It was a terrible shock when my ex-wife first told me that she was going to be moving away and taking our son John with her. I did everything I could to talk her out of leaving, especially since this was at a time when mothers were usually always granted custody by the courts, but when we ended up going through the long, bitter legal process I was the one who was granted full custody of our son.
So there I was. And, as strange as it may sound, single parenthood ended up seeming perfectly normal to me. Maybe it’s different if you have several kids, but I had just one boy and ample time to spend on him—on us, I should say, because we did everything together. It was the most fun time I’ve had as an adult. Spending time with John took me back to feeling like a kid again, but with an adult’s powers and privileges. I was like a vicarious kid on steroids.
We drove through forty-nine states and five Canadian provinces. Our main travel thing was collecting waterfalls. I’m fairly sure we saw every notable waterfall in North Carolina, not to mention every great one in North America. We did all of the father-son activities: little-league football, basketball, baseball, boxing, boating, golf, and camping. We got Henry, a Saint Bernard puppy. I loved every minute of the whole business (except getting him to practice piano, which I must say was a grinding experience). I had to show John a good life, of course, and it certainly redounded to a great experience for me.
I fell into my present vocation as a children’s book author from all of this parenting. I always read to John at bedtime, until he was about fourteen. Listen, parents, you’ve got to do this! I read him everything there was for kids, from Grimm and Tolkien and Dahl, up into Dickens and Victor Hugo. One night when I was done reading (he was about seven), I may have suggested he make up a companion to go off to sleep with—or maybe he did it on his own. The next day, anyhow, he introduced me to Crosley, his imaginary red crocodile friend. I was duly charmed, and after that we started throwing Crosley ideas around at bedtime and inventing episodes for him. This went on for over a year, and eventually I decided to put Crosley and John into a story. As soon as I figured out why Crosley was red, everything fell into place. (He was allergic to water!) In fact, if you look into the books, you can meet my son John when he was about nine or ten. He’s the narrator.
With two titles in the Night Buddies series now (a third title will launch in early 2015) and seven national awards won so far, I’m proud to look back on what my son and I created together. Raising John by myself turned out to be quite a journey, but I think we’re both pretty happy with where we’ve ended up because of it.