Craig Melvin, I'M PROUD OF YOU

Craig Melvin, I'M PROUD OF YOU

NBC Today show co-anchor Craig Melvin joins Zibby to discuss I’M PROUD OF YOU, a heartfelt and lively picture book for fathers, sons, and the childhood milestones that inspire pride in every parent. Craig reflects on the moments of pride he has experienced as a parent, highlighting the importance of cherishing the small milestones—like when his son conquered his fear of jumping off a diving board. Then, he opens up about his difficult relationship with his own father, who struggled with addiction. He explains how writing his first book, POPS, was a therapeutic journey toward understanding and forgiveness. The episode concludes with the hopeful note that Craig might collaborate with his wife, an artist, on future projects!


Zibby: Welcome, Craig. Thank you so much for coming on Moms Don't Have Time to Read Books to discuss your beautiful children's book, I'm Proud of You, which I can't believe that there was no other book called I'm Proud of You.

It's such a like perfect title, right? I could give it to so many people. 

Craig: You're very kind. I was actually pleasantly surprised by the lawyers as well. 

Zibby: Right? 

Craig: Yeah. No, no. There it is. 

Zibby: Oh, it's great. It looks so good. I read it online, obviously. Tell listeners what inspired you to write a children's book. I know you said you didn't want to be an author originally, or you hadn't thought you would write a book.

Tell me about it. 

Craig: Well, you know, I mean, listen, you've got, you've got four children. You've been, you've been to the rodeo a few times, uh, when it comes to child rearing. And I think sometimes it's easy. To let the little things fall by the wayside in terms of those, those little moments where your, your child does something and you're like, wait a minute, three weeks ago, you couldn't even reach that.

Or, you know, a couple months ago, you couldn't even string words together. Now you're sharing complete thoughts and feelings. So I wanted to, I mean, perhaps the book is a feeble attempt to try and do what so many of us parents do. And that's like. Stop time, and I wanted to, to try to basically memorialize a lot of those, those little moments along the way that, uh, you know, he's, he's made me really proud and proud about little things that I never would have thought 15 years ago that I would care about.

Zibby: Like which one. 

Craig: You know, like jumping off the diving board, you know, like, that's just, I, I still get really, really scared to jump off a diving board. And I remember vividly the first time he saw someone do it and felt compelled to try it himself. And he approached the diving board and this was several summers ago.

And at the last minute he was, he was too scared to do it. And then just to. Few weeks later, with the help of some older friends, he conquered their fear and jumped off the diving board. He did it once, then he did it again right after that. And then next thing you know, he's jumping off the diving board 20, 30 times every time.

So it's, you know, but even, but maybe like just little things like tying the shoe, like I remember a couple of years ago, I, you know, I think a lot of parents worry sometimes. About really small things and we had tried teaching him to tie his shoe so many times and then I found myself thinking, Oh no, maybe my child will be the only freshman in college who has to wear velcro straps and then lo and behold, like a few weeks later, he's tying his shoe.

I'm like, Whoa. I mean, the whole book is just, it's, it's a collection of, of these little, these little small moments. But it's not just like him being able to do stuff. Like it's, it's, it's the kind of human being he is becoming. And you pour all of this time and all of this energy and all of these emotions into these little people.

And then some days you're like, oh, oh, I'm rearing a sociopath. But then there are other days you're like, wait a minute. He's kind, he's gentle, he is empathetic, so it's a celebration of his emotional growth as well. But it's not just, and I have to be very careful about this, because I have a daughter as well.

Zibby: And her name is Sivvy, which is so close to my name. 

Craig: Yes. There you go. Her name, her name's Sybil, we call her Sybil, and I'm actually probably the only one left that calls her Sybil. Everyone enjoys Sybil so much, it's just, it's just essentially become her name, but, but the book is a celebration of fatherhood.

It is a celebration of primarily my, my son and some of the things that he's achieved so far in his 10 years of life, things that a lot of parents can relate to. But my daughter is featured on every page except one. Very smart. Well, I, I thought it was. Yes. But Zibby, apparently it was not enough. Because when I showed her the book, to say that she was less than impressed would be a gross understatement.

