Here’s to Dads

My son Smartacus was hunched over his breakfast the other morning. I assumed in prayer, but as it turned out, he was just getting caught up on his TikTok and various other short-form literature. Such fare is currently melting the minds of our youth, the way Elvis once did, the way comic books and TV once did.

Now it’s these video clips that they obsess over. Trust me, it can’t be worse than what they’ll be obsessing over in 10 or 20 years. 

Let us pray.

I feel I’ve failed as a father, in the same way my own dad must’ve felt when he saw me sprawled on the couch watching reruns of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Most guys mentally zoomed in on Elly May. Not me. For me, it was Miss Hathaway. That’s probably what worried Dad the most.

“Always been a sucker for really smart women,” I told him when I was 15. “Rich ones too. And the stupid ones…. “

“Go mow the lawn,” he barked.

Point is: Skim the fat off of pop culture, and that’s where you’ll find your kids playing in the pool. The shallowest, most-insipid stuff seems to aid the development of young and impressionable brains.

That’s my excuse anyway. As is the current fashion, I blame other people for everything that’s bad about me.

Let us pray again.

Most socialization now takes place digitally. The iconic image of our time is a total idiot walking into traffic while enthralled with his smart phone.

Meanwhile, there are goofs like me, still reading a daily newspaper.

The other morning, the paper failed to arrive and it was as if the previous day never happened. Apparently, I still need the physical paper to check off the calendar in my head.

I imagined all the characters from all the comics, looking at the camera with their hands upturned, the word bubbles saying: “Where is everybody? What gives? OK, I’m taking the day off.”

I’m a very tactile guy. I touch everything. You should see me eat popcorn. With peanuts it’s worse. No fingers, just the palms…shoveling.  Ribs are a full-body experience, sauce flying, like a battlefield reenactment.

There is nothing dainty about me, and if I scratch an elbow doing yardwork, there is a small joy to that. Not sure why. Life is a contact sport, I guess. We’re only alive when we hurt a little.

Hence, newspapers. Like me, they hurt a little.

When the paper didn’t arrive the other day, that triggered the usual Socratic digital debate over the merits of a physical paper, the opposition led by cretins who say reading the news on the phone is even better.

These are the same people who prefer imitation crab, soy burgers, fake boobs, false bravado, phone sex and Trevor Noah.

These are the same dweebs who prefer food trucks to picnics, football over baseball, grape juice to wine, Billie Eilish to Billy Joel.

No judgment. Certainly not from me. These cretins simply like what they like. I like what I like. Honestly, I’m a cretin too, just one with a warm and visceral soul.

A morning paper is — like love, like a full moon — an experience best shared with others. A morning paper is someone slipping their hand into yours.

Every morning, my son Smartacus and I evaluate the state of society by poring over the sports page, almost line by line, as if performing an audit.

The sports page is how I’ve taught all my kids to read.

I hope that like cable cars, vinyl records and ma-and-pa diners, newspapers will be with us forever. I kinda doubt it. But I want it badly.

Let us pray.

Phones are to newspapers what grocery carts are to tall-masted ships. Newspapers flutter in a stiff breeze…they talk to you, they cackle. I find a physical paper to be strangely provocative, like a Picasso — not traditionally pretty, yet alluring…beddable.

Yeah, I’m weird, not even close to normal. I’m a dad, and that’s taken its usual  toll.

I apologize on behalf of all the loopy dads out there. Thing is, we are the world’s last traditionalists…the holdouts on everything of any actual value.

Dads are Diogenes with a fading lamp, trying to read a Lotto ticket in the dark.

Look, dads like what they like: Recliners, card tricks, vintage cars, good yard care. And traditional newspapers.

It’s not difficult to understand dads. They hate shortcuts. Hate fads.

Dads hate IKEA furniture, for instance. They feel IKEA symbolizes everything that has gone wrong in the past 50 years.

Fortunately, dads are goofs, prideful in their ability to make a joke of everything. They even have their own line of humor. Seriously, has anyone ever heard a “Mom joke?”

I was with my wife for 40 years and never heard her tell a single joke. She could be quick with a quip, spin a good story. But tell a joke? Not once.

Here’s the progression of a modern American father:

Most dads start to grow stiff and achy by 40. By 50, they are often a little cranky.

By 60, dads are the grandest celebration of modern manhood that God has ever produced — jutty and strong … sculptural, not an ounce of fat or fluff, keen in mind and spirit, inspirational in the way of Leonidas or Hannibal.

By the time he turns 70, a dad is the embodiment of all that is artful and magnificent about our mortal world.

By 80, most dads are dead.

Know what kills them? Nagging. Just a hunch, but I think it’s the nagging. And the chores.

No one values a dad till you need one. Dad is where you go when you wreck the car. Or lose a job. Or you can’t get the garage door to close.

They are the only customer service that actually helps.

Dads are about as hip as a Bible, as cool as a slide rule, about as trendy as Home Depot wine.

Like newspapers, dads are tactile, dads are real. They have a few scars and emotional dings, so many that they’ve forgotten where they all came from.

Who cares? They’re dads.

Certainly, dads have their quirks. They have their own aromas — more moose than marigolds. My own dad smelled like a combo of cheese, Sea & Ski and walleyed pike.

Moms claim to be cold till it’s about 85 degrees out. Dads start to blister when the temperature hits 70.

They’re not so great with birthdates or anniversaries. A dad will forget your birth year but remember how many three-homer games Ernie Banks had (4). Or what Tom Watson shot in the third round at Muirfield in 1980 (64). Duh.

