Little did MSNBC host Craig Melvin know when he accepted an assignment at NBC’s “Today” a few years ago that it would help bring his own life and relationship with his father full circle.
In his new book, “Pops: Learning To Be A Son And A Father,” he confesses he wasn’t too optimistic that the audience would connect with a segment on incarcerated fathers allowed to spend one week per year interacting with their children.
To his surprise, it resonated wildly with the “Today” audience, and evolved into a series he now does on the show called “Dads Got This” that profiles fathers across the U.S.
In his book he explains, “The common denominator is that these are dads who have had to meet challenges as they care for their children.”
Melvin, who has been on “Today” since 2018, and hosts his own daily news show “Craig Melvin Reports” on MSNBC, spoke to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder (MSR) about the huge impact doing the show had on his own life.
Eminently readable and engrossing, Melvin in “Pops: Learning To Be A Son And A Father” courageously pulls back the curtain on his family dynamics. He charts his father’s birth in a prison in West Virginia to his extreme emotional distance with Melvin and his brother Ryan, although they lived in the same house as him. The distance between his eldest child and namesake, Lawrence, was also physical, as Lawrence was raised in a different household.
The book also spends a great deal of time talking about some of the stories Melvin profiled in his “Dads Got This” series. The stories include an account of a father who created a non-profit to help young women with substance abuse issues after his daughter dies from an overdose; and the dad who creates a program for women suffering from postpartum depression after his wife, losing her own battle with it, takes her own life. Most of the book, however, charts his and his family’s journey to make his father and themselves whole again.
It was a long road for Melvin, who says that for many years, he saw his father as someone, “who was weak. Who couldn’t control his drinking or his gambling.” Having his own children and grappling with what it meant to be a father, in addition to the insight he gleaned from covering stories as a journalist, helped him start seeing things differently. “I started to better understand addiction and substance disorders and the way I saw my father.”
Unlike many cases where kids continue the vicious cycles of substance abuse, Melvin was motivated to do the opposite. “Seeing him squander his money on gambling, cigarettes, and beer for years made me determined to not be like that.”
Melvin is careful to stress that the book is also about redemption. “It’s about,” he said, “how later in life my father was able to pick himself up and dust himself off and get clean and become an entirely different person in so many ways.”
One thing that helped was Melvin’s mother who was determined to keep the family together despite anything else. Melvin also had uncles, aunts, grandmothers, and people in the community who looked out for him. There were rituals like Sunday dinners with his beloved grandmother. “I had a lot of role models,” Melvin stressed.
Still, Melvin lived with the pain of having a father who worked nights and slept during the day. When he wasn’t sleeping, he was drunk, missing things like Little League games.
It took several attempts at interventions from Melvin and the rest of the family before his father finally went to rehab and turned things around. “It’s not enough to acknowledge the problem,” said Melvin. “You have to be at that point in your life where you make that conscious decision that you’re ready to do something about it.”
His relationship with his father now, Melvin stated, is “the best it’s ever been. He was just up here with my mother last week shooting hoops with my son. These were not experiences we had with my father growing up.”
Melvin said he wrote the book “for dads, for sons, for all children. We have complicated relationships with our parents and we don’t always explore the root causes. This book is an exploration of that.”
“It’s also,” he emphasized, “a celebration of fatherhood. Of guys who day in and day out are just being dads and doing the best they can do.”