Oh no. And I said, sweet girl, I call her sweet girl. I said, sweet girl, you're on, you're on every page. I'm not on the cover, dad. Well, that is, that is a fair point. And you are a very astute seven year old. There's power in being on a cover. So I'm going to apparently have to do another book after this. 

Zibby: Oh my gosh.

My kids are the same way. I, I wrote a children's book also and I dedicated it to one of my kids and then my kids are like, okay, which one are you dedicating to me? I'm like, how many books do you want me to write? You know, like they all want me to write. Anyway, you just can't win as a parent. And whatever you do, it's just not enough.

It's never fair enough. It's just, we do our best and it just backfires a lot, but you just roll with it and they forget. 

Craig: Yes. Or they end up in therapy. 

Zibby: Yeah. Or both. You know. Or both. 

Craig: Two things can be true.

Zibby: I think therapy is like a foregone conclusion. It's going to happen at some point. I don't know. 

Craig: I think you're probably right.

For all of us. But it's a good thing. 

Zibby: Yeah, it's a good thing. I think one of my favorites in the book was when your son was being a good older sibling because that is like the best thing to see is when you're being a, watching my older son be a great older brother to like his little sister, it just like melts my heart.

And I could feel that from the page in your book. 

Craig: It was, that page was aspirational. What was it at? No, it's one of those things. It happened. It happened once. I got so excited. I was like, Oh my God, I got to write this down. It may never happen again. You know, what's funny about that is I, and I, I gather it's because it does not happen as often as, as I would like for it to happen as a parent.

So when it does happen, I do take notice. He can be really hard on his little sister to be fair. Oftentimes she invites it. Like she knows the buttons to press. She presses the buttons and then runs to me or mom when the reaction she gets is probably what she deserves to a certain extent. That being said last week, My, my son is, um, again, that we didn't, we haven't encouraged this, he's taken to it on his own, but he's really gotten into like broadcasting and he has done some stuff with like nightly news kids and he's interviewed a few folks and he was selected to do the morning announcements and it's called, uh, Patches Productions and they have like two anchors and they.

They actually have like a little, little teleprompter and they, they, they talk about what's being served in the cafeteria, uh, the recess forecast for the day, whatever's being celebrated in, in, in the school that day, they toss to, um, to like some birthdays, like every kid has a birthday that day they get featured.

So he's like a. It's like a, it's like a news, it's like a news break, but, but he got to select someone to, to co host with him. And his buddy Jack, like, you know, his road warrior, Jack, obviously got the nod and he decided, and his, his little sister, she's only in the first grade and first graders don't typically get to do it.

She pestered him, Zibby, to, up to the point where he finally relented. And, and he let his kid sister sit next to him and, and co anchor the morning news at his elementary school. Oh. I, and I watched the video yesterday with, with my wife and I almost got emotional. I was like, what the heck is wrong with me?

Who have I become? But like, they're sitting there next to each other. He's, you know, it's, it's like, he's in a hostage video. So he's, he's like, someone's like paid him to be there. He's like, I'm Delano and this is my sister, Sibby. And she's like, I'm simple mama, mama. She crushed it. She's the natural, like he's the one that should have been honored to sit next to her.

So, so these, these little moments where they're not at each other's throats, it's, um, yeah, I wanted to make sure we celebrated that in the book also as a subtle reminder to both of them when they're older, that at one point they, they did get along, but I, I have a younger brother. I don't know if you have younger siblings.

Zibby: I have a younger brother as well. 

Craig: And it's, and my mother, sometimes I'll complain to her and my mom's basically like, what are you talking about? Do you not remember how awful you were as an older brother? And I'm like, well, it's, well, it's different because I'm, I was six and a half years older and he's a boy.

And she's like, no, no, no, no, it's not different. She's and my mom points out that the Delano. Actually is a far kinder older brother than apparently I was, but, you know, parents tend to revise history as they get older, as you know. 

