On Your Father's Side  

Dad tested by tragedy

Chris Erskine has spent a lifetime riffing on his four kids.

He’s built a mini-empire sharing their stories: three books and a syndicated humour column from his base with the L.A. Times.

His sense of humour is somewhere between the “rock-bottom remainders” of Dave Barry and the suburban drawl of Erma Bombeck (if you remember Erma Bombeck).

He appeared ready to introduce himself to a wider audience when tragedy came knocking.

His 32-year-old son was killed in a car crash this March, weeks before his most recent book, Daditude, was to hit store shelves.

“My humour always comes from a place where I’m just trying to get through it,” Erskine told me during an interview.

“This is the ultimate test of, ‘can you find a smile? Can you laugh about some of his habits ... or are you going to curl up into a little ball and hide in the corner?’”

He admitted that selling a book of humour where one of the main characters dies suddenly is a chore.

But doing anything after losing a child is a chore, he said.

He’s been buoyed by his friends, family, church, neighbours and readers.

It was the latter — through online comments and messages — that made Erskine realize just how many people have lost a child or sibling suddenly.

“It helps me to hear from them,” Erskine said.

He’s happy to report each week has been better.

It amazes me, as a father and a journalist, that he was able to write anything at all.

But his columns honouring son Christopher are poignant, touching and, yes, funny.

In the aftermath, he wrote, “He leaves us that silly Siberian husky he brought home a year ago, the one that thinks there's a squirrel in every tree we pass.

“So frisky, hopeful and full of life. You know, like his owner was.”

I don’t know Erskine personally, and I only recently discovered his column, thanks to his new book (some of his collected works).

But after speaking with him on the phone about Daditude, I feel as if I owe him a great debt.

My fledgling parenting columns — published here, on my blog and in The Daily Courier newspaper — are a pale imitation of his The Middle Ages.

I began our interview by apologizing for unwittingly scalping his material.

“It’s all one big circle of ideas,” he said with a laugh.

It started 20 years ago.

He was a newspaper editor, but yearned to get back into writing. He struck upon his family column and started to write about sports.

Erskine, 61, searches for the lighter side of suburban life without getting sophomoric.

The column found an audience because he looks for the stories that connect us.

He wants you to read his column and put yourself in the starring role.

He likes to represent the dads cutting grass each weekend in dirty, old sneakers that used to drain jump shots at the buzzer in the glory days.

He chronicled life coaching soccer for his daughters, grown women who “make more than me” now.

His youngest son is 15 and is preparing for life after high school.

Because he’s come through the other side of raising kids, of course, I ask for advice.

Of course, he wouldn’t give it. “No, not at all,” he says, laughing again.

He does remind me that I’m in danger of missing it all, or of one day looking back at my three girls and struggling to remember them as babies.

It’s only natural to take advantage of it, but you don’t have to.

My girls are six, five and three years old.

“Those are golden years, all in their own.”

I know that, but it’s hard to remember it when you’re struggling to keep up with housework, yard work and homework.

I also need to remember, Erskine says, that my kids still consider me the “big, mythical creature in their lives” and to honour that.

By the time they’re 10, they’ll have figured out I’m just a sham.

Until then, “you soak up as much of that as you can.”

I’ll try.

Having met Chris Erskine, at least in a professional sense, will help.

I’ll think of the challenges he’s facing.

I’ll open his book when my girls are melting down (because “I want the Rapunzel with the long hair… no, not that one!”) and read a story about “Coach Erskine” grilling rib-eye steaks and remember how much I have ahead of me.

Heck, I have 20 years of column ideas ahead of me.

Mostly, though, I’ll remember Erskine saying that becoming a parent is “the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me.”

I’ll remember there are plenty of people out there who have come through tragedy who want nothing more than for dads like me to hug my girls a little longer tonight.

People like Erskine.

“I’m a little envious,” he says.

Read more about Chris Erskine and Daditude online.

More On Your Father's Side articles

About the Author

David Trifunov is a proud father, humble author and recovering journalist.

Trifunov and his wife, Erin, are raising three little girls in Kelowna and enjoying every second of the trials, triumphs and tribulations.

As a humble author, he has written three middle-grade books for publisher Formac-Lorimer.

To pay the bills so he can raise those kids and write those books, Trifunov is a journalist with 20 years of experience as a reporter and editor.

His parenting column will appear regularly. davidtrifunov.ca

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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