Author Chris Erskine reveals what inspired his book 'Man of the House: Reflections on Life with Dogs, Divas, and a Bunch of Little Dudes Who Keep Calling Me Dad.'
Los Angeles Times columnist Chris Erskine didn't exactly set out to become the father of four children, who now range in age from 3 to 22. "They're sort of like bad hurricanes," he writes in his new collection of humorous parenting essays, Man of the House. "You go along for a while without one and start to think, 'Hey, hurricanes aren't so bad,' and then wham, there goes the boathouse."
However you slice it, fatherhood has provided Erskine with some great material. He recently talked with child.com about what inspires his writing, how he maintains the spark in his marriage, and the secret to running a semi-civilized family meeting.
Q: Your Los Angeles Times column is your take on the American dream. What was your inspiration to make a book of it?
A: Every family is a bit dysfunctional -- not everything works perfectly, but life marches on. The message I want to convey is that there is something comical to be found in the best and worst circumstances. People should never underestimate the power of laughter in family life. There are a lot of messes, but we have to laugh through them.
Q: In your "Dear Santa" letter, you write that the things you think about most are your job, wife, kids, and fear of "screwing it all up." Is screwing it all up your greatest fear?
A: Yes. Most guys worry about what would happen if they couldn't take care of the people they love, the ones who just steal your heart. For young dads the whole parenting deal is frightening because it's their first dose of reality -- they're launched into this new world where the fear of screwing it all up equals not being able to provide. And that's still my fear. On top of that, workplaces aren't as family-friendly as they once were. So you can't be completely into your work, and you can't be completely into your family. The hidden message here is that you need balance.
Q: What's the secret to a well-run family meeting? Is it really popcorn, as you assert in your book?
A: It's creativity. I have a friend who holds his family meetings in a big bathtub filled with pillows. The trick is to remind your kids of the little things and, most important, ask them for feedback. That way, they know their voices are being heard. Our family meetings are often just Sunday dinners; it's a nice way to have a meeting without really having one.
Q: You say that you're a "Los Angeles abnormality" because you have four children with the same wife. In a time when divorce rates continue to climb, how do you ensure your relationship stays evergreen?
A: In L.A., where cupid is a lawyer, you really need to have a sense of humor to maintain an "evergreen" marriage. A forgiving spirit is also a must; it's important to realize that you didn't marry a perfect human being. All you can do is collect a series of amazing moments, so when the not-so-amazing moments inevitably come along you have a little stockpile to sustain you.
Q: In the chapter "Jack Daniel's Makes Mustard," you compose a letter to your departed father and ask him for advice. What was the one thing you wish your dad had taught you about being a father?
A: How relentless the demands of parenting are -- and how it's something you simply have to come to terms with. But really, having a family and parenting is not about learning but about self-discovery. You do learn, but it's more about growing to understand the long haul, which is something you just have to experience.
Q: What is the most important lesson you and your family learned throughout your experience writing this book?
A: That routine, day-to-day things can be special. Like a ride home from a softball game -- that can be very magical. My kids were flattered that their lives were worthy of a book, and it makes them proud. Not every dad can be a Kennedy or a Schwarzenegger, but you do your best and you persevere.
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