Zibby: Yeah, I thought I was the perfect older sister, but apparently I did some.

Not very nice things. Allegedly. Yeah, allegedly we played hide and seek and I like never went to find him and then he came back out and was like, you didn't find me and I pretended like we had never been playing the game and I was like, what are you even talking about? And I was like, I did that? He's like, oh my gosh, scarred for life.

So you know. 

Craig: It's funny the things that siblings remember. Yes. Sometimes my brother will bring up like a story from like, you know, 1998. And I'm like, dude, you have two children. You're still carrying around that kind of baggage. Like you really still want to talk to me about that time when you were in seventh grade and I was like late to pick you up because like I was talking to a girl that's the story you want to tell?

Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. But. 

Zibby: The things with our siblings, though, it's not just baggage. It's like melded to our hands. Like it will never come off. We will be holding it forever. 

Craig: It's like, like on our deathbed. 

Zibby: Yeah, exactly. 

Craig: I'll say to my brother, I'll see you on the other side. But do you remember all the time and blah, blah, blah.

Zibby: Did I read in some Instagram post or something that your brother is in the military? Is that true or no? 

Craig: No, no, no. No. No. 

Zibby: Okay. I thought there was some, you said something like his service or somebody in your family's in service. Nobody? 

Craig: My dad was, my dad was in the military briefly. 

Zibby: Okay. Forget it. I was, I don't know.

I thought I just read that, but I'll look up and see what I was talking about. No worries. Well, you did say in your authored letter that you had a more difficult relationship with your own dad and you didn't want to repeat that. Can you talk at all about that relationship or what made it difficult or, um, what made 

Craig: Yeah, no, you know, my first book that I wrote during the pandemic was if this one was a love letter to my son and my daughter, my first one was a love letter to my father.

It was a result of therapy closure, but it was also the result of this. This anguish that, that, that, that he had been feeling for years about our relationship. My dad was born in a federal prison in West Virginia in 1950 because my grandmother, she, she ran numbers. She, she was a, she was a bookmaker. She was a bootlegger.

She ran liquor. She was a badass. Back in the day and, uh, too much of a badass. She, she got picked up by the police on a number of occasions and ended up doing a couple stints in prison. And during one of those stints, my father was born. So he was born as a, as a, as a black man in West Virginia in the fifties in prison.

He had a lot of strikes against him. And I, and consequently growing up. He, he had, he developed this, unsurprisingly, this inferiority complex. He did not even know who his father was until he was a teenager. He was the youngest of, of, of the bunch and, um, didn't go to college, ended up doing a stint in the military and then took a job at the post office right out of, right out of that.

And, and so, um, You know, when I was born, I, I will, I was not, shall we say a planned pregnancy. Uh, I was a bit of a surprise back in the late seventies. And, and so my dad, uh, wasn't a very good father. And he wasn't a very good father, not because he didn't want to be, but because first of all, he didn't know how to be.

And secondly, he had over the years developed a terrible addiction to alcohol. He was, uh, he was an alcoholic functional for, for most of his life until he retired. And then, uh, he spiraled out of control, got into a car, car accident. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but we use that as an opportunity to stage an intervention, which, uh, long story short, saved his life and probably save the lives of, of, of some other folks who might've been harmed had he continued with some of his reckless behavior.

So I, I wanted to, to document his life for him so that he knew all was forgiven, that his life was worthy, and that there, there is, there was power in his story. It's, it's strange because I didn't know at the time, when I would go down to the basement and write and interview my dad for hours on end, I didn't know how large the addiction community was in this country.

And when I wrote that book. I'm telling you, even now, I, I get strangers who come up and are like, oh my God, I read your book and, you know, my, my dad was an alcoholic. My mom was blah, blah, blah. And we were estranged for years. And, and now we're back to, it was, I wrote the book for selfish reasons. Uh, it was, and it started out as I, I wanted to help myself recover.

