My Father

May 23, 2012
By Anonymous

I decided to interview my father, Daniel, because he grew up in a large Irish family in Ravenswood, Chicago. I wanted to know how his childhood was different from those of children today and learn more about what his life was like.

What is your full name and birthplace?
Dani-el Francis, and I was born in Chicago.

Where in Chicago?
St. Elizabeth’s Hospital is actually where I was born. It’s near Division and Western.

When were you born?
1961. July 22nd.

How many siblings did you have and what were their names?
I had seven. Two older sisters, Patricia and Denise, then I was born. Then I had a brother Martin, who died as an infant, and a brother Terry, born three years after me, a brother Stephen, and a sister, Elizabeth, and then another brother, Roger.

How close were you close with your siblings?
We were very close, when we were kids; I was especially with my older sisters. We had a three-year gap between two sets of kids. There was a space where my brother Marty died, so we had a set of older kids and a set of younger kids.

How did Martin’s death affect you?
Um, it’s hard to say since I was just a baby at the time, but it affected my mom, so it affected me. It was very hard on her, obviously. Since I was only eighteen months old when he was born, I was probably babied quite a bit when I was a baby. Then, when I was about three years old my brother Terry was born, so the babying stopped.

How would you describe your relationship with your parents?
It was probably typical. Well, it was a little bit different back then. Parents were a lot less involved in the day-to-day entertainment of kids. There wasn’t a lot of entertainment, we’d just go out and play. They were good parents; they made sure we all went to Catholic school, we all had clothes and food and all the things that a lot of people take for granted, but they actually worked hard make sure we all had good winter coats, good boots, a Catholic education. Things like that. It sounds silly, but it was important.

What were your parents’ priorities for you?
Oh, school. My parents always stressed working, going to school. Actually just being happy, doing what you wanted to do. They were very good about that. They would support you in whatever you wanted to pursue. They were, uh, they were I don’t know, maybe just figured you should do what you wanted to do. They would support you and wouldn’t suggest other things.

Were you close to them?
I always knew my parents loved me, even through the times we didn’t get along. Everybody has these periods when you don’t like what your parents do or you’re not happy. But overall you know you’re living in a good home. When your parents are providing a good safe home that you can go back to, it’s always good to know. My dad always had the philosophy that anyone in our family is always welcome in our house and should never have a hard time there. You should always be respected. (Laughing) It didn’t always work out that way, but he always tried.

What about people who weren’t in your family? Were they welcome?
(Pauses, laughing) Yes, um, we actually had a lot of friends. Actually, when I was in second grade, my father had met somebody who had a son who was having problems at home, who was a year younger than me and ended up living with us for a year.

Why did he live with you?
Well his mom had five daughters and him, and she wasn’t married. She said that she couldn’t handle him, so my dad thought the kid needed a nice home, so he took him in.

How did you and your siblings react to him?
I don’t know, I was only in second grade. He was different; I think he had some issues. Now I don’t think people would ever do that, there was no legal adoption or anything. But he came, shared a bedroom with me and my brothers and he went to school with us. It was probably a good year for him. He was part of our family. Eventually his mother came and took him back.

Where did your dad meet his mom?
In a tavern in Chicago. (Pauses). My dad…he drank a lot back then. He was an alcoholic. But, he actually has been sober for more than forty years.

How did that affect your family?
Oh it’s hard to say. It’s always… troubling. I think that type of thing affects you more by the fact that he wasn’t around a lot. He was kind of an absentee dad when a lot of us were younger. It was hard on my mom of course. To his credit, he straightened himself out, became a good dad.

How old were you when he became sober? What about your youngest sibling?
I was twelve or thirteen. He was probably about two or three.

How was your relationship with your dad different from your youngest brother’s?
I was a lot older, a lot more independent. My dad was a lot less involved with me and my older sisters for a time. Not when we were really little. I remember him teaching me to throw my first baseball, buying me a mitt, things like that. It wasn’t like he wasn’t there at all, just for a few years he wasn’t around as much. It’s just a completely different kind of relationship. He made a conscious effort after he stopped drinking, to be a good father, and I think that my younger siblings really benefitted from that.

How did it affect your relationship with your mom?
My mom and my older sisters and I, we kind of pitched in together. When I was...I remember being in sixth grade and my mom had started working. Maybe I was a little bit older. We would take turns, we would have to go home and start dinner when we were in grade school because she was working. We became pretty close. It was kind of hard to describe. Everybody helped out.

