Craig Melvin describes a recent visit with his 70-year-old dad, Lawrence Melvin, who came from South Carolina for a week-long stay in Connecticut.
“We go to my son’s soccer game and he’s on the sidelines, he gets to see a goal scored,” Craig said, in an interview with TODAY Parents. “He’s out in the driveway shooting hoops with Del in 90 degree heat, for hours on end. I’m looking at the guy and I’m thinking, ‘Who are you?!’”
That Lawrence now is a picture-perfect “PopPop” to Craig’s children — 7-year-old Del and 4-year-old Sibby — is something that Craig didn’t think he’d ever see. Because that was not the Pops the 42-year-old co-host of TODAY grew up with.
In his new book, “POPS: Learning to be a Son and a Father,” Craig tells the story of his fractious relationship with his alcoholic, absentee dad, and their journey to reconciliation. In what he calls "an exploration of fatherhood," Craig also shares the stories of all the father figures in his life who have helped him understand and embrace his own role as a dad.
"My kids should know precisely what PopPop was versus what PopPop is now.... We’re capable of turning our lives around, even later in life. I want them to know that."
The multitude of addictions that crippled Lawrence caused decades of turmoil for Craig, his mother Betty Jo, and his brothers Lawrence and Ryan. It wasn’t until dad Lawrence was in his late 60s that he gained control of what Craig calls “the monkey on his back,” by getting sober and making amends with family members.
Craig said that while interviewing his dad for the book was difficult — “I’ve never been more frightened to do something in my life” — one of the main reasons he wrote the book was so that he could share with his own children what he has learned through his rocky relationship with his dad.
“I want them to know what the relationship was like, warts and all,” he says, adding that the journalist in him is “not a big fan of sanitizing or romanticizing things. I don’t think anyone is well served by that.”
“Part of the thinking was, my kids should know precisely what PopPop was versus what PopPop is now. I think when you know that, you come to appreciate this idea that just because you start here, it doesn’t mean you have to end here.”
“We’re capable of change. We’re capable of turning our lives around, even later in life,” Craig said. “I want them to know that and understand that because I think it’s an apt metaphor for life.”
The book recounts the times — over and over again — that dad Lawrence failed to show up for Craig and his brothers.
“In elementary school, when kids’ dads were showing up for soccer games and little league, my dad wasn’t there. As I got older, he missed more important things,” Craig said. In “POPS,” Craig writes about a time when his dad was supposed to pick up Ryan from grade school.
“Pops would pick up Ryan when Mom was at work. But this day he never showed up. He had gotten drunk and was either passed out or gambling at Tom’s Party shop.” (A teacher waited for hours with Ryan till their mom could pick him up.)
In another passage, he tells the story of how his friends created the nickname “Ghost” for his dad, because he was never around. Craig writes:
“The nickname really bugged me. Most of my other friends, their dads were present. I had written mine off. It got to a point where I thought, 'Oh damn it to hell. I got a dad, but I don’t really have a dad.' He was like a ghost: there, but not there.”
With their relationship in a much-improved place, Craig now finds humor in some of the parenting advice his dad (and mom) try to offer.
“What I always find ironic and annoying is the advice they give often runs counter to how they parented. You know, my dad’s famous for saying, ‘It seems like you are working too much. You are going to miss too much. You shouldn’t work so much,’” Craig said. (In the book, it is well documented that Lawrence himself worked long hours doing the graveyard shift at a postal facility, and when he was not working, he was either drinking or sleeping, missing much of his kids’ childhood.)
But while the current scenes of his father being a present and engaged grandfather to his kids was something that once seemed unimaginable, Craig welcomes it.
“I know what it is. He’s trying to make up for lost time. It’s obvious,” Craig said. “And you know what? I’m here for it.”
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