WHAT’S THE POINT? —“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” ‚Äì Truvy, played by Dolly Parton, in Steel Magnolias
The above quote is one of my favorites because it rings so true to me. If you’ve ever been at a funeral and crying when something really funny happens, you know the mixed emotions and the release it gives. I thought of this quote as I was reading a book by my friend Claude Knobler. “Love More, Panic Less: 7 Lessons I Learned About Life, Love, and Parenting after We Adopted Our Son from Ethiopia” is the story of how a nice, quiet, slightly neurotic family of four ended up adopting an Ethiopian boy who opened their world to a new life of exuberance.
I’ve known Claude and his lovely wife Mary for over a dozen years and they have been trendsetters for a while now. Mary went to her high-stress job in the financial world and Claude was the stay-at-home trophy dad when that was more unique than it is today. He has a very dry sense of humor based in droll observations on life.
One day Claude reads a story about children in Ethiopia who are orphans and in passing says to Mary, “We should adopt a child.” He thought he would score some easy “good guy” points in his marriage but that it would go nowhere when Mary said no.
A year or so later Claude is in Addis Ababa picking up his new, bouncing-off-the-walls 5-year-old boy, and the adventure begins for real. I guess the joke was on him.
“Love More, Panic Less” is not a parenting book in the traditional sense of how to discipline and raise those “tiger children” that were so popular a few years back. It is a comedic, poignant memoir with some parenting philosophy mixed in based on Claude’s experience as a semi-professional worrier over things that don’t actually happen.
I had read about 20 percent of the book and was already impressed with the voice and the content when we met. This book literally had me in tears as Claude describes the scene of taking his son Nati to visit his dying mother for a last visit.
When we meet at Ye Olde King’s Head to discuss his book and get caught up there, I am sitting in the restaurant crying as he’s recounting this story of what it was like, and as he’s spinning the tale I’m laughing and crying at the same time.
I asked him why he wrote the book in such a conversational tone. “Parenting is a communal experience we all do alone” is how he described to me what being a parent is like.
“I wanted it to be accessible,” he said. “I wrote this book not only for adoptive parents but for every parent to relate to. I had two kids when Nati came into our lives, and my experiences with him magnified the lessons of parenting. At first I worried over the language issue, which it turned out was not a problem. But I never thought about what happens if we adopt a kid who is too confident? I had no idea how to deal with a kid who comes to breakfast each morning blowing air kisses saying ‘Nati Knobler in ze house.'”
The book is written in such a wonderfully conversational style that reads easily and enjoyably. There’s no struggling to understand what Claude is saying, he’s just comfortably talking to you like your oldest friend from high school as you compare notes on kids. There are seven lessons that become the pillars of this family story and they are all themed around the concept of relaxing into parenting; think a Jewish Mr. Miyagi.
In chatting with Claude I asked about the unintended consequences of adopting.
“I spent a lot of time worrying about what it would do to our quiet family, but what I found was that he was such a big personality, he’s so charming and full of charisma, that he changed all of us in wonderful ways,” he said. “Clay became more outgoing, Grace became a stronger personality as they lovingly spar with each other. Nati greets each challenge as a wondrous thing, and I try to embrace that, but he set a high bar. Mary and I have relaxed in our parenting fears and learned to love more. Parenting is only laughter or tears, and you have to learn to find the laughter, because the tears are guaranteed.”
Claude will be at the Third Street Promenadethis Thursday at 7 p.m.for a book signing of “Love More, Panic Less.” If you can’t make the signing, I highly suggest you purchase his book whether you have kids or not; it’s a great read on life.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles divorce and child custody lawyer specializing in fathers’ and men’s rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra