Life is never peaceful in Chris Erskine's house, what with the four kids, 300-pound beagle, chronically leaky roof, and long-suffering wife, Posh. And that's exactly the way he likes it, except when he doesn't. Every week in the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune (and now and then in many other papers), Erskine distills, mocks, and makes us laugh at the absurdities of suburban fatherhood. And now, he's gathered the very best of these witty and wise essaysand invited his kids (and maybe even Posh) to annotate them with updated commentary, which they promise won't be too snarky. This handsome book is the perfect gift for the father who would have everythingif he hadn't already given it all to his kids.
|Publisher:||Prospect Park Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Claton Butcher has narrated dozens of audiobooks and has over fifteen years of experience as a worship leader and music pastor at local churches in Washington, Arizona, and South Dakota. He and his biggest fans-his wife and young daughter-live in the beautiful Black Hills of South Dakota where he operates the Christian audiobook publishing company Two Words Publishing.
Read an Excerpt
Bringing the Baby Home 12
Homemade Soup, the First Fire ... 16
Yeah! A Beagle Puppy 19
Dropping Her at the Dorm 23
Posh Falls in Her Own Purse 26
So Long, First Grade 30
With Mom Gone, Home's Just a House 33
Turning Sixty 36
BRINGING THE BABY HOME
December 18, 2002
The first mistake most new parents make is to take the baby home, leaving behind a hospital full of professionals.
"What's the rush?" I ask.
"I want to go home," my wife says.
"But you've been home before," I say. "You know what that's like."
"Let's go," she says.
So I pull away from the curb the way fathers of newborns always pull away from hospitals, as if driving a load of champagne across rail tracks.
"Watch that bump," my wife says.
"Got it," I say.
They are in the back seat, mother and son, wrapped in blankets against the December chill. More blanket than baby, there's almost nothing to this infant boy. At three days old, he's as light as a passing thought.
"You sure this car seat's tight?" my wife asks.
"I double-checked," I tell her.
She double-checks my double-checking. Moments like that make a long marriage worthwhile.
"Told you," I say.
"Just checking," she explains.
And off for the rest of his life we go, onto the freeway, where I drive the speed limit. Ever driven the speed limit in LA? Of course not. It's unsafe.
Little old ladies in Buicks pass us as if we're standing still. Trucks pass us. Electric cars. Seagulls. Women pushing strollers. Squirrels. Virtually everything in LA is whooshing past us.
"Not too fast," my wife says.
"See that, a Vega," I tell her. "A Vega just passed us."
"Look, he's blowing bubbles," she says, admiring her second son.
The birth was easy. There were painkillers then. Morphine. Demerol. And that was just for the fathers. The mothers got a little help, too.
"The doctor said that during the circumcision, his heartbeat didn't change at all," my wife says proudly.
"No, the baby's," she says.
In a hospital, even a baby senses that things will turn out well. The people are prepared there. A calm efficiency pervades the place.
Now we're headed home, where calm efficiency disappeared in 1983, replaced by a sort of martial law intended to keep things orderly. There are curfews. Chains of command. Constant surveillance. Into this tender truce, we bring the baby.
"They're home!" the little girl screams.
"Someone get the camera," says the older daughter.
"Cheese!" says the boy.
I bring in the flowers. I stow away the baby gear. I stay clear of the baby until there's some sort of septic issue that threatens the public health.
"Can you change him?" my wife asks.
"His diaper," she says. "Can you change his diaper?"
It's been a good ten years since I've changed a baby, and when I say "good" I mean in the sense that I didn't have to change a diaper. For even back then, I was never very good at it.
So I set this new baby on the changing table, where he looks at me skeptically. You can almost read his thought balloons.
"Who are you again?" the baby wonders. "Where's the person with the functioning bosom?" That sort of thing.
"Hold still," I tell him.
He wiggles like a trout.
"You'll fit in fine here," I say.
The baby soon finds that being dressed by his father is akin to the birth experience, only worse.
For example, I can't seem to thread this kid's tiny hand through a shirt hole the size of a nostril. I grab and try to guide his hand through. He pulls away.
I try bringing the hole to the arm instead of the arm to the hole. No luck. I'd have better luck building a microcircuit with my lips.
"Where's his other sock?" asks the little girl.
"What other sock?"
"He's missing a sock," she says.
The world has plenty of socks — more socks than people, probably. More socks than attorneys.
But the loss of this one particular sock concerns us all. It's a symbol of frustrations to come.
Finally, we find the sock. Tiny as a thimble, it had slipped off the changing table, where the dog sniffed it out of sight. When I place a fresh one on his foot, it fits him loose. Lord, he's tiny.
"I've had cheeseburgers bigger than you," I tell him softly.
"Do you always think of food?" he wonders.
"Pretty much all the time," I say.
It's three in the afternoon. Darkness nears. Long nights. And there are many hours to go before we sleep.
HOMEMADE SOUP, THE FIRST FIRE ...
November 3, 2005
It's a fall day. A perfect day. Some complain that the afternoon air is too cool, but we've been sun-blasted hot here in the foothills for five long months. The cool feels good. Like brushing your teeth. Like a snowy kiss.
We need this hint of winter. It herds us toward each other in substantial ways. Toward a kitchen, where soup is simmering.
Yes, I'm making soup. I would make soup even if I didn't like soup. I turn on a football game, I chop some garlic, I boil some water and add a ham bone and some beans. Soup. It's that easy.
The people I live with, the ones I care about most, are not around. It is pleasantly quiet in ways it seldom ever is. You can hear the floorboards creak. The snap of a brass lockset in a good heavy door. House sounds. In the corner, a dog snores softly.
I pour a soft drink over shaved ice. I turn down the sound on the game and put on a Todd Rundgren album. It reminds me of college and the papers I didn't finish. Turns out that finishing stuff is overrated.
"I'll come around to see you once in a while,
Or if I ever need a reason to smile ..."
On TV, the Giants and Cowboys are going into overtime. Somebody loses a helmet. A place kicker practices into a net. I have seen this a thousand times, the closing seconds of a tight ballgame. In heaven, all games go to overtime.
During a Dallas drive, I sample the soup. Needs salt. I add salt. Needs oregano. I add oregano. I had a bad experience with oregano once. It was worse than being mugged. I sprinkle it carefully. Cooking with oregano is like cooking with gunpowder.
In the bedroom, a teenager stirs. He hasn't been sleeping; he's been hibernating. He is a Zits cartoon. He is a James Dean movie. I offer him soup. He scratches his head and mumbles, "I-dunno-I-think-I'd rather-have-cereal." Kids.
I make a fire. It is the first fire of fall, the best fire of fall. I throw in a couple of pinecones to juice the air, and an issue of The New Yorker that I didn't much care for. Overrated, The New Yorker. Too long. Too repetitive. Like a friend of a friend who won't leave.
The people I live with return. They have been out buying a homecoming dress for the little girl. It's a mystery why a little girl needs a homecoming dress since she's still a little girl and will always be my little girl. I refuse to let her grow up. Kids are the opposite of wine. They don't always improve with age.
In the meantime, the toddler sits in the living room, content to play with the dust particles floating in a shard of November sunlight.
"You should see my dress, Daddy," the little girl says.
It's a green dress, the color of martini olives. Macy's, probably. Or maybe the National Guard.
"I don't know if I like this dress," she says, trying it on again.
In my experience, there are two times a woman tries on a dress, in the store and again at home. One has nothing to do with the other. The fact that she liked it in the store will have absolutely no bearing on whether she likes it in her bedroom.
"That dress looks adorable," her mother insists.
"I hate my hair," the little girl says, though it is the color of chestnuts and hangs like expensive linen.
There is the threat of tears. The little girl hates her hair so much, they go out looking for another dress.
"I love her hair," I tell the soup.
"We can't play this game anymore ..." says Todd Rundgren.
There'll be soup here when they get home. And a fire. And a football game. Bread, warm from the oven, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.
The kids will come into the house, since it's too cool and drizzly to stay outside, or to go to the beach, or to hang at some friend's Jacuzzi — all the usual activities that lure children away from the house in warmer months, which are glorious but disruptive. Fun but fractured.
Today, instead, they'll come inside because the house smells of pumpkins and soup, like a country diner on a frosty day. Like a family cabin in the woods.
That's why we like fall.
YEAH! A BEAGLE PUPPY
March 25, 2004
Best moment with the new puppy? When the baby pulled his pacifier out, put it in the dog's mouth, then put it back in his own mouth. That sort of thing can't be good for a little dog.
"Isn't this puppy cute?" my wife says.
"Just keep him off the carpets," I say.
The lovely and patient older daughter is back for spring break, with bags of dirty laundry, a new puppy, and that crème brûlée torch she uses to weld rich, eggy desserts. God bless these college kids for their resourcefulness and lack of forethought.
"She's a puppy raising a puppy," I tell her mother.
"Your daughter's very responsible," her mother notes.
"Yes," I say. "But she's not ready for a puppy."
Who ever is? A new puppy turns a household upside down. He bites everything. He relieves himself where he pleases. One afternoon, I wake from a nap to find him sleeping on my larynx.
"He needs to go out," I say.
"Trust me," I say. "He needs to go out."
Puppies are bred by a consortium of carpet salesmen and floor refinishers. They have damaged more oak than lightning and wind combined. When puppies aren't christening the floors, they are scoping out that new chair you just reupholstered or the carpeting in the bedroom. "Hey, this looks nice," the puppy thinks. "Textured Karastan. My favorite."
Then there's that breath of theirs, a combination of whiskey and truck exhaust. Hemingway had breath like that, most likely. With the faint traces of a bad cigar.
"Who's paying for his shots?" I ask.
"Dogs cost more than children," I tell my daughter.
"Don't worry, Dad."
"Worry?" I ask. "Never."
Like many college kids, my daughter has not fully weighed the financial consequences of this new acquisition. It's much like the way they buy cars, thinking of only the sticker price and not the taxes, insurance, registration, delivery charges, gasoline, oil changes, and all the other ways a car costs you. I guess that's what dads are for. To think ahead. To ask questions. "Ever heard a beagle bark?" I ask my daughter.
"You're in for a treat."
Two days later, the beagle barks his first bark. It is the mournful wail of a man about to be beheaded. Each bark lasts five seconds. Then another one comes. He scares himself with his own noises, so he barks some more.
At eight weeks old, the dog is all bark and all bite.
"He chews everything," my older daughter says.
"He tickles," the little girl says, laughing.
"Ouch," says the boy, attacked by the pup's sewing-needle teeth. "Ouch-ouch- ouch."
The puppy's name is Koa. You know, like the campgrounds. My daughter explained that it is a Hawaiian word for something I can't quite remember. Probably campground.
Despite his youth and loopy demeanor, this puppy seems to be fairly bright. He thinks my wristwatch is his mother. Or he thinks I am his mother and my watchband is some sort of teat.
Then again, maybe he's not that bright. While playing with dust bunnies, which he assumes are alive, the puppy gets stuck beneath the armoire. A day or two earlier, he slid out easily on a belly as soft as cake. Now he's grown enough to get pinned in. He yelps. Stuck.
Meanwhile, our eight-year-old dog is eating the puppy's food. The puppy pops free and runs to eat the cat food. The cat eats the baby's food. And all I can think: Wish we had gone with that Pergo flooring.
"I think life was better," I tell my wife, "when our daughter was just trying to kill us with fancy desserts."
"And your point?" she asks.
"That things can always get worse," I tell her.
We are — more than usual even — a household in turmoil. My March Madness bracket is a disaster. The cars need work. School projects are behind schedule. No one has eaten a vegetable in, like, four days.
And on Saturday, a red-chested robin is in the garage eyeing the rafters for her nest. Lot of curb appeal, our house. There's the entire rest of the world, but this mother robin picks our place to start a family, up in the dry, dark pine rafters of the garage, where the hula hoops are stored. Who keeps hula hoops anymore? I guess we do.
And as I write this, a pregnant sparrow is tapping on a window that looks out over the ever-greener backyard, asking if we might spare a room.
"Believe me, pal," I warn her, "this is no place for living things."
Yet, they keep coming: puppies, toddlers, the pregnant birds — to the loud, little home under the olive trees. To the house with a hundred heartbeats.
DROPPING HER AT THE DORM
August 29, 2009
Our Pickett's Charge into the Midwest is a roaring success. We drop off the little girl at a fine school that, or a mere thirty or forty grand, will keep tabs on her for an entire academic year. Good deal, I say. Heck, she spends that much on Starbucks.
"I'd have paid more," I tell Posh.
"We don't have any more," she says.
By the way, if you're taking a daughter to college soon, might I recommend renting one of those C-130 transport planes, a whopping-big aircraft with abundant trunk space. That's what we did, and it took us only two round-trip flights.
The first load was entirely shoes. The second trip was scarves and scrapbooks. We shipped the rest ahead of time. (Thanks, UPS!)
Not since the Berlin Airlift has the world experienced anything like this. Evidently, freshman year now requires four tons of clothes, hangers, little clutch purses, cheap IKEA storage units, tape dispensers, tennis rackets, silverware, ramen noodles, gauze. I swear, Posh and I were married twenty years before we accumulated this much junk.
Still, the little girl forgot a few things. Here, in her words, is the email list of items she needs us to send:
* lavender body lotion that's by my sink
* hair products near the lamp on my dresser in the bathroom (pink
Bed Head bottle, clear shiny bottle with gray top)
* perfume (Anna Sui on my dresser)
* hanger clips, they are attached to my shoe rack in my closet
* one white shoe rack from on top of my closet
* scarf rings that are hanging from my closet
* your brown Uggs [meaning her mother's]
* safety pins
* Trader Joe's dried mango, trail mix, some Arizona iced tea, any other nice goodies you're willing to throw in ...
Hey, kid, how about me? I'm a "goodie." I'd be handy to have around the dorm for a few weeks. Dogs and dads. That's what a real home requires. And the smell of garlic from the kitchen. Not scarf rings. Not Anna Sui perfume.
As you can see, the little girl is a little too brand conscious sometimes, a California kid now living among the children of the corn. Our daughter prefers those big sunglasses that make her look like a bumblebee, and she spends too much on the coolest T-shirts and shorts.
Yeah, she's cool, all right. Wait till her classmates find out she still believes in Santa Claus.
Emotionally, the trip went fine. In an effort to keep us strong, I barely blubbered at all — at least publicly, which is a nice change for me.
I am, by nature, a "stablist," in the sense of wanting as much stability in life as possible and very little change. All that hooey you hear about change being good is just some MBA motivational tactic. Most change is rotten, and everybody knows it.
If it were up to me, our daughter would still be eight years old and the only time she would leave is for sleepovers at Amanda's house.
Now, she's at the ultimate sleepover, an American college. I'll never forget standing outside her un-air-conditioned dorm last week, staring up at this four- story cinderblock monstrosity, thinking, "We've really sent her here? Was she convicted of something?"
There were box fans in every single window, so many that I feared her dorm might actually lift from the ground, like that house in Up.
To keep the building earthbound, we filled it with stuff. Boxes. Suitcases. Our daughter.
When we finally got everything in, we stalled awhile to make sure she was settled. After the third day of this, we decided it was time to say goodbye. By then, I was pretty sure one of us might melt. Turns out I have a heart, for I think I heard it buzzing. Or maybe I inhaled a locust. All I know is that I couldn't speak.
So, so long, baby. Weather is certain to be a factor in your first semester there in the Middle West. First, the blistering heat. Then, the blistering cold.
In between, we hope, there will be one of those glorious Midwestern falls. The big campus is thick with oaks and maples, and they are bound to be aglow in early October. If it's an especially good year, maybe the trees will match the fire in the cheeks of you and your classmates, so fresh-faced and excited about this great escape.
Really, is there anything better than freshman year? I think not.
Back home, amid the click-click-click of the clock on the mantel — or your too quiet bedroom — I am working to remember that.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Daditude"
Copyright © 2018 Chris Erskine.
Excerpted by permission of Prospect Park Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Let Me Explain ..., 9,
On the Road, 79,
Fathers & Daughters, 97,
Fathers & Sons, 117,
A Few Favorites, 135,
Why Her?, 177,