Just in time for Father's Day, Chris Erskine is back in his hometown of Barrington signing copies of his 3rd book, 'Daditude - The Joys and Absurdities of Modern Fatherhood'.
Erskine, an editor and features columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is known for his humorous articles on life in the suburbs. Growing up in Barrington and having lived in a suburb of Los Angeles for 28 years, he knows suburbia well. He has the ability to highlight hilarity in the mundane. We caught up with Chris Erskine to learn more about him and his new book.
Living60010: When did you develop a passion for writing? Was there a teacher or an assignment that you remember sparking your interest?
Chris Erskine: My first positive feedback on my writing came in the 5th grade, at Grove Avenue Elementary, in Barrington, with Miss Piner. I think that was her name. She gave me an A for a story I did on discovering Santa gifts in a closet. I didn’t seriously get into writing till college. I wanted to become the next Jim Murray, a legendary sportswriter. So far I have fallen far short. But I’ve written three books now, and have managed to make a full-time living as a writer, including TV work and a syndicated column. So it’s all good, as they say.
Living60010: What year did you graduate from BHS?
Chris Erskine: 1974, a couple of years after Gary Fencik, the Chicago Bear, and a year or two before Gary Hallberg, the PGA golfer. All the good athletes were named Gary. It was a very rough school back then (just kidding). I was kind of a dork in high school. Still am.
Living60010: Did you have any jobs growing up in the area?
Chris Erskine: I mowed every lawn in town at some point. In college, we painted house numbers on street curbs in Fox Point, for 2 bucks a pop. I spent it all at Dee’s Deli and Dog N Suds. Some of your readers will remember those places. In college, I covered some high school summer baseball for the Barrington Courier-Review, my first newspaper gig.
Living60010: Any favorite memories from Barrington?
Chris Erskine: Oh yeah, we lived on our bikes. We built tree forts, we camped in the woods behind St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church. We played hockey on Baker’s Lake. We saw every movie that came to the Catlow Theater, sometimes sneaking in from the alley between shows. It was Mayberry. Still is, except kids don’t go outside so much. Maybe it’s all the central air conditioning there is now, and of course, the video games.
We lived outside at this time of year. We’d leave in the morning and come home at dark. It was so different but so good. You learned to socialize, stand up for yourself, argue, fight. You caught some sun, went barefoot the whole summer. The bottoms of our feet got like shoe leather.
Kids today seem pinned down, almost oppressed by their active schedules. But times change, and kids don’t have the perspective we do. They just know what they know. Tell you what, it’s still an amazing lifestyle here, the school, the sports facilities, just the lush beauty of the place. Great town to grow up any time. I come back often to see my sister Holly, who still lives in Deer Park.
Living60010: Where did you go to college?
Chris Erskine: Drake University, The Harvard of the Midwest. There are about 150 colleges that call themselves “The Harvard of the Midwest.”
Living60010: Did you go into college wanting to be a writer or did you consider other careers?
Chris Erskine: I was going into television, like my dad. Don’t know why I thought Drake would help with that. But he recommended a broad liberal arts education, so Drake offered that, and I eventually majored in journalism. It wasn’t a bad school. It wasn’t a great school. It was sort of the Bucknell of the Midwest. But I enjoyed it and made a lot of lifelong friends.
Living60010: How did you land in Los Angeles?
Chris Erskine: I worked at newspapers in New Orleans and Miami, sort of working my way up to the big leagues. Both those papers were terrific, but to make any money in newspapers, you needed to work at a really big paper. L.A. also offered some movie and TV writing opportunities that I couldn’t get anywhere else. I always admired great dialogue. Movies absolutely suck now. Best movies I ever saw were at the Catlow: “The Sting,” Chinatown,” “The Graduate,” all at the Catlow. So glad to see that amazing little theater still going strong. Props to Barrington for supporting it so well.
Living60010: Your family seems to be a source of material, tell me a little about your wife and kids:
Chris Erskine: Well, I think family is the most relatable topic in the world. I focus on the little things we undergo as a family, and lately some huge difficulties. Life is full of ups and downs, of course. Almost everyone suffers some great setback at some point. As they say, it’s not what happens to you so much as how you handle that. We try to stress that with our kids.
Living60010: You have two previous books, Man of the House & Surviving Suburbia, if you had taken a different path in life - urban living/no kids what do you think you would have written about?
Chris Erskine: Really great question. I’m not sure. I have had a mostly suburban life. Out suburb near L.A. is similar in a lot of ways to Barrington. I enjoy cities though, the energy and the creativity. If I was writing about cities right now, I would write about how young adults are being priced out. It could change the very nature of cities if they lose their youthful and Bohemian edge.
Living60010: Is there a moment when you realized you were all in - 'Daditude'? Or was it a gradual progression?
Chris Erskine: “Daditude” includes my favorite columns from the past 15 years, so it was very gradual. It includes first-day-of-kindergarten stuff and college drop-offs. Lots of day-to-day joys and frustrations. One writer called it a cross between Jim Gaffigan and John Updike. I wish. That’s pretty generous. I just hope people will see themselves in the book. It’s a kind of comfort food, I think.
Living60010: Any advice for dads with Father's Day coming up?
Chris Erskine: Whiskey. Beer. And don’t sweat the small stuff. Because they grow up too damn fast.
Erskine will be signing books at the Barnes & Noble in Crystal Lake Saturday at 1:00 p.m. For additional information about the signing click here
Learn more about Chris Erskine and read his more recent columns for the Los Angeles Times here