Archive for the 'Beth Finke' Category

Mondays with Mike: Mad Hatters

Beth mentioned last week that we would be heading on Sunday to the Lagunitas Beer Circus to meet up with her nephew Brian. Well, we did. We have photographic evidence, supplied here.

Brian was a duly proud host and he took pains to take care of us, even though he was working.

That's Brian Ulen--Beth's nephew and our gracious Lagunitas host at the Beer Circus.

That’s Brian Ulen–Beth’s nephew and our gracious Lagunitas host at the Beer Circus.

It was a fantastic day that reminded me of Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: Mad Hatters’

Mondays with Mike: A very happy anniversary

A strange feeling followed me around last week. Like there was something I was forgetting. Finally, on Friday, during my morning walk to work, it sort of tapped me on the shoulder—for no reason I took my phone out and looked at the date.

April 25. Exactly one year since the benign tumor on Beth’s aortic valve nearly did her in. For just a split second I was brought back to the paralyzing feeling I got when the cardiologist told me that morning that Beth’s heart had gone into fibrillation, that her heart had been shocked back into rhythm, but that there was no time to waste. Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: A very happy anniversary’

Mondays with Mike: Everything’s amazing and maybe that’s why no one’s happy

Let’s start with this: A hammer is technology. How you use it is what counts. Hit a nail. Good. Hit a person. Not so good.

I say this because I’m about to venture into the realm of cranky person complaining about technology. Continue reading ‘Mondays with Mike: Everything’s amazing and maybe that’s why no one’s happy’

Mondays with Mike: Everyday miracle

That's Ella--her brother Bryce is happy to have a sister.

That’s Ella–her brother Bryce is happy to have a sister.

This week brought some good news in the Finke extended family: Ella, who had been born to Beth’s niece Stacey and her husband Ryan prematurely, came home after a stay in neonatal intensive care.

In this day and age, one can say, “No big deal.” After all, preemies are common, we have folks scheduling births to accommodate busy calendars, we have people having extravagant baby showers and now—I understand—something called “sprinkles” for babies to be born after the first child.

It’s almost as if all this childbirth stuff is routine. I’m here to tell you: It ain’t. And to confess: Every time a friend or family member reports that they are expecting a baby, Beth and I hold our breaths a little.

Don’t get me wrong: We’re happy. But our experience with Gus nearly 30 years ago taught us something about birth: as commonplace as it is, it’s a ridiculously complicated miracle that should never be taken for granted.

For those of you who don’t know the story, Gus is our son. Conceived during an enthusiastic reunion after Beth had spent months at a blind rehab facility she nicknamed Braille Jail, he was the product of what I alternately describe as major contraceptive failure or unplanned parenthood.

Beth and I did not intend to have children—largely because she was diagnosed at a type 1 diabetic when she was seven. Diabetes had already cost her eyesight, and pregnancy can cause other very serious—up to and including fatal—problems for a diabetic.

Beth had a fantastic primary care doctor who ran a battery of tests, some of which could have revealed certain problems that for us, anyway, would’ve ruled out carrying through with the pregnancy. But they all came back clean, and he explained that if she/we wanted to, and if she/we committed to a bulletproof program to manage blood sugar levels, there was no reason we could not have a healthy baby without Beth suffering for it. And so we decided to carry on.

It was months of countless finger prick blood tests and weekly (at least) doctor visits. And everything checked out along the way. Babies of diabetic mothers tend to grow large quickly, and so we knew there was a prospect of an early birth by c-section. Indeed, Gus was delivered at just over 8 lbs. about three weeks early.

“Delivered” really doesn’t do the event justice. I was there for the procedure, and will never forget the sights and, frankly smells, and, well, let’s just say placenta is pretty psychedelic. Gus came out, the doctor said we have a boy, he gave a little squawk, and proceeded to try to leave the world as quickly as he had popped into it. I got a quick glance of him, they rushed him to a table in the corner of the OR, and it was a frenzy of activity and medical talk.

Beth and I had decided that we did not want to have more than one child, and that she would have a tubal ligation after the baby was born. Our OB/GYN, smartly and responsibly, said to us: “In light of what’s going on behind me with your baby, do you still want to go through with the ligation?”

YES! was our resounding, unified chorus.

Gus was given a 50/50 chance of making it through the night. Beth was in a pain-killer induced daze, but still had the wherewithal to hold my hand and say, “However it works out, we did everything we could.”

She fell out and I went home and sat on the couch, my view a tower of disposable diapers stacked in the corner of the living room, gifts from a baby shower.

Gus was in the neo-natal intensive care unit for more than a month. The days brought good news, bad news, ups, downs. I made multiple daily visits, Beth arranged rides to visit while I was at work, it was our second home.

