TODAY’s Craig Melvin Has A Plan For When His Kids Grow Up & Stop Talking To Him

“When they do that, I wanted to be able to say, ‘Hey, you little snot, you remember I wrote a book and I put you on the cover?’”

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When I speak with TODAY co-host Craig Melvin about his new children’s book, I tell him how weird it is to see him on Zoom rather than my television. When you spend so many mornings drinking coffee and listening to someone update you on the world, it can feel like you already know them. And that’s exactly how it feels chatting to Melvin about his new children’s book, I’m Proud of You. The story is filled with gorgeous, whimsical illustrations of a family living their everyday lives, narrated by a dad telling his children, specifically his son, how proud he is of them. It’s a simple storyline, but one Melvin feels deeply about, especially in a world where he — and so many others — often feel like parenting is a little tougher than he imagined.

Melvin’s a parent to two children — his son, born in 2014, and his daughter, born in 2016 — with his wife, Fox Sports NFL sideline reporter Lindsay Czarniak. Between all the chaos of raising kids and having extremely busy full-time jobs, making sure their kids know that they’re proud of them is a priority. They know what it’s like to feel stretched too thin, and they know what it’s like to have to plead with your kids to eat something other than tacos on a Tuesday.

I tell Melvin that I had to get my copy of I’m Proud of You out of the hands of my 2-year-old to do our interview and he congratulates me. When I tell him she’s actually my third and I have three girls, he gives me a smile. “Oh my. It means we’re going to try for a boy one more time?” I laugh because ha ha NO, but it reminds me of how beautiful I thought his story was. This connection between a son and a father. Of how the world has gotten a little better, but that often little boys are made to feel less-than for being sensitive or vulnerable. I believe Melvin’s book — focusing on a father telling his son how proud he is of him for just being him — is important.

“I really appreciate that,” he says. “I did not see a whole lot of that out there when we were buying children’s books all the time, and I thought, well, you know what, if it’s not there, then maybe I could create something.”

So he did.

Ahead of I’m Proud of You’s release, I spoke with Melvin over Zoom about his book and all things parenting — how we hope our kids will always talk to us, how much they can wear us down, and why they won’t just eat the generic version of their favorite snack.

My oldest will be 10 this summer, then I have a 5-year-old, and the 2-year old, so this sweet story really resonated with me. What made you want to write it?

Sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, I think there’s a tendency to take certain things for granted in terms of their development. I wanted to stop and acknowledge some of the little things and some of the bigger things that I was proud of, because we tell our kids all the time like, “Oh, I love you. I love you. I love you.” And the reality is we’re contractually obligated almost to love them. We’re doing that. We love the children.

But I wanted to be specific and I wanted him to know, of course, I love you, but I’m also proud of you and here’s why I’m proud of you. At some point they’re going to stop talking to us or start venting at us, and when they do that, I wanted to be able to say, “Hey, you little snot, you remember I wrote a book and I put you on the cover and your sister, this is a love letter to you two. Stop being so mean and nasty to me.”

That’s a great flex. Maybe I need to write a children’s book and fling it out at them.

I didn’t write this book for anyone now. I wrote this book for my children eight years from now when they are little shits.

It’s so funny you say this because my oldest had her first big slumber party this past weekend and all the girls — all about 9 and 10 — were decorating cupcakes in my kitchen, telling me all about school and boys and friends and I just thought, ‘Oh, I hope you all keep telling me stuff.’ I just want to be the cool mom that they all come to with their thoughts.

You do. My wife and I have said the same thing. Because your kids are going to hang out somewhere, you want to be the hangout house, so at least you can see who’s coming and going. You can be able to see that dude that I don’t want my daughter near. Although, that being said, I can already tell you now who’s going to be that dude even in the first or second grade. She’s like, “Oh, this is William.” I’m like, “No, no, no. William’s going to be a little shit. I can tell.” And usually, by the way, it seems to be a correlation between child and parent in this regard. I find sometimes that when the kid is obnoxious, I meet the parent, I’m like, “Oh, that apple didn’t fall far.”

It’s like when your kid meets a friend on the playground and so you decide to see if the parent can also be your friend and nope. You just know.

You know, when you’ve lived as long as we’ve lived, Samantha, you can spot a jackass a mile away.

One of the things I noted in I’m Proud of You is how often the mom or dad is not even in the illustrations, but the story is still there — we’re still proud of you, even if we’re not actively watching.

That was actually deliberate. And also speaks to the fact that for my wife and I, because of our jobs, we travel a lot, and there are times, like last night, for instance, I was down in Baltimore on a shoot, I got back late. I didn’t get to put them down. I didn’t see them yesterday. That happens in our house a lot, but it’s also a subtle reminder to them we’re always watching. We always know what’s going on. And even though we may not physically be there, we are always with you.

The illustrations are beautiful.

Sawyer Cloud. She specializes in children’s books, and it took a while to find someone who really got it. I wanted her to capture the essence of my family. I didn’t want her to just take pictures of my kids and draw them. I wanted them to look like my kids and my wife to look like my wife, but not be identical. I’ve never met her, they sent me some samples of her other work. I was like, “She gets it.” And she’s also mixed race, I think that’s why she was able to get some of the stuff right.

I especially loved the multi-generational illustrations of grandparents.

It’s funny because one piece of feedback that I did get from the kids, they were like, “That doesn’t look like Gigi or Pop-Pop.” I was like, “It’s not supposed to be them.” And I kid you not, I was talking to my mother, she’s like, “Oh, I love the book. But is that supposed to be me? My hair is not...” It’s like, “No. What is wrong with you people? Everyone’s so self obsessed.” I’m like, “Ma, you also don’t walk with a cane. It’s supposed to be a nod to aging people who may have a disability.” They thought that I was writing a children’s book that was going to perfectly depict them and our family.

Well the illustrations are full of joy, so that feels like a testament to your family.

This is a depiction of my family on their best days. If I wrote a children’s book about my family on their worst days, no one’s buying that. Actually, that’s probably even more relatable.

People do love relatable parenting content.

I have children who routinely will complain. They just complain, full stop. But they complain about the snack choices in the house. My daughter, God love her, she likes these seaweed chip things. What 7 ½-year-old likes seaweed chips? And it’s a particular brand she likes. Sometimes you go to the store, they don’t have the brand. You’ve got some other seaweed chips. And it was the shaming of dad because I didn’t buy her preferred snack, which by the way, no one even eats. “Oh, you got the cheap yogurt.” The cheap yogurt is still $2.50 for an 8-ounce container. I didn’t even have Greek yogurt until I was in college. Think about that.

I know this struggle. We’ve got bougie babies.

As my mother will point out, they didn’t rear themselves. We’ve created the monsters. And the kids know, more often than not, we’re going to give up. That’s how I ended up with a puppy. We adopted a puppy, because, quite frankly, I was tired of every other conversation in the house involving some discussion of a puppy. And then they wrote a letter — they launched this letter writing campaign. I said, “Fine, fine. You want a puppy? We’ll get a puppy.” You’re going to take care of the puppy. And guess what? Guess who’s taking care of the puppy? Me and my wife.

Are you one of those dads who didn’t want the puppy and now you’re best friends?

No, no, no, no. The puppy has a healthy fear of dad because the children allow him to do everything. You’re a dog, and you should be doing dog things. Not hopping up on your hind legs to get onto the counter, which is his new thing. He puts his old paws up on the counter so he can see which snacks he wants to try to make a run for.

To eat all the good food the picky kids left behind.