June 17, 2021
For Men’s Health Month and Father’s Day, we spoke with Clark Brigger about what it takes to be a great dad to a child with a chronic illness, and his 26-year-old son Erik,a young man with lupus. The answer – to share your personal strengths and do not strive for perfection.
Erik was first diagnosed at 8-years old after years of symptoms including severe abdominal pain, fatigue and light-headedness that were managed but not defined as “lupus.” The family spent much time in emergency rooms and traveling to hospitals for consults – while Clark worked long hours at the University of Michigan, Penn State and now at the University of Colorado. Yet despite setbacks and ongoing treatment, the family spent quality time together, enjoying concerts and sporting events, going on vacations
Along with Erik’s mom Heather, Erik and Clark have been very involved with the Lupus Research Alliance for many years, taking part in our annual Walk with Us to Cure Lupus, fundraising and keeping up on all the latest lupus news. Clark notes that they fund the LRA because the organization does so much with the research dollars. “While other groups have high overhead, we were impressed that 100% of the money raised goes to lupus research to find a cure.”
He also finds the affiliation with the LRA an effective way to connect with other families going through similar experiences. “The Lupus Research Alliance is very helpful both for authoritative trustworthy information as well as gaining the support of knowing we’re not alone.”
Erik also has found support from friends along his journey. “I know that I’m not alone and that just because I’m a man, I don’t have to be physically strong – I am strong in patience and perseverance.”
The most powerful lesson Erik has learned from his dad is to use his strengths instead of focusing on his limitations.
“He is the calm and steady nudging voice who gives me the right push in a lot of ways at a lot of the right times, to pursue opportunities that I am capable of rather than focusing on those I cannot. He taught me that there are many ways to help people.”
For instance, when Erik was a boy and his lupus and other chronic conditions made a sport like Little League baseball too strenuous, Clark encouraged him to take up golf. And when his body couldn’t take the demands of competitive golf, Clark suggested that he help his high school team in other ways, keeping records and lending moral support as chief cheerleader. Clark also taught Erik to swim as a sport you can do by yourself and escape from pressure.
Erik wisely shares these words learned from his father to other young men during Men’s Health Month – “to know you don’t have to do everything as there are many different ways to provide for people.” His advice to dads of kids with lupus on Father’s Day is similar – “no one is perfect, and you don’t have to be the perfect father. Just spend time with your children and teach them what you can.”
Clark has always been impressed by Erik’s faith and his toughness. Lupus is a demanding disease, both physically and mentally, and Erik has persevered through some very tough times. He is very proud of Erik and is looking forward to a cure some day and watching Erik grow and thrive in his future.
With much appreciation for how much Clark has been there for him throughout his life, Erik’s Father’s Day message to him is simple and eloquent, “I love you and take more time to relax!”