Considering my two moms on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day approaches. 

I’ve had two moms. 

To be precise, I’ve had three. I had a biological mother who gave birth to me in the summer of 1975. She gave me up for adoption. 

I’ve sifted through old papers and heard a few stories. I’m not really sure what happened. 

I know that she was a woman who had a child and didn’t believe she could take care of it. She decided to have the baby and give it to people who could. 

I respect that. I mean she could have aborted me. I may be a grouch, but I like living. 

My first true mother was Kathryn Finney. That name inspires a mixture of fear and sadness. 

Kathryn was good with babies. She had four sons by birth, a daughter by adoption, and finally me by adoption. 

She also cared for more than 130 foster babies in her career. 

She doted on babies. 

There are stories about Kathryn that I struggle to believe — tales of her dressed to the nines, hosting parties, or being social.

The Kathryn I knew saved her social side for her twice-weekly trips to the hairdresser. (More on the hairdresser in a minute.)

By the time I came to know Mom 1.0, age and illness — almost certainly mental illness — had set in. 

She abused prescription drugs, especially the old-fashioned opioids such as Darvon, Darvocet, and other pain killers now illegal. 

This Kathryn slept most days and suffered violent mood swings. I never endured physical abuse from her. She was old and small, about 4-foot-11, but she could reduce you to a pile of ash with a stream of angry words.

There are happy memories with my mother. And I don’t ruminate on them enough. We used to go to Target together and she would buy me Star Wars toys. 

She made my bologna and cheese sandwiches on white bread with a dollop of mustard in a smiley face with a glass of milk while I watched cartoons.

Life ended hard for her. Her husband of nearly 50 years died after a long battle with heart disease.

We moved into town in a small house near the high school. One night she got up to check on me and fell downstairs and cracked her head open.

She lived a week or so and regained consciousness. My brothers said that she was the woman they remembered when they were boys. I’m sorry that I never got to meet her. She had a seizure and she died. I was just 14 years old.

After some shuffling around, I ended up living with a couple on the east side of Des Moines. The woman who would become Mom 2.0 was Kathryn’s hairdresser. Her husband was a printer for one of the banks downtown.

Early on in my time with my new family, a child psychologist told Mom 2.0 out that she had the hardest job of the two new parents. She had to make me trust a mother.

I don’t think that I was a terribly misbehaved child when I came to live with Parents 2.0, but I was definitely angry and scared. 

I did not want anyone to love me and I did not want to be loved. It seemed to me that people who did those things would either take that love away or die.

Mom 2.0 and I have a lot in common. We both lead from the heart. We both take things deeply personally.

But you have to give the old hairdresser credit: for every bit of sarcastic lip and refusal to acknowledge love, she stayed right where she was and kept loving me through all of it.

I think it was probably sometime in the first year living with Parents 2.0 that I accepted them as my mom and dad.

I still don’t call them mom and dad in person. I called them by their first names. But there’s no doubt about what role they play in my life and how important they are to me.

Mom 2.0 definitely got me to trust her, just like the therapist suggested. There’s probably not another person I trust more. 

I don’t know how she did it really. I am not a person who trusts easily, and I’m not a person who gives in to his emotions — at least positively — too often.

I think the answer is just love.

Mom 2.0 is made of love. And she shares it easily and often with anyone who comes into her circle. 

She takes care of her family. She takes care of her friends. She takes care of her neighbors. Heck, she takes care of my friends.

If she knew you, she would take care of you too.

It’s not really fair to compare my two moms. One mom was sick and lived in a time when it wasn’t really possible for her to get the help that she needed.

Mom 2.0 is strong and has always been strong. She’s the strongest person I’ve ever known.

You have to be pretty strong to teach someone how to love.

Happy Mother’s Day everybody.

Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The ghosts of the past haunt my contacts list

The best Rolodex I ever saw belonged to Tom Alex, the dayside police reporter for the Des Moines Register.

You needed two years of CrossFit just to twist the wheel.

When one managed to crank the wheel, business cards rained out.

Most pages had six or seven entries hastily crossed out with the new contact shakily scrawled in with blue or black ink.

I worked as the night police reporter for several years and thumbed my way through that Rolodex many times.

I worked as a newspaper reporter for 27 years, but I never had a Rolodex.