Sure, there are bad dads. I don’t really know any. Scoff all you want at the suburbs, but the ’burbs don’t really tolerate bad dads. There is a stigma to it, followed by group stomping. Yeah, there’s been an uncle here and there who were cads, who didn’t have much follow-through.

But you see more bad dads on streaming TV than in real life. The bad dad is an archetype, a foil, a comic solution for weak writers.

One of the beauties of “Ted Lasso,” the finest TV show in years, is that he was a deeply devoted father.

Generally, I don’t care for what the media says about dads. And, obviously, the feeling is mutual.

Thing is, good dads give blood on a daily basis. Good dads – and grandpas, and moms, and grandmas – show up. They are America’s greatest natural resource.

In a world built increasingly on emojis and avatars, dads are the real deal.

I appreciate dads, even if no one else does, in the same way I appreciate newspapers.

What I suspect is that I like any decent thing that has fallen completely out of fashion.

By now, you realize that fashionable things are a farce, right? An illusion. A total scam.

Our fathers certainly did.

So, psalms to my old man. And more psalms to yours.

Oh, heavenly fathers…

Best gifts I ever got were my four kids. Next best, this incredible grandbaby. Third? This incredible book, “Daditude,” a funny ode to fatherhood. There are still a few copies left, but move quickly because we only printed, like, 10 copies. For info, please click here. Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day to all the guys who give blood on a daily basis. You know who you are. Cheers.

19 thoughts on “Here’s to Dads

  1. Oh my, Chris. You just said everything about dads and newspapers and modern society worth saying. Nailed it. But that’s what dads do. No muss, no fuss. Just take care of business 24/7. I cannot wait to hear how you will define grandpas, since I was never lucky enough to know mine. Catty Cakes will. Lucky girl. Your kids are blessed to have you and I know they know it. Enjoy your Day tomorrow. Well deserved.

  2. “No one values a dad till you need one. Dad is where you go when you wreck the car. Or lose a job. Or you can’t get the garage door to close.” Hey, I’m batting .666!

  3. Wrecked the car? Check. Lost a job? Not yet but I am her career counselor. Let me add one: cross country move. Three times in three years. Got my PhD in apartment packing! But then she says, “Thank you, daddy.” and all is well in the world.

  4. Still love the real paper !
    Got lost the other day trying to find one after the delivery guy lost my house !
    Batting 1000 on dad duties
    Wait till you move your son out of the dorms in Oregon!
    Road trip !
    If a student survives a year in a college dorm they can survive anything !

  5. Herein lies the tactile mind, feeling it’s way through the zeitgeist, touching things yearning to be touched, sliding fingers over needy surfaces, fingertips turning the pages of the morning newspaper to hear the paper crackle like baseball bats in pregame practice; and poking cellphones off. And tactile minds like tactile women, and vice versa. They both rise to the hoop and put the ball through, together. It’s a slam dunk. The father of all things is experience, the mother of it all is love, and herein is the marriage of both; which is real. Dreams catalyze romance but are no substitute for it, and the virtual will never substitute for the touch and press of flesh and bone. Like Dads, who are a sometimes visceral but always sensate presence of the real. You’ve got the touch, Chris.

  6. You’re a great Dad. Chris Erskine. And don’t you forget it!
    And, yes, Daditude is a great book! Bought ours then another for the son in law. His intro to you—our whole family hooked on you now. Stood in line in Aliso Viejo to meet you and young Smartacus, back when he was “the Boy,” and get the book signed. Out of books! Stayed to meet you anyway—our main reason for being there. Ordered the book and still love it. You should write vol. 2. Hrandparenting while parenting is a whole new adventure. And yes, your grandbaby is gorgeous! Like the rest of you.
    Happy Father’s Day. May get my hubby a subscription to the newspaper for his gift. He feels about them almost as much as you do.

  7. Happy Father’s Day, Chris. So nice that you are able to celebrate with a brand new baby girl. Ironic that you spent some time talking about newspapers. The new owners of the world’s greatest newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, are trashing and slashing as quickly as they can.A half dozen of their best, longtime columnists took a buy out this week.They were all gone in a few days. That was where I first encountered you, by the way.

  8. So our paper just didn’t arrive one day last week. We called to request a replacement. Guess when it came? In the packet with the next day’s paper! What a disappointment.

    1. Nancy, ours too. And I didn’t even call. Just arrived bundled with the next day’s paper.

  9. What a lovely tribute to dads. Yes good dads show up! Smiled thinking about my dear old dad who would’ve been 91. Also LOVE the newspaper! At one point I couldn’t decide between Daily Herald and the Trib…so I got both. Now I watch as Schmich, Stevens, Zorn, Kass and Chapman (among others) take the buyout and leave my beloved Chicago Tribune. Argh. What’s the world coming to? Happy Father’s Day to you and all the dads out there. Enjoy your day and especially your time with Cattie Cakes!

  10. Not only do I have to feel the paper to read the news, but I love to feel a real BOOK in my hands. I am very tactile. Wonderful column about Dads and so true! Now and then, I still think of calling my Dad with a question, but he passed 4years ago. You captured all the amazing traits of a great Dad, because you are one!!! Happy Father’s Day with your beautiful family and the first with your first granddaughter!!!

  11. Hey Chris, you nailed it as usual. I’m a 64 year old Dad that feels the same way about the newspaper. They are currently destroying my Chicago Tribune, as the buyout has left most of the great columnists taking their buyouts and leaving. I fear not much will be left of it, but I still have the comics, word search & sports. Thanks for your great work, as I always have your words to look forward to.

  12. Happy Father’s Day Mr Erskine! Still receiving the L.A. Times even after your departure. I also have a bum knee. May I suggest taking up golf?

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