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Dad gets sober, learns how to be a father

Jerome Biegel grew up in a big Catholic family on Chicago’s Southeast Side, the middle of nine children. His father worked in an industry supporting the steel mills and, like a lot of kids on the Southeast Side, he thought he’d follow in his father’s footsteps.

Earlier this year, Jerome Biegel, 66, joined his daughters Karen Benita Reyes, Kendall Veronica Biegel and granddaughter Una Reyes in the StoryCorps booth at the Chicago Cultural Center. They talked about his childhood on the Southeast Side and how he became a father.

Jerome says at that time the Southeast Side was full of open space. Despite having eight siblings, he was able to play in the prairies around his house. He went away to high school at a seminary, where he soon learned about the war in Vietnam. After school he entered the military and went overseas.

When he got back to Chicago at age 24, he worked at the Solo cup factory, where he met a woman. They had a child, Karen. Jerome was drinking heavily at the time.

It wasn’t until years later – and the birth of another child – that he was able to quit drinking and learn to become a father.

“How was it different to be a father the first time and the second time around?” Jerome’s daughter Karen asks him in this week’s StoryCorps. “Did you perfect it all the second time?”

“I don’t think I perfected anything,” Jerome says. “The big difference was definitely me, and the condition I was in. Being an alcoholic the first ten years of your life I was still drinking and abusing alcohol. I know I was around and I know I was there physically. But I feel like I missed more than I wanted to with you growing up.”

“I learned in recovery the whole thing about ‘stopping drinking wasn’t enough,’” Jerome says. “You had to find something else in your life to replace that feeling that we got from alcohol, from drinking.”

“Life has a tendency to take things away as well as present us with opportunities. That charge that I used to get from drinking was real and I felt it. And you can’t shy away from that and say I never wanna feel that way, or I shouldn’t feel that way.”

“You gotta find something else in your life. Life has a tendency to take some things away but I think it’s important for us to help both ourselves and the people around us to find new ways to not only replace those feelings but to find a bigger high.”

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