Posted by: Maryann McCullough | July 5, 2014

Story for July 2014



Born July 4, 1914, my dad would have had 100 candles on his cake today. There would have been a big party at 705 and all his children and grandchildren would have come for the special occasion. 

Each of his ten children could write his own story about our dad. This is minedad-and-maryann-2
His name was Martin Francis Shanahan and he was my father. I knew him as good, and smart, and handsome. He was a man who held the bar high, both for himself and for his children. He worked hard and provided his family with all the perks of an upper-middle class life- the beautiful home in the suburbs, private education through college, and even the country club membership. He did not read bedtime stories or help with the dishes or go for bike rides or take the girls shopping for a prom dress. That model of fatherhood was just coming into vogue as his youngest children 

Like my dad, I was a firstborn in a large family and I believe that this temporary period as an only child allowed me some special hooks into my father’s life. I really enjoyed working in the yard with him and did so for many years until my brothers were of an age that those responsibilities passed on to them. Summertime was not all work however. Each year, it brought at least one trip to Wrigley Field where the two of us got to watch the Cubs lose a game.

When we lived on Austin Boulevard (before we had our first car) he and I would take a Saturday walk up to Division to go to the hardware store, sometimes stopping enroute home at a corner Cheer’s-like bar where he enjoyed a tall cold one and my six-year old body got to sit on a tall stool. Even during the week after his bus ride home from work, he would go into the living room with his pilsner glass and I would join him with my shot glass of the golden foamy liquid and we would talk about our day. 

In his first years of employment, he was a CPA working for Arthur Andersen and he traveled a lot. He later worked for Automatic Electric. Originally the company was in downtown Chicago and sometimes on weekends I would go into work with him and experiment with typewriters or adding machines. Later the firm moved to Northlake and he became comptroller and eventually Vice-president of Finance.

My Dad was not supposed to live a long time. Following a stroke and heart attack before his fortieth birthday, he was told to “get his house in order.” As a fourteen year old I was not privy to the seriousness of the situation, but I did join him in the chauffeured limo that Automatic provided to pick him up each morning – dropping me at Trinity High School before taking him on to the Northlake office. In our ever-growing family, again, I was the one fate blessed with that one-on-one time.

He was really funny in hindsight, annoying at the time, when years down the road, teenage dates would appear at our door. Sixteen-year-old boys who were likely shaving once a week would have to respond to Dad’s inquiries about their career plans. These discussions took place at the dining room table. If my mother came in from the kitchen (which she usually did – she liked teenage boys a lot) she would shift the conversation around to some equally embarrassing topic like extraterrestrial life or “Do you think Adam had a navel?” She always enjoyed disturbing the waters. I would have thought these conversations would be the death knell for my social life. Strangely, for years after I left home to be a Dominican, these same young men would continue to stop by for a visit.

My away years as a Dominican also gave me a special “time” with my dad. He was a writer and in some ways was best able to express his affection with pen in hand. I was gone for seven years as a religious and, after leaving the Order, later moved establishing a family of my own in California and later in Arizona. For all those years the sight of my father’s distinctive script on an envelope brought a smile to my face.

On the Friday of Labor Day weekend, 1986, I flew back to Chicago. My mother had been diagnosed, just weeks prior, with ALS and I wanted to be with her. My parents’ condo was a Grand Central kind of place. There were nine siblings, most living within walking distance, who were the experienced helpers with her care. Thus the moments with my mother were few.

My dad had an appointment scheduled for a physical on that Saturday, so I drove him to Loyola Medical Center. There was a long wait preceding  an even longer appointment. I was surprised to be more than a chauffeur – I was in the office for the entire appointment. The final report was relatively good, except that dialysis was likely going to be the next step for his failing kidneys. Dad had outlived by thirty years the predictions for his demise, so while dialysis was a big deal, relatively speaking it didn’t feel that way.

I left River Forest that Monday and returned to my life in Phoenix. I was glad I had gone, but somewhat disappointed that I had spent most of Saturday at Loyola Medical Center and had spent so little time with my mother.

The following Saturday we received a long distance call from my sister-in-law Vicki. She told me that my father had died. I was certain I had misheard her and that she meant to say, “mother.” With his blue eyes and silver hair and his golf tan, he had looked so handsome and healthy the previous weekend, the timing seemed a mistake. But, no, Vicki explained, he had been watching the Notre Dame football game earlier that afternoon and had suffered a massive coronary.

The timing felt so wrong for me but it was likely right for him. As my father was gentle, my mother was strong. But of course, the ALS was robbing her of her mantle of strength and independence and that was so painful for him to witness.

I wish I remembered more of the day of his funeral, more of what was said about him. I know Saint Luke’s Church was completely filled. I know I sat next to my mother and held her one “good” hand..the one not yet touched by the ALS. When we left the church, our caravan of cars drove by the “real” house (the one we had all lived in) on Franklin and then out to Butterfield Country Club where a reception was to be held. The flag in front of the club was at half-mast in honor of my dad, a former president of the club.

He had chosen as his final resting place a spot in Queen of Heaven cemetery, under a tree with a bench nearby. Our family has never been cemetery people. We don’t visit them. We don’t decorate gravesites. So perhaps, ever the quiet man, he was thinking of enjoying the tranquil surroundings himself, sitting on that bench in the quiet shady grounds, surrounded by a well-manicured lawn. Throw in a good mystery to read, and a tall cold one to sip on, life – death- couldn’t get much better than that.



  1. Thanks, Mom. I knew a lot of those factoids about Granddad, but you really captured the essence of him as a person. Will share this with Mary, to give her a better sense of what a great man he was.

  2. Love this story!!!!!

  3. Oh Maryann, what a delightful story teller you are! I followed you each block of the city and each detail of your relationship. I think I went into your house once upon a time… maybe when I was at Rosary ? Thank you for this touching reminder of DADS and Daughters. Love you always!

  4. What a beautiful tribute!

  5. What great memories. I never knew what your Dad did or that he had had a stroke early in life. I so remember the kitchen table and your Mom but your dad seemed the quiet one. Didn’t know your Mom had ALS either. We will have to catch up next year in AZ.
    Great writing, could visualize it all.

  6. Thanks for sharing such good memories of your dad.

  7. What a great picture of your dear dad, and my business colleague! ♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥♡♥

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