I reconnected with an old friend from high school, Claude Knobler. He is the author of the newly dropped book, More Love (Less Panic) 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son From Ethiopia.
Claude’s history is unique. Ask him about the television pilot he shot with a young Brad Pitt. Or, if perhaps you are friendly with Mr. Pitt, ask him about the television pilot he shot with a young Claude Knobler.
Already the father of two biological children, Claude and his wife, Mary, adopted Nati from Ethiopia. The experience taught them more than their family of four (then five) could ever have imagined. Here are a few questions I asked Claude:
1. What was the first thing you wrote, and how old were you when you wrote it? The first thing I remember writing was a brilliant short story called, “Spot The Dog Goes On A Motorcycle.” It had beautifully done illustrations, I drew myself with my very own crayons. I was five and my mother still has the original manuscript. As I recall, it was a sad tale, ending with ‘silly old Spot’ crashing into a wall.I should really try to get my publisher to re-issue it!
2. What have you written since then? Well, for a good stretch of time, I did movie reviews for radio stations around the country, so there was a lot of writing done for that. And I wrote a novel, which, sad to say, has yet to be published. Honestly, I think I’m just as proud of that book as I am of the one that’s now in print. I’ve had a reasonable amount of stuff in magazines too, plus essays of mine have been published in This I Believe: On Fatherhood and a collection called Carried In Our Hearts. More Love-Less Panic is my first published book (second, if you include Spot The Dog Goes On A Motorcycle.)
3. What made you choose your genre of writing—memoir—and is it hard to be completely honest with yourself and your readers using this format? I don’t think I chose the genre so much as it chose me. An editor at Penguin named Sara Carder liked my essay from Carried In Our Hearts and asked if I wanted to write a book. And being honest wasn’t the real challenge for me either. I think you have the story you have and there’s not much you can do other than tell the facts as you remember them. On the other hand, what was a challenge was communicating what I’d learned about parenting in a way that would be useful to any parent, not just the ones who’d adopted. I really do think that what I learned after we adopted Nati from Ethiopia was true for all three of my kids. I realized that I loved all three of my kids so much that I often had to remember to be calm and just enjoy them, without worrying about perfecting them. Sometimes our love for our kids makes us think that our job is to demand they clean their rooms every day so that they grow up to be responsible, neat and perfect so they’ll get into Harvard one day. I tend to believe at this point that I’m just supposed to love them without being quite so panicked.
4. The way you adopted Nati, after reading an article, and proposing the idea to your wife with the certainty she would say no, is intriguing. Is there any of that “happenstance” that occurred while writing the book of your adventure? The whole book was really the result of happenstance, since I was lucky enough to have an editor ask me about it, instead of banging my head into walls trying to get it out there (as I did with my novel.) I think that happenstance tends to happen more though when I’m not walking through life with blinders on, determined to get to a goal. When I live that way, when I try to control my kids so that they’ll have the futures I want them to have, I tend to make myself and the people around me, fairly miserable. On the other hand, when I relax a bit, the most remarkable things can happen…..adopting a child or getting a book published about it, for instance!
5. It only natural for a book to change from the original intent of the writer, as it’s being written. How did your book change as you created it, and did it surprise you how it came out? I feel guilty saying this, but honestly, that wasn’t my experience. I had to work with my editor and my agent to mold the concept of the book, but once we settled on seven lessons about parenting that I’d learned, I just kept going. My editor suggested some changes after the first draft and most of her ideas where great. The only time I didn’t follow her initial suggestions was when she corrected some of my grammar. She was right, of course, but sometimes the word ‘ain’t’ is exactly what you need.
6. What did you learn about yourself during the writing/publishing journey? What shocked me most of all, through the writing, the publishing, the launch party and the occasional interview is that I actually like parenting even more than I like writing about it (and I like writing about it a lot.)
7. Tell us a bit about your book, More Love, Less Panic: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting After We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia. Over ten years ago, my wife and I decided to adopt a five year old boy from Ethiopia, even though we had two perfectly good kids of our own already at home. Nati spoke no English when I came home with me and I only spoke 4 words of his language (and two of those were about going to the bathroom.) What surprised me was that so much of what I learned raising a five year old boy from Africa turned out to be true about all three of my kids. I found, for example, that while I worry a lot, I’m not very good at knowing what to worry about. I worried that our different languages would be a huge problem, but that was never an issue. On the other hand, I never thought to worry about what we’d do if the sweet little boy we’d adopted turned out to be just too confident (when Nati was five, he began coming down for breakfast every day, blowing kisses and saying, “NATI KNOBLER IZ AWAKE! ZANK YOU VERY MUCH!) So, that helped me give up worrying about my kids quite so much.
Most of all, having sat with Nat’s mother in a café in Ethiopia and seen her say goodbye to the son she was too ill to take care of, and having raised three kids with a family I’d never expected, I’ve learned that it’s okay to simply love my kids without feeling like every single thing I do has to be about molding their destinies. And that’s hard for parents. We love our kids so much that we really do tend to think that if we can get them the right tuba lessons at five, it’ll help them get into Harvard when they’re 18. More love…..less panic. I really believe in that.
8. Any plans to follow up with a book that tells us where you, Mary, Clay, Grace and Nati are now? I have a few thoughts about more writing. I’ve been married for over 20 years now and I think I could happily share some of what I’ve learned in that time about relationships. And, of course, I’d love to do a follow up on what Spot The Silly Dog has been up to.
9. How do people get in touch or follow you? www.morelovelesspanic.com