The idea of randomly interviewing Forest Parkers about their fathers for a Father’s Day story seemed like a pretty easy task at first. That didn’t prove to be the case. Americans’ relationships with their fathers are complicated. When you actually delve into people’s lives, there’s a story there that’s deep, that’s bigger than any sound bite could deliver.
All I was asking was for some people to say nice things about their fathers. But as one employee from another business in town put it, “I wouldn’t say nice things about him.” My hope was that this was not the case for the village as a whole, and lucky for me it was not. Otherwise this would be the most depressing Father’s Day story ever written. Instead, the complexity of the day was captured in the stories told by local residents.
I went into R.J. Treats, figuring that an ice cream shop on Beloit would be a good spot to find people in good moods. But even here I would find that any Norman Rockwell 1950’s Dwight D. Eisenhower era conceptions of the traditional nuclear family are no longer generally the norm.
Three cheery, active, cute, and occasionally smirking elementary school-age Forest Park kids were inside debating over quarters and buying juice to drink.
Xavier Davis was excited to be interviewed. Asked what his plans were for celebrating Father’s Day with his dad Sylvester, Davis responded, “Well, since I don’t live with him, my mom’s gonna give me something.”
I asked, “Because you’re the father of the family?”
Ten-year-old Davis nodded yes and said, “I pay the bills.” Davis flashed one of several smirks that the three would give throughout the conversation.
Eleven-year-old Jeremy Grayson was shyer, but gave a similar recounting of his own upcoming Father’s Day, saying that the last time he saw his father was two years ago.
I asked, “Two years ago?”
Grayson responded, “Mmhmm.”
Rounding out the bunch was nine-year-old Damandre Henley. I asked Henley to tell me about his father, Keith. Henley said, “He washes cars.” I asked what he was going to give his father for his birthday and Henley said, “I wanna make him a card.”
Davis and Grayson chimed in that they had Father’s Day present ideas for their stepfathers as well. Davis said, “I might get him a new video game.” Davis said he likes to play video games with his stepfather and wanted to buy him Tekken 5.
Grayson said he wants to give his stepfather Marvin a copy of this newspaper when it comes out.
Asking if they wanted to send any special messages to their fathers and stepfathers, Davis replied, “The best person in the world is Xavier.”
Henley said, “I love you, mom. I mean, dad. I love you, dad and mom.”
Grayson said, “P.S. Dear Marvin, can I have five dollars?” and flashed the final smirk in the ice cream shop and then the three headed off to the pool, but not before co-owner Mary Malik handed all three of the boys some free pieces of gum.
Malik, a Countryside resident, co-owns R.J. Treats at 810 Beloit with her husband Robert. Accompanied by the loud vibrating hum of the air conditioning unit above the door, she immediately expressed how saddened she is by the absences of the fathers from the boy’s lives and then spoke of her own father.
“Unfortunately my father died when I was twenty-one,” said Malik, “Unfortunately my mother died when I was six. And left us with eight children.” Malik took a seat behind the counter and said, “Actually this is kind of sad.”
She then explained how she went to one of her favorite restaurants earlier in the day. She had not gone to the restaurant in a long time, because the last time she was there was the day she got the phone call saying that her father was dying. But her husband insisted, “You gotta break it,” encouraging her to go back to the restaurant again, so she did. “The food was good and everything was good,” said Malik, “I was kind of in shock.”
Malik recounted the early days of her childhood with her father, who was a salesman. One memory in particular stood out. Malik went with her father when he was doing his sales one day, waiting out in the car for him, when a bee flew into the car. Malik got scared, so she ran into the business where her father was attempting to sell tools and explained about the bee. “He goes, ‘That’s not the worst thing. I’m trying to do a sale,” Malik said, stating that the ladies inside of the business ensured her father that they did not mind her presence. “He was a great man,” Malik summed up, “I just don’t think children appreciate their parents.”
“My father did the best he could. We had hand-me-downs. We had leftovers,” said Malik. She is proud at how well her own children are doing. One is a sixteen-year-old straight A student. The other is going to college in Rhode Island. She is also proud of her own husband. “I have a T-bone marinating for him,” she said of her preparations for Father’s Day celebrations with him. She added, “I love my husband. I’ve been with my husband for about eighteen years. We’ve had our ups. We’ve had our downs.”
