Dads Never Die

Let me tell you a little about my old man.

His fingers quivered when he knotted a necktie, and he wasn’t as patient as he could’ve been in traffic. I seem to have inherited his affinity for being thoroughly uncool in slightly stressful moments.

I also inherited his affinity for adventure.

For instance, my dad loved old shacks and country roads.

We once stumbled upon a fishing shack on the outskirts of New Orleans, the kind of authentic and earthy spot he adored. The shack was set on stilts over brackish water, and there were trapdoors in the floor where the Cajuns dropped their fishing lines. Occasionally, they’d pull in a gator. Sometimes a gar.

By trade, my father worked in the glitzy, maniacal world of live television. But what he really liked were good books with texture and grit. Or taking out a rental rowboat at dawn — a thermos of coffee, a good cigar to ward off the bugs.

You don’t need a network expense account for that. Not for the good stuff. Not for the stuff you remember.

When Dad baited fish hooks, his fingers never quivered.

Though he is gone now, I still see him in a summer sunset. I still see him in a flight of geese.

He had only a little college (night classes at Northwestern) but a no-nonsense Catholic education. Let’s be honest: Isn’t that better?

He seemed to know everything about everything, read the paper front to back to sideways, chatted up cabbies and cops. Mom used to say Dad knew every barkeep in Chicago.

Some women prefer difficult men. Dad wasn’t difficult. But he was a little tricky.

He liked the Tijuana Brass, Neil Simon and the Beatles. He rocked a $50 sport coat, preferably plaid. I remember the day he brought home his first leisure suit.

To me, it represented the end of civilization as we knew it.

Dad!!! Really? What’s next, sideburns? Granny glasses?

Mostly, he was a traditionalist. Loved steak houses, hot dog stands and gumbo shops. Drove Chevys and Fords, while buying Mom big, buxom American sedans.

In summer, he smelled of tomato plants and Sea & Ski. In winter, Old Spice and Italian beef sandwiches.

When he ate Greek for lunch, there was so much residual garlic that Mom would have to bunk in another room.

Like I said, he could be a little tricky.

I remember when I found a stack of Playboys under his bed. I was stunned, because I was pretty certain he was deeply in love with Angie Dickinson. Then later, Mary Tyler Moore.

His heroes were wise-guys and iconoclasts: Tim Conway, Peter Falk, Lee Marvin, Alan Alda and anyone else who skewered the pompous and the smug.

I’ll never forget when he latched on to Ronald Reagan — like a man clinging to a life preserver. I was appalled, because Dad had solid working-class roots. He’d always been a devoted Kennedy Democrat, a fan of Studs Terkel and Slats Grobnik.

Reagan? Really? I was stunned because I knew Dad was mostly right about things. He knew that Gibsons were superior to martinis. He knew that Nicklaus was better than Palmer. 

How could he be wrong about Reagan? Like many sons, I pushed back, while knowing that my dad had the best radar ever – on a par with Twain, Truman or Cronkite.


He passed three decades ago. If he survived to see the world today, the state of modern sitcoms alone would’ve killed him.

Not quite sure what he’d think about the current roar of worry…the brittle state of the republic. Having survived the Depression and WWII, I don’t think he’d have much patience for so much complaining.

Trust me, Dad never lost much sleep over the plight of middle-class American kids. 

Life today might’ve turned him bitter and mean. Or it might’ve made him funnier than ever – added more sparkle to his squinty Irish eyes.

I was his only son. Imagine having one son, and it turns out to be me? That’s where humor comes from.

But he was always a good sport about it. In many ways, he was my best and greatest friend.

So, I’ll gladly accept his hand-me-down mirth. And cherish a couple of his soup-stained neckties.

I could never crush a golf ball the way he could … or nail the punchline … or land a fish.

But I got something else: his wonderful sense of mirth.

Thanks, Pops.

Happy Father’s Day.

The Gin & Tonic Society bash near the Rose Bowl has been put on hold. New date and location TBD. Meanwhile, please check out for books and gin glasses. Cheers to all the dads.

21 thoughts on “Dads Never Die

  1. Well done Erskine
    My dad was an EM with the 5th Gordon Highlanders in the trenches of WWI after suffering horrendous wounds being left for dead for more than a day then being declared unfit for service he joined the RFC later the RAF and flew Sopwith Camels. I never really got to know him in the 15 years we had together.
    You are a lucky man!
    Happy Father’s Day
    Ian Robertson

  2. i’m glad YOUR Dad was good, Chris- for mine was a monster! when he wasn’t yelling at or beating Mom, he was doing so to me, his eldest (of 3) offspring! when finally they divorcedc when i was barely 12, he shortly thereafter married a pain pill-addicted barfly and proceeded to repeatedly molest her 2 daughters (his stepdaughters), aged 12 & 14 (i was only saved by the divorce!) MY Dad can (and is!) rot in hell- Happy Father’s Day? not so much for me!!!

  3. What a wonderful tribute to a special dad! Thankful for the sense of mirth you inherited from him. So much of him clearly lives on in you. Thank you for sharing him with us, including those great old pics. Happy Father’s Day to you both.

  4. Beautiful column….my own father has been gone a few years shy of two decades, and I also was lucky enough to inherit his sense of mirth and interest in other people’s stories…..I feel his presence most when I start chatting up strangers in nearly empty elevators, airplane flights and supermarket or post office lines. Thank you for sharing your incredible musings/sense of mirth twice a week with each of us!

  5. That was a fine tribute to your father. He sounds like quite a character and similar to my own Dad. They just don’t make them any better do they? Happy Father’s Day, I hope you have wonderful weekend. Thanks for the memories.

  6. Thank you for the tribute to your Dad. My Dad was Swedish and neutral, as he never got involved in anything. My sister and I would be rolling around on the living room floor attempting to kill each other and Dad would say “Girls. Keep it down”, as I ran to find a weapon in the kitchen. And he also liked Reagan. Dad went to a small college and played football and was in a fraternity. Reagan was a former brother in the same frat and came back to campus for football games and such. And, Dad’s favorite book was “Profiles in Courage” by John F. Kennedy. I miss him terribly. Happy Dad’s Day, Dude.

      1. Yes, Eureka College. He also played football. He was in TKE, the “tekes”. Many thanks!

  7. Lovely tribute to your dad who clearly passed on more than mirth. Great pics too. And you’re right. Dad’s never die as long as we keep them alive in our hearts and minds. My wonderful dad (who also could be tricky) has been gone 12 years (he’d be 93 today) and I miss him every day. He was one of the best! Happy Father’s Day, Chris!

  8. Great tribute to your dad and such a loving one. I also had a wonderful dad and he reminded me very much of yours.

    He had four daughters and there was this quote he often repeated as advice on how to get along in life. It was the following:
    Be respectful, be responsible
    and have a sense of humor about yourself! We didn’t always follow his advice but appreciated it more as we got older.

    I was always grateful I was lucky enough to be his daughter.
    Happy Father’s to you.

  9. Great stuff as always, Chris. Happy Father’s Day to you, and cheers to your Dad. I feel pretty fortunate in that my 84-year-old dad and my 32-year-old son are two of my closest friends. Based on what most of us know all too well, I do my best to enjoy every day. Thanks again.

  10. What a special Father’s wcolumn. Thanks for sharing so much about him with us. And I hope you had a lovely Father’s Day.

  11. How lucky to have had a dad! Think of how many of us only dreamed of how it would be like to have a dad!! My husband is the kind of dad to our kids that I wish I had! Your kids are so lucky!!

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