Eric David’s son Dylan, 10, has been fighting brain cancer since 2007, and this has inherently become a big part of his family’s story. His older son Chandler, 12, is a budding singer and performer. Eric, his wife Jana, and their sons live in Los Angeles. Eric has worked in Project Management and Ad Operations at TakePart, Myspace, Netflix, and Infoseek. He is also an independent writer interested in cinema’s relation to spirituality. He is currently working on a book about his son’s battle with cancer, using the classic “Death Be Not Proud” as a template.
Disney Dads spoke with Eric about his dad, his own experiences and struggles of being a father, and his family’s focus on having fun and making memories they’ll have forever. Here’s what he had to say:
Exhibiting Marble Behavior
Next week we have a special activity planned. It has to do with a marble system we have. We have two jars — one has marbles, and the other is empty. And if the boys get along with each other and do something nice for one another, they get a marble put into the jar.
The boys now refer to good behavior as “marble behavior.” And then the idea is, you never take a marble out of the jar as punishment; it’s always positive reinforcement. This weekend their reward is that we’re going to play put-put golf at a glow-in-the-dark golf place we have here.
Once the jar gets completely filled with marbles, the reward is family trip to Disneyland.
A Family of Vegetarians
I’ve been a vegetarian since I was about 18 — so almost 30 years. I did go on a diet where I’ve lost 120 pounds and a requirement of the diet was that I eat meat, so I sucked it up and ate the meat. I treated it like medicine. But I’ve lost the weight now, and I’ve become a vegan, and I’m actually training for the Los Angeles Marathon [ed note: since this interview Eric ran and finished the marathon.]
The kids came to the [vegetarian] decision independently, though. We were on a vacation in Martha’s Vineyard about 5 years ago, and while we were there, Dylan went to a farm camp. At one point he had all these baby chicks crawling on his legs — it was a really heartwarming moment — and he just decided he didn’t want to eat animals after that.
Chandler, our older boy — his decision happened when we were in Europe for a treatment that Dylan was having, and he happened to see a fish monger cutting a head off a fish with a pair of scissors. That was his turning point moment. He said he was done and wasn’t going to eat animals anymore.
Watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” in a “Mad Men” Era
I watched “The Wonderful World of Disney” religiously growing up. We were going through Vietnam then. My parents used to watch the news, and the Disney show was a nice alternative to the reality of what was going on in our country at that time.
We’d sometimes be at our parents’ country club (The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Connecticut), and we’d be a huge group of kids all watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” together. On Sundays, my dad would play golf at the country club, and then he’d come home and change his clothes, and we’d go to the club for dinner.
The kids would all eat together as a family, and while the parents would have drinks together — it was sort of a “Mad Men” era then — the kids would all go into the TV room. And if it was Sunday night, it was always “The Wonderful World of Disney.” And then we’d all talk about it the next day.
I hear myself telling him not to sing because it slows him down when he’s getting ready for school and so forth. And then I kick myself later.
Most of my time spent with the boys is carting them around in the car and doing homework. I try to remember things, like genuinely listening to them. I think about carpe diem a lot, and how I could’ve seized the day in more instances. I mentioned the weight loss, and I wish I had done that years ago.
And Chandler, he likes to sing. He sings all the time, and sometimes I hear myself telling him not to sing because it slows him down when he’s getting ready for school and so forth. And then I kick myself later. I think, “What am I doing?”
Time is limited, no matter what. Whether you’re dealing with cancer or not, sooner or later those moments will be gone because your kids will grow up and leave the house. And all those little moments — if you cherish them, they all add up to something.
It’s harder for us men to go to that place and consider these things. But I know that what I really want is for Chandler to sing all the time and just to let him go crazy and sing and smile and cherish those moments. And since Dylan got sick, creating memories is our mantra.
My favorite Trip With the Kids
We often take vacations with either our family or my wife’s family, but this time it was just us. We were given a Make a Wish trip to Hawaii a couple years ago.
We’d been to Hawaii previously, and Dylan decided he wanted to go back. And on that previous trip, we’d gone to a resort with my family that had a giant water slide. And through the whole week of that trip, he was afraid to go down the slide. And then on the last day, he finally went down. He loved it, and then you couldn’t get him off it.
So here we are, living in Los Angeles, a place with plenty of water slide parks, but Dylan wanted to go to that specific water slide in Hawaii because he had such great memories attached to that particular one. So that’s where we went.
How I try to Be Like My Own Father
I really try to emulate my dad in his faith. In a certain way, I led him to that, but his faith is even stronger than ever. Sometimes it’s very hard to stay positive and keep my faith with everything that goes on in my life with my kids, despite what you might read on my blog. It’s just really hard sometimes. But we try to make that faith part of the kids’ every day lives. My dad is a great model in that way.
Advice for Men About to Become Dads
As with any life changing venture, bear your whole being into it, fearlessly. With your whole heart, devote yourself to being a father. For me, I’m a big reader, so I read a lot of books and blogs, and I talked to experts. Study, learn, plan, and devote your whole self.
And all the things I’ve already said: Be there for your kids, say yes to them more often, and come at it from your heart more than from your head.
There’s a quote I really love: “It is not flesh and blood, but heart which makes us fathers and sons.” Frederich von Schiller
To follow Eric’s family and their ongoing struggles and triumphs, check out these links.
And to learn more about how Eric lost 120 pounds on The Brentwood Diet, check out his dieting blog:
Photos courtesy Jan Birch.