Does Dad Need Some Daditude?

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Does your father or husband like to chuckle and/or laugh out loud occasionally? Do you need a last minute Father’s Day gift?

I’ve been listening to a wry, humorous, and heartwarming book of essays titled Daditude by Chris Erskine. Erskine is a Los Angeles Times writer whose columns are syndicated in my hometown Chicago Tribune under the title “The Middle Ages.” I’ve followed Erskine’s musings for a number of years now, and the man is great with a turn of phrase.

Erskine writes about the trials, tribulations, and joys of family, friends, and growing older. His tales about his brood of four kids and his long-suffering wife alternate with stories about a group of incorrigible drinking buddies. In Daditude, though, he has culled a selection of former columns about his family: rites of passage, holidays, childhood memories.

The tone of these essays is always one of tender bemusement. As much as he mocks some of his kids’ excesses (In one story, he claims his younger daughter renamed herself VISA, with a dollar sign for the “S.”), its clear how much he adores his kids and worships his wife, whom he affectionately calls “Posh” in his writing.

In descriptions of Christmases past and summers in LA, of dropping his oldest daughter off at college, and of shopping for the perfect valentine, Erskine notes the details – the little nuances of nature and human nature that many of us miss. For instance, he describes dressing his newborn son: “I can’t seem to thread this kid’s tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril.” Or the first cool day of fall: “The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.”

Some of the stories are even more poignant in retrospect, as the twin losses of his son and wife in the past two years had not yet happened. The book was published as Erskine’s wife was going through cancer treatment. Even in those columns that described Posh’s illness, Erskine retains some of the gentle humor and wry sense of the world that no doubt has helped him through such tragedy.

I highly recommend Daditude for fathers and mothers and anyone with a heart, really. As Erskine himself says in the foreword of the book, “I hope you devour this book shamelessly, like no one’s watching, like a big gooey pizza at midnight.”

 

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Things My Father Taught Me

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That’s me trying to get into the picture with my dad!

My father died on his mother’s birthday in 1999. It does not feel like he has been gone for almost 15 years. On Father’s Day, I focus my attention on my husband and his role as father to my four children. But my beloved dad is not far from my thoughts.

This year I have been reflecting on all of the many things my father taught me. Here are some of them.

My father taught me to love nature. He was a connoisseur of flowers, trees, and birds, and he taught me the names of many of them. He took us on frequent trips to the Garfield Park Conservatory, the Morton Arboretum, and our neighborhood parks. He lavished attention on his beautiful flower garden, and we were given the privilege of helping him seed and water the garden – but only if we helped him weed it first!

My father taught me to love literature. He would read to us or tell us bedtime stories. The most memorable of these to me were the sad “Little Match Girl” and the scary “The Monkey’s Paw.” I also treasure my memory of weekly trips to the public library with my dad. He was never in a hurry, so we had the luxury of hours to sit amidst the dusty volumes and transport ourselves to magical places.

Aside from enjoying scaring the bejesus out of us, my father taught us to laugh. He loved silly jokes, and I believe I inherited my love for corny puns from him. One of his silly antics was pretending to be Henry VIII at the dinner table. This consisted of picking up his food with his hands and cackling maniacally. The act sent us kids into fits of laughter.

But my father also taught me to argue to the death about any topic, no matter how insignificant. He came from a family of Cubs fans, and I remember afternoons at my paternal grandparents’ house, listening to my dad and his brothers argue with the umps and each other about every play or questionable call. To this day, when I state my opinion about something, I raise my voice several decibels out of sheer habit from growing up arguing amongst my family members.

My father taught me to work hard. He and my mother raised 11 children, and he supported us by working for 40 years at the Western Electric. Even after a life-threatening bout of tuberculosis, my dad persisted in his efforts to keep us fed, clothed and cared for. He never complained and did not tolerate any self-pity from himself or us.

Most importantly, my father taught me integrity. He served in the army during World War II, worked for everything he had, avoided debt, and was honest in all his dealings. My father taught me to honor my commitments, treat people with respect, and seek to do good in the world. He was very proud of my decision to become a teacher because he felt teaching was a noble profession.

Father’s Day is hard for many of us who have lost a husband or a father. It is bittersweet for me to remember my father’s hazel-eyed gaze, his hand in mine, and his soft kiss. But today as I gaze outside at the natural world he so loved, I will treasure his memory and rejoice that I was given a father with such a good and gentle soul.

Happy Father’s Day.