By: Ashley Kehoe
You might know him as R.L. but to me, he’s always been Uncle Bob – and we’ve been buddies for as long as I can remember. Most childhood memories I have of my dad involve my Uncle Bob in one way or another. Along with my dad, he taught me that the first thing you should always do when you arrive at a hotel is jump on the bed, that it’s not a real holiday unless you’re lighting off illegal fireworks in the street, that speed limits are really just suggestions, and that the proper way to tuck someone in at bedtime is “snug as a bug in a rug” – which is what earned him his nickname of “Uncle Bug” for the better part of my childhood.
In more recent years, Uncle Bob and I have become buddies in adulthood, and growing up without my dad, that’s meant more to me than I can express. He’s talked me through all kinds of major life decisions like transferring colleges, negotiating my first big kid job, almost buying a house, starting and ending relationships, and moving halfway across the country – twice. Despite what he would probably refer to as my garbage taste in music, he’s tried his hardest to teach me about rock and roll – especially the blues – and he’s counseled me through the sometimes heart-wrenching reality of being a Cubs fan, usually with a lot of crappy stadium beer. Together, we’ve been on beach vacations with both our families, watched the Blackhawks win a playoff game at the United Center, laughed our asses off at standup comedy shows, seen the Allman Brothers on tour at the Chicago Theater, touched the actual Stanley Cup, and snuck onto the party deck to watch the Cubs play at iconic Fenway Park in Boston. He’s treated me more like a daughter and a friend than a niece, and I never could’ve taken on this project without him.
John Kehoe was my dad and R.L.’s older brother and lifelong best friend. He was one of those people who just makes every moment a little better, makes you laugh a little harder, and makes life seem like more of an adventure. When we lost him to leukemia in 1998, we experienced the loss in different ways at very different stages in our lives, but we’ve both spent the 17 years since trying to get back to how life was when he was still here. This project started as a way for us to exchange stories with each other and freeze our memories in time before they faded, but it quickly became much more than that.
These stories are our memories, but they’re also your memories. To you, my dad may have been something very different than he was to us – a childhood neighbor you played baseball with in the street, a big-hearted trouble-maker you got stoned with in high school, a college roommate who after many late nights and maybe even some illegal activity became a lifelong friend, a coworker at Down the Hatch – the bar where he met my mom and many of our close family friends to this day. My dad was also an older brother and a brother-in-law, an uncle, a nephew, a husband, a son, a prankster, a professional, a marathon runner, a grown-up goofball. That’s the point of this story, that John Kehoe was many things to many people, and this project is our way of celebrating that.
We hope our re-tellings of your childhood, adolescent, and twenty-or-thirty something adventures will take you back to another time, maybe one you haven’t revisited in a while. These stories are about my dad, but they’re also about what it was like to grow up in suburbia in the 1960s, come of age in the 1970s, and go from boyhood to fatherhood and everything in-between. We’re not entirely sure what these stories are about, but that’s the point, because you might – and that makes them worth sharing.