Are you and your siblings still that close now because of it?
I think so but I’m also close with my younger siblings. I think we all kind of had the mentality that we would always fight with each other a lot, but if anybody messed with one of our siblings, we would come to their defense. We never let any body outside the family mess with our brother and sister. That something that my dad also drilled into us kids. He would point out, you have all kinds of different friends, but you have the same family your whole life.

Where did you attend school?
For grade school I went to Queen of Angels in Chicago and for high school I went to St. Benedict’s.

How was school back then?
Well, going to a Catholic school in Chicago I think would be a lot different than you going to a school like Maine South, which is more suburban and would have a lot more facilities than we had. I think I only had about one hundred and fifteen in my graduating class, so it was a much smaller school.
We didn’t have the resources they have now; the education was a lot more discipline based than it is now. It was a good education; a lot of very successful people came out of that school. It was good.

How were you punished in school?
Detention. The detentions were a little bit more creative though. It depended on who you got for detention. Sister Dorothy, she was the disciplinarian. She was a nun. She actually liked me but she would make me do homework and things like that in detention. She got mad at me one time, when I was about a junior, because I was reading the newspaper in detention so (Laughing) she came over and hit me on the back of the head with a book, and took my newspaper away, told me to study and when I didn’t have any books she went and got some. Made me read history or something.
But if you got the gym teachers for duty they would tell you to go sweep the gym, and when you were done you could just leave. In grade school, we got J.U.G.’s. It was a little bit different I think.

What was a J.U.G?
I’ve heard different theories. Somebody told me it meant judgment under God or something. They did give you them, they’d give you a little slip that said J.U.G.

So what did that entail?
It was detention basically. You would have to go in after school. (Laughing) In grade school, a J.U.G. or a detention was actually pretty bad. We had Mrs. Morgan, actually. She had a two by four with a handle on it and a bunch of holes drilled into it that said “Board of Education” and she would hit you with it. That was quite painful actually, but we had… I think it was Sister Ita. For her detentions, you would have to bring in a red pen and a blue pen, and you would have to copy the Congressional Record alternating color in for every word. It was terrible.

What other ways were you punished in school?
(Laughing). Well, we had one sister, Sister John Bernadette, and she would hang you on hooks. She would tell you to go to the cloakroom. We always thought that was funny since nobody actually had a cloak. She would make you go into the cloak room and put on your cloak, and she was a big strong woman so she would just pick you up and hang you on the coat hooks, and you would kind of hang there in your coat until she decided to let you back into the classroom.

And I remember (Laughing), we had a kid who when we were in line for the bathroom he spat across the hall, and one of the nuns caught him. She made him go get a bucket out of the janitors closet and he had to sit in the back of the room spitting in the bucket, and she told him he had to fill it. SO the poor kid just sat there trying to spit, and if he would stop spitting she would yell at him “I don’t hear spitting”. The whole period he had to spit in a bucket, which was kind of mean.

So you were punished in front of the whole class a lot?
Yes. Sister Ita, if you weren’t paying attention she would walk around the back of the room, and you weren’t allowed to look back. And she had this ring, and she would bang it on top of your head and you would get these little lumps on your head. A lot of things like that, a lot of public…well it would seem publicly humiliating, but nobody was really embarrassed by it. They found ways to punish just about everybody. Whatever happened to you happened to everybody. Except for the spitting in the bucket. That was a little extreme.

You sound like you got in trouble a lot. What did you do?
(Laughing) Oh, everybody got in trouble for everything. If you talked, you would get hit with the Board of Education. If you got in a fight, you would have to get a J.U.G. I didn’t do anything really bad. But you could get J. U. G. 's for not finishing an assignment, or if you were talking or fooling around in class, so it was a pretty regular occurrence.

All of this was legal?
Yes, I think our parents were actually happy they did it, that’s what they were paying for. I’m not sure how they did it in public schools, but in Catholic schools corporal punishment was…we still had our hands hit with rulers back then.

So was your childhood overall a good one?
Yes, it was. There’s a lot of good memories, like everybody else. You know, through good and bad times, you kind of learn to persevere. You know, I didn’t have a very affluent or rich childhood in the sense that we didn’t have a lot, we never went on vacations or anything like that, we weren’t poor but we didn’t have a lot of extra money. But, I think that teaches you to deal with adversity and understand that not everything is permanently good or permanently bad, and if you work hard, things are good.

Dan eventually attended DePaul University in Chicago and majored in Computer Science. He now works for Citibank and lives in Park Ridge, Illinois with his wife, Julie, and four children.

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