Erma Bombeck’s Dad

Erma Bombeck was among the most loved and adored humorists of the latter half of the 20th century. Hers was a “get rich by making people laugh at themselves” story.

Jeff Cunningham
4 min readJun 20, 2020

From Erma About Her Dad:

When I was a kid, a father was like the light in a refrigerator. Every house had one, but nobody knew what either of them did once the door was shut.

My dad left the house every morning and always seemed glad to see everyone at night.

He opened the jar of pickles when nobody else could.

He was the only one in the house who wasn’t afraid to go to the basement by himself.

He cut himself shaving, but no one kissed it or got excited about it.

He took a lot of pictures, but was never in them.

It was understood whenever it rained, he got the car and brought it around to the door.

When anyone was sick, he got the prescription filled.

He set mousetraps after letting us place the cheese.

He cut back the roses so the thorns wouldn’t clip you when you came to the front door.

When I got a bike, he ran alongside me for at least a thousand miles until I got the hang of it.

I was afraid of everyone else’s father, but not my own.

Once I made him tea. It was only sugar water, but he sat on a small chair and said it was delicious.

Whenever I played house, the mother doll had a lot to do. I never knew what to do with the daddy doll, so I had him say, “I’m going off to work now,” and threw him under the bed.

When I was nine years old, my father didn’t get up one morning and go to work. He went to the hospital and died the next day.

I went to my room and felt under my bed for the daddy doll. When I found him, I dusted him off and put him on my bed.

He never did anything — I didn’t know his leaving would hurt so much. I still don’t know why.

– Erma Bombeck

Erma Bombeck’s Story

Erma Louise, as she was known growing up, was born on February 21, 1927, in Bellbrook, Ohio. Her fame as a newspaper humor writer and columnist made her the most famous “housewife” pundit in history. She wrote over 4,000 nationally syndicated newspaper columns, 15 books. She always found a new and funny way to talk about chores, bores, and the challenges of housewifery in late 20th century America. By the 1970s, 30 million people were reading her in 900 newspapers.

Bombeck’s first start in journalism was not promising. The Dayton Herald Tribune hired her to do typing and stenography and enabled her to pay for tuition at Ohio University, where she majored in journalism. It was not to be a long term relationship.

During her first semester, she failed the final exams. Then, her writing samples were rejected. The school newspaper turned down her application. Finally, she ran out of funds and had to leave college. It wasn’t looking good.

Within a year, she enrolled in a different college, this time taking two jobs to pay tuition. One of them was as an accountant at a local ad agency, and the other was a public relations role at the YMCA. Her writing started to gain admirers at college and work, and she began to work for the student publication.

After graduation, she met her future husband, Bill Bombeck, and moved to Centerville, Ohio, where the couple adopted a young daughter (Bombeck was unable to give birth to a child). She also began writing again, minor essays for a local shopping ‘stuffer.’ Her columns mixed humor and stunningly common sense, and in a short period, her popularity began to spread. Within a year, her articles became nationally syndicated in 36 major U.S. newspapers, and her column was called, “At Wit’s End.”

By 1978, 900 U.S. newspapers were publishing Bombeck’s column.

She began her book-writing career. In 1976, Bombeck’s The Grass Is Always Greener over the Septic Tank became a best-seller. In 1978, Bombeck signed a million-dollar contract for her fifth book, If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits? And a 700,000-copy advance for her subsequent book, Aunt Erma’s Cope Book (1979).

In 1978 Bombeck was involved in the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women, particularly for the final implementation of the Equal Rights Amendment, with the ERA America organization’s support.

When Bombeck was 20 years old, she had been diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease (an incurable, untreatable genetic condition). Later, she survived breast cancer and mastectomy but always kept her kidney disease a secret, undergoing daily dialysis without complaint until she went public with her condition in 1993. On April 3, 1996, she received a kidney transplant but died a few months later on April 22, 1996, aged 69, from complications.