I wanted to forgive my dad. And, but as I continued to write, it really, it also became this sort of love letter, not just to addicts, but, but, but even, even more to those who have to care for them and love them unconditionally and forgive them over and over and over again. And so it's, it was, people sometimes were like, Oh gosh, who was your, who's, who's been your favorite interview?

And for a long time, I struggled with the question because I've gotten to interview some really cool people over the years. But now, since I wrote the book, I tell them all the time it was my dad. I got to interview my father. I've got the recordings. It was probably six hours worth of recordings of me just asking him all of the questions that I'd wanted to ask over the years and, and he was honest.

I mean, now granted, sometimes after we talk, he'd come back and he'd say, now that part where I said, blah, blah, blah, maybe we don't put that in, but it was, it was, it was the most cathartic thing I've ever done. So after I did that, I needed to write a children's book. 

Zibby: Yeah. Palette cleanser before you pick on your mom for the next book or something.

No. Yeah. Yeah. Are you? Are you? Yeah. 

Craig: No, but, but, but make no mistake. My, my daughter was jealous. And, and my mother, after I let her read the, the galley from, from my first book about my dad, she felt some sort of way and yeah, I'll just, I'll leave it at that. And I, I, because the reality is my mom, I mean, she was for all practical intents and purposes.

She was a single mother because of my father's addiction, because he also worked third shift at the post office as a mail clerk. My mom was a school teacher. And, uh, my dad liked to pick up bad habits throughout his life. And at some point he picked up another bad habit, gambling and lost his life savings gambling.

And we were having a really hard time making ends meet. So my mom picked up a second job at one point, uh, she was a cashier at a drug store. And, and so I, you know, I would not be where I am without. God's grace and Betty Jo Melvin. And what I, what I didn't want is I didn't want my forgiveness of my father to in any way, shape or form diminish the role that she played in, in, in our lives.

Like my younger brother and, and, and, and, and myself, like we just, you know, and so I, I, I did sort of wrestle with, This weird dynamic that I had to navigate that I did not fully appreciate before I started to write the book. Does that make sense? Like when you, you know, you've written, but like you, you write something and you, you're, you've got like sort of tunnel vision and you think about how it's going to affect.

Like the main character in that story. Yep. You don't necessarily think about how it could affect ancillary characters. Yes. And I didn't do that. And I, I, I didn't do it. And all is, is well. All, but it, um, I had to, I had to make sure that she understood that my newfound expression of, of my love for my father, in truth, really only made me appreciate her sacrifices.

Even more because as I started to talk to him, I realized that a lot of what was happening when we were kids She shielded us from it. Like she she went out of her way to make sure that we did not see a lot of the demons that, that, that had consumed my father over the years. And he was honest about that.

He really was, uh, to, to his credit. So you could charge, you could charge the money for this therapy session that you didn't know you were providing. I hadn't, I, you asked me these, these short, simple questions and all of a sudden I'm like lying on, you know, The couch in your office behind you. 

Zibby: That's my side hustle, you know.

I just try to work it in when I can. Do you think that your mom has forgiven your dad? 

Craig: Um, that is a complicated question that I think she has forgiven him for some of it. I think that she has forgiven him for the addiction. And I, I think, you know, the way that we view addiction in our society now, and I mean just 10 years ago.

You know, if you were addicted to anything, you're, you're just, you're weak, you're a loser, you couldn't get the monkey off your back, you couldn't control your, it was lack of self control, whether it was food, gambling, women, internet porn, booze, drugs, like, The lens through which we view addiction, that aperture has expanded and it's actually happened fairly quickly, thankfully.

And so my mother, I, I, she's always been ahead of her time when it comes to understanding concepts and ideas. Um, so she understands addiction now more than, than, than we all did 20 years ago. I think she's forgiven the addiction. She understands that for what it is. I think that. I mean, listen, you know, I, I've been married a while.

You've been married a while. How long have you been married? 

Zibby: I'm on my second marriage, but I've been married this time for seven years. 

Craig: Seven years, first time, first go around? 