Apart from our own drama, what I remember most is this: Gus and we had a lot of company in the NICU. Rows of distressed babies festooned with tubes and wires in incubators,  and distressed parents standing beside them. And unbelievably kind, capable staff—particularly the nurses.

We parents and doctors and nurses didn’t know a dang thing about each other but it was sort of like a college dorm. We got to know one another. We watched, with some envy, parents taking their babies home. We arrived to find a baby gone only to learn she hadn’t made it.

Gus, tough in his own way, proved to beat his odds. We eventually did bring Gus home, but only after learning he had a very rare genetic disorder that would leave him severely disabled. His difficulties had nothing to do with Beth’s diabetes.

It was impossible to understand. I saw him last week—27-year old Gus, that is. He’s doing swell in his little group home in Watertown, Wis., thanks to the good Badger and Packer fans at Bethesda Lutheran Communities.

I’d like to say all’s well that ends well. But it’s a lot more ambiguous than that. It’s still not really understandable.

One thing, though, that I’m sanguine about: When it comes to childbirth, our hubris can tempt us to believe we’re driving the bus. But we’re not. Best we can do is check the tire pressure, change the oil, and hope for the best.

Whether you believe in the wonders and complexity of biology, of God, or both (I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive), a healthy baby is one gigantic deal.

And I could not be happier for Ella and her folks.

Mondays with Mike: Some things get better

This past weekend—a very full one—included a trip to Elmhurst College to root on the North Central College women’s basketball team (the Cardinals) against the evil Elmhurst College Blue Jays. OK, Elmhurst College isn’t evil. And really, we were there more specifically to root on Beth’s great niece, who, as a freshman, gets significant playing time on North Central’s team.


Anita follows through on a jump shot during Saturday’s game.

When we entered the gym I was ready with my $12 — $6.00 each for Beth and me, per the information online. The young woman at the ticket table said, “That’ll be $3.00 each.” I left the ticket table  feeling like we’d gotten lucky. Then Beth whispered, as we walked away, “I think she thought we were seniors.” As in senior citizens. Well now.

I guess I could’ve been miffed. But just walking into the court area reminded me that I have indeed been around for a good while. Because every time I go to one of Anita’s games, or a friend’s daughter’s soccer game, I am reminded that for the growing segment of the population that is younger than I am, these women’s games are no big deal. Commonplace.

But I still marvel at them. Because women competing athletically—hustling, clawing, grunting, and even fighting (did you see the USA-Canada women’s hockey game?)—wasn’t the norm,  wasn’t cool, and for most women wasn’t possible—when I was growing up. That’s all different now. That’s a wonderful thing, and it didn’t happen by accident.

Reasonable people can disagree about the role and the size of government—and that should always be at issue in our democracy. But I gotta say this: Title IX changed things for the better. Period.

By Title IX, I mean Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 (there is also a Title IX of the 1964 Civil Rights Act). Birch Bayh, U.S. Senator from Indiana, co-authored and introduced the legislation that is summarized here:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance… 

The law was renamed in 2002. It’s formal name is now the Patsy Mink Equal Opportunity in Education Act—Mink was the Congresswoman from Hawaii who co-authored the bill, and who introduced it to the House of Representatives.

The law was not focused on athletics—it was intended to ensure equal opportunity in employment and enrollment and educational opportunities at colleges and universities that received support from the federal government.  Here’s what Senator Bayh had to say about it back then:

“We are all familiar with the stereotype of women as pretty things who go to college to find a husband, go on to graduate school because they want a more interesting husband, and finally marry, have children, and never work again. The desire of many schools not to waste a ‘man’s place’ on a woman stems from such stereotyped notions. But the facts absolutely contradict these myths about the ‘weaker sex’ and it is time to change our operating assumptions.”

Title IX has made a huge difference overall, but its impact has been the most visible in athletics. When I was in high school lo these many decades ago, girls playing sports was broadly considered weird (at best, and characterizations of female athletes were often much less charitable than “weird”).

Not so anymore.  Saturday I sat in the bleachers with Beth, Anita’s family, Beth’s sister Cheryl, their mother Flo, and we cheered some really good players as they went at it hard in a very entertaining game. I heard the coaches get on the players, mothers and fathers yelling at the refs, and it was all…normal. I was pleased that it seemed so commonplace. But I will never cease to marvel at it, and I feel privileged to have witnessed this change in my lifetime.

Mondays with Mike: Long story short

Beth’s a voracious reader of fiction…me, not so much. Some of it is lack of patience—I tend toward small non-fiction bites—newspapers, magazines, essays and the like. Novels are an investment of time that I’m rarely willing to make. Which may be why short stories comprise a lot of the small body of fiction I have read.