Younger readers, if there is such a creature, will need to Google Rolodex.

I embraced technology and sought to be what edgy tech magazines such as Yahoo! Internet Life and Wired magazines called an “early adopter.”

Younger readers will also have to Google “magazines.”

And “Yahoo!.”

I used a cutting-edge Palm Pilot as my Rolodex. A Palm Pilot was just like an iPhone except it didn’t make phone calls and the screen cracked when dropped on a bar floor.

There was also no texting or social media.

There was a Tetris app.

My friend Jeff also owned a Palm Pilot. Jeff showed me how to upload databases into the device.

He uploaded the phone number and address of every Register newsroom employee. It was more than 200 names.

The data had a quirk. Everyone’s name was in ALL CAPS. This was in 1999.

I note this because I decided the contacts list needed cleaning. I realized how old some of the names were because they remained in ALL CAPS.

Over the years, my contacts list swelled to more than 5,200 people.

Some were duplicates, of course, but I found this task of winnowing down my bloated list more troubling than attacking a poorly organized linen closet.

Some of my contacts were dead.

I am not so nostalgic as to keep a dead person in my contacts in effort to keep their memory alive.

Yet when I came to my old friend and mentor Steve Buttry or my buddy Ken Fuson, the best writer any of us will ever know, I hesitated to delete either. It somehow made what has been final for years that much more final.

So it goes.

Other people deleted much easier.

One was a murderer. I knew him as a community-minded south Des Moines lawyer.

A few years back, he killed his wife and two sons and then himself at their home in Minneapolis.

There were a lot of cop contacts. I’ve been out of the journalism game for more than two years. I haven’t needed to call a public information officer in the middle of the night as a civilian.

Also, I think one or two of those guys are dead, too.

One of the cops that stung to delete was my old friend Dan Dusenbery. A Marine during the Vietnam War, he worked his whole career as a patrol cop.

Dusenbery had the best cop stories.

My favorite was the time he and his partner were ordered to clear out one of the city parks where teenagers were parking to make out.

His partner got the idea to work harder, not smarter.

They pulled into the park and flashed their spotlight into some nearby trees.

After a while, one of the kids asked what they were doing.

Dusenbery and his partner told the kids a murderer was on the loose and might be hiding in those woods.

Pretty soon there was a string of taillights leading out of the park. Dusenbery and his partner never had to get out of the car.

Dusenbery died a few years back. He was the kind of guy you hope is a cop in your hometown.

I trimmed out several former girlfriends or people I wished had been girlfriends or people who wanted me to be their boyfriend. That last pot was the smallest.

I felt pangs of nostalgia, but not hard enough to keep the numbers. What would we talk about?

The hardest contacts to let go were estranged friends — or people I’d had a falling out with over the years.

One guy got mad at me about a joke I made on Facebook. He vowed never to speak to me again. He’s stuck with that. I’ve respected his wishes.

Another was a best friend, as close as I imagine brothers to be.

But misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and my own guilt put a gap between us that has grown into a chasm with years.

By the time I was done, I had whittled the 5,200 down to a manageable 250.

I put down my phone feeling a bit cleansed — as if this minor exercise in digital cleaning served to knock some of the detritus off my soul.

Alas, the next morning I awoke to discover some unknown restore feature on my smartphone put all the contacts I deleted back on — even the murderer.

I bet this never happened to Tom Alex, who left his Rolodex behind the day he retired and hasn’t seen it since.

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express. Reach him at newsmanone@gmail.com.


Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com.
Venmo@newsmanone.
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Podcast: Forget MLB, MLW Wiffle Ball is the game to see

Summer cold: Paul plays hurt; Dan's drowsy after his big birthday party; The Brady Bunch intro; Who shoots worst: Stormtroopers or Cobra soldiers? Talking Paragraphs

Dan and Paul welcome Suzanne Sullivan, Gilbert and Sullivan, Sullivan and Son, Son of Bat Boy, and musical guest, Boy George. Our apologies to last week's guests, none of whom made it onto the program and some of whom we were later informed are deceased.  — Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/message Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/talkingparagraphs/support
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  5. New format: Paul opens the show from Memphis; Dan goes to 'Bob's Burgers;' Paul buys a smoothie; 'Maverick' makes a lot of money