Zibby: First go around was 10 years. 

Craig: So you've been, you've been married for a while. My parents have been married for, for more than 40 years.

And I think when you've been married that long, the only thing, one of the only things that keeps you perhaps from, from killing the other person is that episode of Dateline that you both watched the night before. And so I think over 40 plus years, there's just a lot of, you know. Just, yes, yes. 

Zibby: This is the biggest advertisement for Dateline ever.

Well, Dateline is gonna come thanking you so much. Dateline, the marriage savior. 

Craig: It's, but no, I mean, it's, you know, they've figured out how to, they figured out how to make it work. Yes. And she's forgiven him for a lot of it, but, but not all of it. I get it. They're pretty honest. 

Zibby: I get it. Well, back to the children's book.

Any other? 

Craig: We're not talking about divorce, Craig. 

Zibby: I could, I could talk about this stuff all day. Are you going to write any more children's books to satisfy Sibi and, you know, put her on the cover? I feel like it's only fair and that you should. 

Craig: You know, it's interesting that you asked me that because I, I swore after the first book, I would never write anything again.

And then a friend of mine was like, you know, I mean, children's books are actually fun and it'd be really cool for your kid to one day be able to read the children's book about them to their kids. I was like, Oh, yeah. Oh, that's a no brainer. I'm sold. I was talking to Savannah, Savannah Guthrie, my, my, my co anchor and dear friend.

Zibby: I'm reading her book. 

Craig: I, so I hosted a book event for her last week in New Canaan and we always like spitball ideas. And, and she asked the same question and I was like, I don't know. I need to write something for Sybil and about Sybil and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And what you just honed in on. Was actually what Savannah suggested as well.

She's like, Craig, because our children are all of similar ages. She's like, what if you, what if you featured Sybil in a book where the book is about like sibling rivalry and how they join forces and overcome some sort of obstacle and they are only able to do it by working together and celebrating each other.

I was like, Oh my God. That's actually not a bad idea. And the other part of it is that I just called you zb, by the way. 

Zibby: That's great. That's what, that's great. 

We're we're in BFFs now. It's all good. Yeah, all good. 

Craig: I, I took Zibby without permission and shortened it to Zib and for that, I apologize.

Zibby: That's like what my close friends say. It's all good. 

Craig: Alright, well, so. If I were to ever do another one, I would enlist my wife as the illustrator. The illustrator for this book, Sawyer Cloud, is amazing. Just, I mean, really brought the story to life in a way that I could not be more thankful. We went back and forth over a number of different things.

But, um, my wife studied art in college. She was an art history minor. She paints. She draws. Um, you know, I, we actually met working together and, um, for a split second thought, maybe I would have her illustrate this book. And then I was like, that's going to be too close to home. But now in hindsight, again, thinking, okay, well, if I did it again, I would, I would have her as, as the illustrator now that could also lead to divorce.

I don't know. 

Zibby: Yeah. Um, go either way. 

Craig: Right. And it usually, it usually does. It goes. Yeah. Right. You know, the absence either makes the heart grow fonder or out of sight, out of mind. So I, I would, I would do it again if, if she would agree to, to sign on to illustrate. So we're, we're, we're in talks. 

Zibby: Maybe what you should do is call it, how I got on the cover of this book.

And the book is about Sybil's attempts to get on the cover and what she could do to stand out enough in front of her brother, who's taking up all the space so that she could get the cover. 

Craig: Oh, that's meta. 

Zibby: Right? 

Craig: That's meta. I feel like I should probably say for legal purposes here that if I were to adapt that concept.

Zibby: It's all yours. It's all yours. No residuals. It's fine. It's okay. You just take it. 

Craig: Thank you. I love that. I love that. I love that. That's a really good idea. 

Zibby: Thank you. Take it. I would love to read it. It would be funny. I'd read it to my kids. What advice do you have for aspiring authors? 

Craig: Oh, that's, you know what I like about your style, Zibby?

