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Chairman of the boards: A dad’s perspective

A local surfer dad reflects on disasters, fires and family

Posted: July 18, 2008 12:09 a.m.
Updated: September 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Eric Christiansen rides a gentle wave at Surfside Beach, just south of Huntington Beach.

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I woke up in the middle of night last night smelling smoke, thinking the house was on fire. I raced to the hallway to alert the family and get the kids.

Fortunately, the house was not really on fire, and there was no smell of smoke. I had fallen asleep watching coverage of the Gap fire in Goleta. It brought back memories of 18 years ago, when, on June 27, my home burned down in the Painted Cave Fire in Santa Barbara.

This was to be the biggest lesson in my life. As I have come to realize, many times the horrific things in your life are the biggest blessings in disguise.

Seven months after the fire destroyed my home and 450 others, I was struck by the fact this was not a disaster, but a new beginning. At that point I decided the slate was wiped clean for a reason. I seized upon the opportunity to rise from the proverbial ashes. I changed everything in my life and reprioritized.

From that pivotal disaster the Christiansen family came to be. This past June 26, my wife and I celebrated 15 years of marriage. Over the years we have been given stewardship of three wonderful children, our first-born Peter, now 10, Will, 8, and the princess, Kathryn, 6.

These years have not always been easy. Our marriage has survived the deaths of parents, stretches of economic insecurity and just plain not liking each other, but still being in love. For us divorce was never an option. The cold realization that a marriage requires work and sacrifice has saved us.

However, as a husband, my biggest obstacle has been getting past myself and seeing the bigger picture.

It is with a mix of jealousy and anger that I watch many men my age leave their families to "find themselves."

The comment "I am not getting what I need" cannot be in my vocabulary. It is here I fight my ultimate battle against a formidable foe: my own ego.

The phrase "this separates the men from the boys" was once explained to me as: "Boys want immediate gratification and all effort is directed toward self-reward; men know that anything worth doing takes time and the rewards will be greater, and that all worthy endeavors result in helping others."

The theme of self-sacrifice continues through to my family. I was told early on that I never "babysit" my own children. Instead, I have the honor of being with them. It is with this principle in mind that I have set out to parent my children.

Unfortunately, in my upbringing I never had a strong male role model. It is truly through God's grace, asking for help and finding role models in my circles, that I have been able to overcome this.

I wake up to Christmas every morning when I see their faces and Thanksgiving every night when I put them to bed.

Recently my wife went back to work. We are blessed that her real estate business is thriving in an otherwise gloomy market. But her employment has forced me and the rest of the family into a position of greater responsibility.

If somebody had told me a year and a half ago that I would be planning all menus and doing the shopping while getting the kids to school and running my own business, I would have said, "Bunk, can't do it!"

However, like the fire, this has turned into a blessing. Although many days I struggle with being overwhelmed, worried that I am not getting MY time, the sense of accomplishment and the quality of the bond with my family is worth every minute. I like to say, "Sometimes the most spiritual thing I do is the dishes!"

The Painted Cave fire was the start of a process: one of humbling me and diminishing my ego. It is a slow process and a constant struggle, but a necessary one in order for my family to thrive.

I live for the days when I escape to the mountains, the surf or skatepark for a tasty "sesh" with my best friends, my boys, Peter and Will. I relish the "dates" I have with my princess Kathryn and the endless stream of chat and the twinkle in her eyes.

I look forward to getaways with my wife so I can be reminded of why I married her. Born of fire and molded by circumstances, we have formed a family with lasting bonds.

I look forward to sharing our life experiences with family, life, surfing, skateboarding and snowboarding with The Signal's readers. It is my hope and prayer that this column will serve dads in this valley with a nod of recognition, a laugh and maybe even a source of inspiration.

Eric Christiansen is a Santa Clarita resident who directs and edits TV commercials and documentaries. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.

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