting with Michael. Michael even shares a little bit of Rick’s vision in connecting with the family.
“I don’t like (my father) but I do like my brothers and sisters,” Michael said.
After he visited Rick and Gina, Michael went to visit their sister, Crystal, who lives in Dodge City. Crystal is the youngest of the Mounts siblings — 25 — she has already talked on the phone to Rick and Michael. Rick was going to try to meet her soon.
“I want them to know that they have other siblings,” Rick said of all his brothers and sisters. “I want them to know that I will be there for them.”