The ‘Today’ co-host reflects on growing up with an alcoholic, bonding with his dad, and fatherhood in his memoir.
If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, we may receive an affiliate commission.
Craig Melvin is calling his new memoir, Pops: Learning to be a Son and a Father, a “long love letter” to his dad Lawrence. But that doesn’t mean the 42-year-old Today co-host didn’t feel “extraordinarily nervous” penning the book, which reflects on their previously difficult relationship.
Not only did the father-of-two write about Lawrence’s battle with alcohol and gambling, he also interviewed his (now sober) dad for the project. “I think I became less nervous as I was writing the book and as I was talking to my father, because he was very honest and candid and raw,” Craig tells HollywoodLife. “[Had he not been] I probably would have been a bit more apprehensive…
“I couldn’t have written this book five years ago. My father would not have seen the value in it. He was still very much in the throes of his addiction. And I just don’t think I was in the place personally where I would have been able to get through it. But I do think having the time over the past year and some change really helped because I was able to come down here in my basement where I am right now and do the interviews and take an hour or two and hammer out a few lines.”
Being a father is something that Craig thinks about a lot. It’s not just because he and his wife Lindsay Czarniak, 43, are raising two children – son, Delano, 7, and daughter, Sybil, 4. And it’s not just because he and his own father have gotten closer since Lawrence (aka Pops) got sober in 2018.
As Today viewers will know, the newsman regularly interviews different types of fathers for his Dad’s Got This! segment. They range from prisoners who have to bond with their children behind bars to Mormon dads who risk being ostracized for supporting their LGBTQ+ kids. Throughout his reporting he has discovered that these men all share one common thread.
“You get to a point where you realize we’re all feeling the same way,” says Craig who also hosts a daily show on MSNBC. “We’re all feeling inadequate in different ways. We’re all sacrificing something and, if you don’t feel that way, then I don’t think you’re doing it right.”
While Craig feels that Pops wasn’t present enough in his life because of his addictions, he worries that his kids’ charmed life may work against them. “My kids’ biggest worry most days is what kind of Greek yogurt is in the fridge,” he says. “There’s no struggle. And you might think, oh well, that makes it easier. After doing it for a few years, I’m starting to wonder whether it makes it more challenging, because rearing children who aren’t resilient, who haven’t had to climb a mountain, I think it makes it a little tougher potentially for them later in life. So, we’ve become cognizant of that.”
At some point, however, Craig knows he’ll have to talk to his biracial kids about race and racism, and to his son in particular about being a Black man in America.
“I think you have to,” Craig says about having the talk well known to African-American parents long before the death of George Floyd made the killing of unarmed Black men a white-hot mainstream issue. “I don’t care how post-racial they might think that this country is, or our society is by then, the reality is he is going to live in a country that views him as Black.
“And at some point he’s going to go from being that cute kid with great hair to, for some, a threat. And he needs to be aware of that and understand that’s not on him; that that shouldn’t be his burden to bear. That’s on folks who look at someone and who still make assumptions about who they are and who they should be and where they should live, the jobs they should have.”
In the face of prejudice, Craig wants to raise children who are “comfortable in their own skin.” “But I don’t want race to define them,” he says.
As for his own recent heart-to-heart with his dad, it produced a book that comes out just in time for Father’s Day. Thankfully, despite Craig’s nerves, Pops is pleased with the warts and all memoir.
“In fact, I think the nervousness subsided only entirely when I let my father read it first, because it was important to me that he sign off on it, so to speak,” the South Carolina native says. “And he did. No changes. I think what he said was, ‘Yeah, yeah. It’s all there. You got it all.’”
Pops: Learning to be a Son and a Father (published by William Morrow) is out now.