Seven years ago, not long after the birth of my first son, my agent called from New York to say, sorry, but the dozen or so publishers who’d seen my children’s novel were all taking a pass.
I got the call while I was driving in the drizzle, heading home after renewing my driver’s license on the Northwest Side. It had been three years of writing, rewriting, tossing out inch-thick chunks of a story that wasn’t quite working.
Well, that’s it, I told myself, no more three-hour stretches of uninterrupted quiet, no more solitary walks trying to declutter my mind.
The advice that appears most often on lists from successful authors is this: Write every day — and, this said only partly in jest, don’t have children. And now I had a child — something for which I’d yearned for as long as I could remember. It was a very small price to pay.
Today, that 424-page manuscript still sits on my desk, the edges of the top pages now curled and gray. Beside it lies another unfinished novel — a tale about “Black Plague” graves in London that petered out somewhere around page 150.
Well-meaning friends have long since quit asking, “So how’s the novel coming?”
I’m grateful for that. But it was my own fault. In the early days, I blabbed a little too much about the project — this was back when my agent was talking about potential movie and multi-book deals.
And my English grandmother, who insisted every time we spoke on the phone that “the book must have a red cover — if you want people to read it” has since passed away.
But I want my sons to learn something from Daddy’s endeavors. I’m just not sure what.
That perseverance is what counts? To enjoy doing what you do for its own sake? That it’s wise to know when to quit?
Lucca, my 7-year-old, has already learned something. He recently finished a 100-page “book” of his own — for first-grade. I went to “Meet the Authors Day” at his school. After congratulating Lucca, I reminded him that Daddy had also written a book.
“An unpublished book,” he corrected me.
How on earth, I wondered, did he even know the meaning of the word “unpublished?”
“He hears you say it all the time,” my wife said.
I had no idea. For all I know, I flail in bed at night, muttering the word with bitter regret.
Successful authors often say something else: Write whenever you can, wherever you can.
So, for about the last two months, I’ve been doing just that. I rise at 4 a.m., creep past my 18-month-old son’s crib, boil water for tea and settle into an armchair with my laptop. In fits and starts, I’ve written four chapters.
Most of the time, I’m the guy with the horribly dated dance moves or the cook whose flaccid pizza — topped with broccoli bits and pesto — prompts groans of disapproval. I’m the one who reminds my oldest that not brushing his teeth in the morning or wearing the same pair of underpants three days in a row isn’t the best way to win friends.
But I want my kids to see that, while they are the center of my life — and that, whatever else I do, nothing will ever approach the thrill I experienced when each arrived in the world — I’m still a human being.
And that the pinnacle of existence is not — as weird as this might sound — owning the 6,000-piece Lego Hogwarts Castle. Or being allowed to keep a 10-pound bag of Starburst candies under their beds.
Or even, if they could possibly imagine, never being told to turn off the light and go to sleep.
• Having kids, now I know how I should have dealt with my own childhood bully
• Tackling ‘Daddy, are you the enemy of the people’ and other tricky kid questions
• Why my boys will learn their grandfather’s native language
• Dancing on the Riverwalk: the ‘Papa’ I want my boys, his grandkids, to remember
• A dangerous question: ‘Daddy, what kind of music did you listen to as a kid?’
• What I’ll tell my kids some day about the drug-addicted uncle they never knew
• Learning to be a father at the knee of an expert: my grandfather
• A father’s gift to his young sons: a letter a month to read when they’re older
FATHERHOOD: AN OCCASIONAL SERIES
This is one of an occasional series on fatherhood by Sun-Times staff reporter Stefano Esposito, the dad of two young sons.