Tell me. I'm going to answer your question, even though I'm not remotely qualified to offer advice to a client. You do something that a lot of journalists don't do, especially in this day and age, especially on cable news. You know, a lot of people have taken the art of the question, and the art of the question really is the bedrock, the cornerstone of what we do as journalists.

They've taken the art of the question and they've turned it into this, they've, they've perverted the question in a way that they use it to either help the audience, reader, listener, just audience at large. They use the question to try and demonstrate how smart they are, how much homework they've done.

That's, that's what the question has become. The question has become this sort of thing that people have, have taken and, and really twisted. The, the question for, for true journalists, and I've said this for years and the, and the folks that I really like and admire, whether it's Anderson Cooper or Chris Wallace or Bryant Gumbel back in the day, The questions are short.

They are simple. They are actually used. They are designed to do what questions generations ago were designed to do, to introduce a new idea, a concept, to find, to find out why, how, when, or where. And that's, and so your, your, your short, simple questions are refreshing. And the shorter the question typically, the longer the rambling answer.

Evidence right here. Um, well done. You don't get a lot of that these days. The advice I would give and the, and the only things that I've ever written about are things that I'm passionate about. Things that are, are close to me, addiction, family. grief, loss, my kids. I write about, I've written, I've only written about the things that I care about the most.

You know, I, fortunately I'm not a professional. I think I, that's one of the luxuries that I do have. I don't, I don't have this. It's not how I make my living. So I'm, I'm afforded that opportunity to just write about the things that I'm, I'm most passionate about. So I, that would be the first piece of advice.

The second piece of advice, and this goes back to what we just talked about, uh, I continue to find professionally, the less I say, the more I listen, the more people are willing to share and offer up, which was the larger point to the, to the first part of my, my rambling tirade there, even with my dad, I, one of the early questions I asked him during our interview, and this was, I actually stole this.

From a workshop many years ago It was one of these workshops about interviewing and blah blah blah and and there were all these hacks that these professors and journalists were providing and I I can't remember who it was. It may have been harry smith. But anyway, nonetheless the question asked was what was the most money you ever wasted and the thinking was the uh, the journalist who posed that question they were like You ask anyone that question, it's going to conjure up some fantastic memories, which will lead to inevitably some pretty impressive stories.

So one of the first questions I asked my dad when I was interviewing him for my first book, I said, I said, pops, what's the most money you ever wasted? And without missing a beat, my dad, who is notoriously cheap, by the way, my dad said it was 1, 400 in 1986. I was like, wow, that's, uh, very specific, very specific.

Okay. We'll just spend 1, 400 on a night. And by the way, for the record, I had never known my father to spend 1, 400 on anything other than like our college education and, and some help with a down payment for my first house and a car. And he's like, 1, 400. That's how much it's spent. That's how much I've spent to put my father in the ground for his funeral.

I'll never forget it. Right in that check. I was like, wow. 1, 400. And, and he, and, and Zibby that led to about a 20 minute conversation about how my dad was, was so bothered by it because in his lifetime, his father had never given him 1, 400. If you'd taken all of the money. Never. And here he was, when his dad died, his estranged son was basically the only one who was even in a financial position to help with the funeral.

Steps up, steps up, and is like, fine, I'll buy the cheapest pine box, we'll rent the funeral home. And he remembered it 30 years later, 40 years later. And even now, every now and then, if I find myself in an interview and it's not going well, I'm like, what's the most money you ever wasted? And there's always a great story.

Zibby: Interesting. All right, well, next time I'm stuck on a question, maybe I'll, uh, I'll throw that in the mix. 

Craig: You don't strike me as someone who gets stuck on questions. 

Zibby: Craig, so much. Congratulations on I'm So, I'm Proud of You. And uh, I can't wait for your next book, which I inspired and good luck. 

Craig: No, thanks for letting me in the Zibby verse.

Zibby: You're so welcome. 

Craig: Thanks Zib. 

Zibby: Thanks. Bye bye. 

Craig Melvin, I'M PROUD OF YOU

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