I used to think 50 was old. Now that my second child, Mike, is turning that age, 50 seems young. But in a life that spans a half-century, much can happen.
Michael John Spevak was born on Labor Day in 1972. His mother, Susan, was appropriately in labor on the day of his birth. But afterwards she never had to labor very much to raise her son to become the hardworking, successful and caring person that he is.
Mike is our only son, sandwiched between his older sister Ginny and younger sister Megan. He has handled that role well, following his older sister’s example of involvement in studies, sports and family and encouraging his younger sister to do the same.
It wasn’t always easy being the only boy. Girls, as a rule, have different interests than boys, although his mom wanted all her children to have all kinds of experiences. That’s why Mike, along with his friend Mason Hurley, were both enrolled by their mothers in tap dancing with Rose Marie House when they were six years old. (How he and Mason survived that, I’ll never know.)
As his dad, I tried to give Mike the opportunities to do “guy things,” even when they weren’t my cups of tea. So, with other older guys as leaders or mentors, he was involved in 4-H woodwork and leatherwork (I still have some of his artifacts), cycling (including competitive racing in his early teens), cutting wood with a chainsaw and even, I think, some fishing by the canal.
He was also influenced by his uncles Jay and Bob whenever he went to Chicago to visit family, two young men who were willing to try anything wild and crazy. So, thanks to others besides his dad (who led a relatively sedentary and risk-free life), Mike got exposed to the larger world of guys.
Like his sisters throughout his life, Mike has kept family first. In college he found a wonderful life companion in Karen and together they have created a tightly-knit family of two girls and a boy, although in their case the boy came last.
Like his sisters, Mike was a great source of strength to his mom when she was diagnosed with breast cancer through her five years of remission and then during that deadly disease’s return that took his mom’s earthly life, when she was only 52 and Mike was 26.
Like his sisters, he knows there are no guarantees, so he savors life, making sure that spending time with his wife and children is his highest priority, ensuring they enjoy many good times together. He’s not waiting for retirement to have fun.
Throughout his 50 years Mike has always worked hard–mowing the lawn at an early age, getting a job carrying grease buckets at Burger King when he was 16, working as a lifeguard at O’Neill Forebay and helping at the Merced flea market when he attended Merced College, where he was on the Blue Devil swimming and water polo teams.
When he transferred to UC San Diego, Mike continued to work his way through college doing various jobs while earning his science degree–two years after he transferred from Merced College. He completed his bachelor’s degree in four years debt free.
Deciding on becoming a physical therapist, Mike traveled to Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. He convinced its physical therapy program directors that he not only had the grades, he also had the initiative, to do the demanding years of graduate school work. He then went on to earn his doctoral degree there in physical therapy.
Mike was also not afraid of the work involved in establishing a physical therapy practice in Reno, the city in which he and Karen decided to live and raise a family. After years of sweat equity, he established a successful PT practice.
Speaking of practice, Mike practices what he preaches, or rather he practices in life what he tells his patients to do: exercise regularly and follow a good nutritional plan, something he has also reminded his children to do.
Exercise came easily to Mike. Besides being on the swim team from age 6 to 16, Mike also liked cycling, running, basketball and tennis. He continues to have a solid exercise regime at the mid-century mark in his life.
But I think what I’m most proud of Mike, as I am of his two sisters, is his ability and willingness to care for others. In his university days he made it a point to help other students succeed, as well as succeeding himself.
He chose a “caring” profession in physical therapy, and he cares about his patients not just as clients but as persons. He has also devoted many years to coaching kids (his and others’) in volleyball and basketball and practiced the all-important art of positive coaching–getting the best out of his players not by putting them down but by building them up.
And I especially appreciate his caring for his family, beginning with his wife Karen, extending to his daughters Hanna and Kaila and his son A.J., and beyond to his sisters, brothers-in-law, nephews and dad.
Parents have no guarantee how their kids will turn out. I’ve known some good parents whose kids have not turned out well. So I am grateful that Mike, like his sisters Ginny and Megan, have turned out to be thoughtful, caring persons throughout their lives and into their various stages of middle age.
I wish Mike well as he turns 50 and remind him how young he really is (compared to his 76-year-old father). I also encourage him to continue caring for others and savoring life for another 50 years, at least.