You Can Go Home Again
BY: JIM LUKEN
Meet Michael Flood. 62. Father. Grandfather of Twins. Husband. Nurse. Twin. Proud of his Irish roots. A“family oriented” and “crisis oriented” person.
Mike Flood knows Over-the-Rhine, inside and out. He should. He keeps coming back to OTR. He keeps reinventing himself, and investing himself in new and unusual ways. Michael Flood is one focused, interesting guy.
He was born in the Bronx, NYC. He and his twin brother Peter were the third and fourth of nine children. Non-identical. While he loves living here, he remains a true New Yorker. “I still have a visceral connection to the Bronx. I still see New York City as my home.”
Michael’s Dad was a labor lawyer in New York. When he was very young, the family moved to New Jersey. Eight years later they settled in Great Neck, Long Island. At one point his Mom ran the law office. The kids went to Catholic schools. “We were a classic 1950s suburban family,” he says.
In 1967, the young Mike Flood went off to college at St. Johns University in Minnesota, where he would take a bachelor’s degree in sociology. His area of interest was Appalachian studies. Between junior and senior years, he spent a summer in southeastern Kentucky doing youth work with the Brothers of Charity. There he met the woman who would become his second wife, thirty-five years later.
Before his final college semester, the university offered what is called “January Term,” a month long internship in each student’s area of interest. Mike didn’t need much guidance in terms of where he wanted to spend his month. He would work and study in OTR, “My main focus in being here,” he insists, “was to explore the whole concept of the Appalachian immigrant in the big city.”
In October of 1971, five months after his graduation, Michael Flood would come back once again to the “Hood” as a community organizer, working at Madonna Community House on Findlay Street. His boss was David Crowley, who would go on to become vice-mayor of Cincinnati, before his death in 2011.
In those early months, Michael would become friends with a future Cincinnati legend, buddy gray. They would work together on the community newspaper Voices, the predecessor to Streetvibes. In addition, he says, “I did organizing activities in relation to affordable housing and against the large OTR landlords, like the Denhart brothers.”
In the summer of 1973, when Michael Flood was just twenty-three years old, he would face a critical decision. His Dad, age 54, was dying of cancer, the same disease that had taken Michael’s Mom just three years earlier.
Mike had several teenage brothers and sisters who were now parentless, living at home. Mike felt compelled to leave his adopted city, and the work he loved. At age 23, he decided to return to New York and take care of his family in their moment of crises.
As he explains, “I felt if I came back here before they were all settled and had stability in their lives, I would be living a lie—neglecting my own brothers and sisters—just so I could deal with all the issues surrounding poor families here in Cincinnati.”
So Mike spent the next two years fixing up the family house and tending to the needs of his young siblings. Ironically, his Dad, a lawyer, died without a will, and with major medical bills to be paid. The house eventually sold. Bills were paid off, and Flood could attempt to resume a life more his own.
Not long after this period, Mike met his first wife, Pamela. The couple moved to the Big Apple, where he worked in the moving and storage industry as a chauffeur and a proud member of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (Local 814). They had two sons, Chris and Adam.
When the boys were two and four, at Pamela’s urging, the family to moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, so she could eventually attend the university there. Mike, the former community organizer and teamster, found a job at the University Hospital. “I was a lowly clerk,” he says, smiling.
The lowly-clerk thing didn’t last long. He quickly became a department supervisor. Then he learned computer programming at a local community college, and worked as a skilled programmer for ten years.
But more troubles loomed on the horizon. In 1987, Michael’s wife began showing signs and symptoms that would be diagnosed as schizophrenia. By 1989, Flood says, “Everything fell apart. I went into crisis mode with the boys, who were 10 and 12. I became a primary parent. This lasted through their whole teenage years.”
Without notice, Pamela would leave the family and disappear for weeks on end. The responsibility and the mental crisis took its toll. “Because there was so much focus on my wife’s illness, I became isolated from people, even my brothers and sisters.” Michael found tremendous support from groups such as NAMI (the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill), and smaller support groups, in which he participated and, in time, facilitated. His connections with these groups helped him to reach out and reestablish the critically important connections with his family and friends.
In 2000, after years of chaos, pain and turmoil, Michael’s wife, and the mother of their children, died. Years of family trauma came to a sad and abrupt end.
In the ensuing years, Mike re-established his friendship, through letters and occasional phone calls, with his old friend from Eastern Kentucky. With his boys now on their own, Flood returned once again to the Queen City, moving into a small apartment in Walnut Hills. “I made sure I had a job before coming back to Cincinnati,” he says.
But that job did not last very long. He was laid off, leaving him to face another big decision. He was offered a computer job with a major local bank. But Restoc, a housing cooperative founded by buddy gray (now OTR Community Housing) needed someone to oversee the maintenance of its properties. Although this blue-collar job would involve a major learning curve, Michael jumped into the maintenance position. For half the salary offered by the bank, Mike became Restoc’s director of maintenance.
Upon returning to Cincinnati, Michael reestablished his friendship with Bonnie Neumeier, the friend he had met during that fateful summer in Eastern Kentucky. In 2005, the two former Appalachian activists, now in their fifties, were married near Bonnie’s home town, Wapakoneta, Ohio. In attendance were Bonnie’s 18 brothers and sisters, Mike’s sons, and various members of his large NY family. The couple lives (happily) in an OTRCH apartment. Bonnie continues her tireless work in the neighborhood.
But Mike Flood had not quite finished reinventing himself. While maintaining his complicated, stressful job as a maintenance supervisor, Mike decided to work toward a brand new career, this time—in a huge departure—as a nurse. “I think a large part of it was that, every time I turned around, someone in my life was in the hospital. Being in the hospital environment, and seeing the people taking care of important people in my life, I began to be aware that that was something I wanted to do.
“I always thought it strange when young people knew exactly what they wanted to do,” he ruminates. “I never had that sense, until I wanted to be a nurse.”
Mike took classes at Cincinnati State, and then enrolled as a full-time student at Mt. St. Joseph. Three years ago, at age 59, he received his nursing degree. Now he works with the Visiting Nurse Association, taking care of poor people in our city, some of them in Over-the-Rhine.
“Nursing has been challenging, that’s for sure,” he smiles. “One of my favorite patients—ironically—is a schizophrenic. With the VNA, I get to spend as much time as I feel a patient needs.”
Looking back on his life, Mike Flood can’t help but reflect. “I’m the least reflective person you ever want to meet. But, here I am, a nurse at 62. It’s been a long and winding road, as they say, and who knows where it’s going to take me.”
His “reflective” advice to the Streetvibes reader: “Be open to people and situations in your life. And don’t be judgmental.”
Please note: Meetup is meant to tell people’s stories in their own words. The views expressed in this column are solely those of the interviewee and not those of the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless, Streetvibes or the staff, volunteers and board members.