Malik paused to help a customer, giving them a scoop of black walnut in a cone and a ring pop. “He built me my dream,” Malik said.
Malik began recounting memories of her father again. Then the tears came, streaming, visibly trickling all the way down to her chin and hanging there as droplets. “I”I love him. And I miss him,” Malik said, “He’s not here.” As she wiped the tears away, Malik said, “He was really sick.”
Malik’s father was in the hospital with intestinal cancer. He discharged himself (which he was not supposed to do), then took a cab, came to her house, and held her newborn son Kevin. “And the next day he died,” said Malik, “But at least he got to hold””
Malik did not finish her sentence. There was no need to.
Kevin is now eighteen.
With her cheeks still wet, Malik motioned to the door where the three children had recently left. “I’m just sad, that these kids, they can’t”they don’t”,” Malik trailed off again and then continued, “And I’m not saying it’s right, it’s wrong, whatever.”
“Father’s Day is kind of”and Mother’s Day”both of them are kind of hard,” said Malik.
Brian Sullivan and John Schmidt just wanted a beer, some time to relax. They got it at Doc Ryan’s. Forest Park resident Sullivan grew up in Oak Park. Villa Park resident Schmidt grew up in Galewood. But they both enjoy barhopping on Madison. Their playful demeanor also reminds one of the smirking boys from R.J. Treats. Schmidt in particular is full of comedic bits and anecdotes.
They also have in common the ache of missing one’s father. In his late 60’s, Sullivan’s dad died one-and-a-half years ago. Schmidt’s dad died of a heart attack nineteen years ago when Schmidt was twenty.
“After nineteen years it kind of wears off,” said Schmidt, “You stop going to the cemetery.” Schmidt added that if his father was still around he “might hit him up for a few bucks,” reminding of the ‘P.S.’ delivered earlier by the youngster Grayson. Boys will be boys.
And fathers will be fathers. Both Sullivan and Schmidt have, of course, strong memories of their dads. Schmidt remembers his father teaching him how to drive a stick shift with an old ’71 Ford pickup in the Queen of Heaven cemetery. Sullivan remembers barhopping up and down Madison Street with his father who was in a wheelchair at the time. Which bars did they go to? “All of ’em. We went to all of ’em. That was his favorite thing to do,” said Sullivan.
They also remembered the lessons their fathers taught them. “Good handshake and stare ’em in the eyes,” said Sullivan. This is the lesson he has taught his own three boys.
“Work hard, laugh often, and always keep your honor,” said Schmidt. This lesson he has taught his own three girls.
Both Sullivan and Schmidt seem to keep up this motto as well, laughing throughout, even when the conversation turned to how much they both miss their fathers. “Still wish he was here, you know. That’s it,” said Schmidt
“Wish he was here. What else could you put?” said Sullivan.
Bloomingdale resident Dr. Louis F. Taglia, Sr. sat in the right side corner of the bar in the Golden Steer at 7635 Roosevelt Road, a variety of food laid out before him, eating well, and drinking just as well.
A White Sox game played in the background as he talked and quickly I realized this was no coincidence. Taglia, like his father Rocco, is an avid White Sox fan. Taglia remembered his father watching the Sox on the TV in their basement and listening to the Sox out in the family’s garden. Taglia’s father would tell him stories about when he was young during the 1919 Black Sox scandal.
His father would say, “They didn’t have to do what they did. They were the best team in baseball.” When the White Sox won the recent World Series, Taglia said his first thought was of his father, how happy he would be, how far Chicago had come from 1919 to 2005.
“My father cared for his family first. And everything else was second. That’s the way I remember him,” said Taglia between forkfuls, “A man that loved his wife until he died.”
Taglia himself was all set to go to Rooster’s Barn and Grill for Father’s Day to celebrate with his family. “I love restaurants,” said Taglia, “Only because my wife is getting too old to cook all the time.”
Taglia was all smiles, relaxed, sociable, a man his sons I am sure will remember strongly themselves as someone with integrity and spirit and an overall zest for life.
The Sox continued on in the background and the hospitable bartender ensured Taglia’s cup remained full. Father’s Day would, I am equally sure, prove to be a beautiful day spent with his family.