I am awed by the best short stories—a great short is a concentrated, perfectly executed and polished gem. Beth’s written about one of our favorite writers (and a great friend) Jean Thompson. And I can’t recommend her enough—if you were looking for a short story starting point, try “Who Do You Love.” (BTW, Jean’s a terrific novelist, too.)

In the same stratosphere, in my humble opinion, is Richard Ford, who turned 70 years old yesterday. (I know this thanks to Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac.)

A great collection of short stories.

A great collection of short stories.

Ford has won a Pulitzer for “Independence Day“, one of his three novels that follow a character named Frank Bascombe. I’ve liked all three of them, and loved his most recent novel—”Canada“—but am partial to his short stories. If you want a taste, I’d recommend “A Multitude of Sins” as a starting point.

I could go on about Ford, but I’ll save the effort and save you the trouble and just give you a taste. This passage is from “Calling,” one of Ford’s shorts from “A multitude of Sins” about a man’s complicated relationship with his complicated father. Thanks to Beth, who has a knack for finding the most thoughtful and meaningful gifts–it hangs on our living room wall. She bought the framed, signed passage from “Calling” at  the Faulkner House book store in the French Quarter. Ford lived in the Quarter part-time years back, and was friends with the store owners. He signed it after a reading at the store back in 2002.

Bad photo doesn't do it justice, but this is one of the best gifts ever.

Bad photo doesn’t do it justice, but this is one of the best gifts ever.

When I get wound up with anger and resentment, as those of you who’ve followed my posts know I am wont to do, I try to remember to read this before reaching a popping point. (I don’t always remember, but I try.) Anyway, here it is:

Like my father, I am a lawyer. And the law is a calling which teaches you that most of life is about adjustments, the seatings and re-seatings we perform to accommodate events outside our control and over which we might not have sought control in the first place. So that when we are tempted, as I was for an instant in the duck blind, or as I was through all those thirty years, to let myself become preoccupied and angry with my father, or when I even see a man who reminds me of him, stepping into some building in a seersucker suit and a bright bow tie, I try to realize again that it is best to just offer myself release and to realize I am feeling anger all alone, and that there is no redress. We want it. Life can be seen to be about almost nothing else sometimes than our wish for redress. As a lawyer who was the son of a lawyer and the grandson of another. I know this. And I also know not to expect it.

What Seahawk running back Derrick Coleman teaches us about hiring people with disabilities

An explanation of why I’m rooting for Seattle in the Super Bowl. (Note: a version of this post I wrote was originally published on the Easter Seals blog). 

Derrick Coleman gets ready for a game.

Derrick Coleman gets ready for a game.

If you like that Duracell ad featuring Seattle Seahawk running back Derrick Coleman, the NFL’s first legally deaf offensive player, you’ll absolutely love Derrick Coleman: The Sound of Silence in the NFL, a video the NFL produced about him.

The NFL film is longer than the commercial, and it says a lot about how people with disabilities often need to go the extra mile to prove themselves before getting hired. Coleman was not drafted in 2012 even though he rushed for 1,700 yards and 19 touchdowns during his college career at UCLA. He thought he had the potential to go pro, so he found ways to convince coaches, at all levels of his career, that he had the skills to communicate with his team and get the job done.

The Vikings signed Coleman as a free agent after college, but he was waived in training camp. The Seahawks signed him as a free agent in December 2012. He played backup until veteran Michael Robinson became ill and was cut from the team. That’s when Derrick got his big chance to prove himself as a starting player.

The NFL video does a great job showing how Coleman used resourcefulness to solve problems related to his deafness. It opens with a shot of his mother tearing up her pantyhose: she and Derrick figured out that wrapping it around his hearing aids cuts the feedback he’d been getting under the football helmet. The video demonstrates how Coleman educated his teammates about his disability. He can lip-read, so he taught the quarterback to always turn around and look directly his way when giving audibles. The quarterback has to take his mouth guard out from time to time, too, so Coleman can see his lips.

The Seahawks coach recognized the extra effort that Derrick always put in. “His work ethic is outstanding,” the coach says. “We just had to put him on the field to see if he could put it all together.” Obviously, he could. Put it all together, I mean. So well, in fact, that he helped the Seahawks make it to today’s Super Bowl.

The NFL film ends with a quote from his mother. Earlier in the film she talks about knocking on doors to set people straight after she’d witnessed kids bullying her son. After that she encouraged Derrick to play football, thinking it might help him feel he “belonged.” She said she never dreamed he’d go past Pop Warner, a nonprofit organization that offers youth football leagues. When Derrick told her he wanted to play in the NFL, she warned him it wouldn’t be easy. “Oh, Mama,” he shrugged in response. “When has it ever been easy?”

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January 2017
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