“Who do you want to be in tonight’s Dream Story, Kenny?” I asked my 5 year old son.
His answer was ridiculous and comical and… I was TOTALLY going to do it! He said. “How about… Kenny Carfagno, the Greatest Adventure Discovery Man of All-Time?”
This bedtime exchange was in March of 2010. But before I march forward with this blog post, I have to ask you an important question. Can you stay for a little while? I know your urge is to skim this blog, looking for the meat. How about this? Grab your son or daughter. Pull up a few chairs and sit with me for a bit. I mean how often have you ever read a blog post with your son (or daughter)?
So there’s this blog stat out there that states that the average reader has the attention span of a goldfish, which is 9 seconds. You are probably smiling right now… Well you should, you’ve been reading this post for 45 seconds (or 25 seconds if you’re a speed reader). That makes you way above average. And so am I. This Dream Story will inspire you both. So please overlook the 2,600 words it takes for me to tell it. Plus, if you really did grab your son, you are connecting right now and I bet HE is smiling about that.
You know those movies that start out all crazy and the main character has to come front and center. The scene behind him halts and he says something like, “You know it wasn’t always like this…” Well that’s my M.O. for this post. I want to pause the Dream Story and tell you who I am. I have always been a creative, adventurous, and goofy guy. And then I had a son. Oh yeah! This gave me license to completely regress in maturity or in other words — Act like a big kid with my kids. Sure, I was professional around adults, but at home with my kids, I was a walking cartoon and I still am. But don’t get the image of Bugs Bunny in your mind. I wasn’t a full time cartoon, just at opportune times. Anyway, guess what happened? My performance stage grew with child #2, 3, and 4. The thing that I eventually realized is that I was different from other Dads. I thought we all did stuff like this? But as I started to interact with other Dads and told them the creative things I did with my kids, they loved it and told me I was not normal. I took that as a compliment. You should know this about me too. Both halves of my brain are wired together, or something like that. I’m highly creative and artistic, yet highly analytical. This is why I probably had nervous tics as a boy. Okay, that’s me — Let’s roll with the Dream Story, finally!
After months of reading the Magic Tree House book series to my 5 year old son Kenny, I got the idea to spruce up the bedtime reading experience. Why not make up stories to entertain for sure, but to educate as well. Sounded good. The first night I chose the story. “Kenny Carfagno, the Greatest Engineer of All-Time”. This was easy. I was an engineer for 5 years in college and 5 years in the real world. So I fashioned a tale of Kenny at the age of 5 getting the dream to become the greatest engineer of all-time, and walked him though the process to realizing it. There were funny parts and not so funny. I really wanted to paint the full picture of what it actually takes to become great; the victories and the struggles. This went so well that we continued it for a week at bedtime. He really looked forward to them and I noticed that it was drawing us closer, so heck yeah!
The subsequent stories were, “Kenny Carfagno, the Greatest Baseball Player of All-Time”, “Kenny Carfagno the Greatest Doctor of All-Time”, then the Greatest Lawyer, Rock Star, and Home Builder of All-Time. Clearly there was no pre-planning. Who cared? We were having fun and connecting. But then, magic happened. The Dream Story shifted gears and it was all Kenny’s doing. In books, we call this a Turning Point. Let’s go back to what Kenny requested from the top of this blog.
“Who do you want to be in tonight’s Dream Story, Kenny?”
“How about… Kenny Carfagno, the Greatest Adventure Discovery Man of All-Time?”
I laughed. “What? Really? Alright…” As soon as my brain received the request for the genre of adventure fantasy, something clicked. I can’t explain it. I just know that for 45 minutes, I crafted part 1 of Arctic Land. Kenny and I were the main characters from Upstate New York that ventured on our family Rocket Boat in search of the fabled Arctic Land, the hidden ice treasure, and, of course, we were hoping to find Kenny’s missing Pop-Pop. The best part is that Kenny was interacting with my story. He was usually quiet, but during Arctic Land, he made up stuff too. He named characters, gave ideas, and helped to make difficult choices. The Dream Story truly became interactive.
It was late and Kenny begged, “Dad, will you please finish this tomorrow night?
This is the part of the movie where the hero faces the dragon and gets totally scorched! No, not really, but sort of. Just seeing if you’re still paying attention. We never did another Dream Story as it was originally designed. We became obsessed with finding Pop-Pop and the Ten Lost Lands as we plowed through these fantastic stories night-after-night. I LOVED it! He LOVED it! We were bonding like crazy. So with Kenny starring as “The GAD Man of All-Time” and I, his Dad and sidekick, we finished Arctic Land, Bamboo Land, Atlantis, and Victoria Falls in less than 2 weeks.
By this time, my wife was raving to me how much Kenny loved the stories and how much he looked forward to… tonight. In fact, she said something to me that I thought was a joke.
“You have to record these.”
“Yeah, right.” That’s what I said until I saw how serious she was. Remember the part in Take 2 where I thought every Dad was like me? Yup, not true at all. My wife was telling me that this souped up bedtime story deal was way, way, way out of the ordinary and that I should record it. I was still reluctant.
The first night was weird. I told Kenny what Mom wanted us to do. He agreed and I put the recorder out of view and pressed the record button.
“Which one do you want to do?” I asked.
“I want to do the castle one. That’s gonna be 3 parts too.” Kenny not only chose this adventure, but he predicted its length like a good director.
Thus, the season of recordings began with the 5th GAD Man story called Neuschwanstein, Little Castle. At first, it was uncomfortable, but I got over it fast once my mind flipped from the analytical to the creative mode (this is something I can’t explain, it just happened). It went perfectly and Kenny was right; it was 3 parts.
I listened to the recording at work the next day. It was good. Actually, it was great. Kenny and I agreed that we couldn’t start #6 Amazon Land until we retold and recorded the first 4 (which included Arctic Land). We did. And we did them better the second time around.
Lost Land #6 Amazon Land… #7 The Volcano… #8 Saint Louis… #9 Australia… and finally #10 Nile Land. When it was all said and done, the GAD Man and the Ten Lost Lands comprised 10 stories over 6 continents, 18 total hours of recordings, and it was late in the summer. In June 2010, we designed and built his bunk bed. I use the word “we” loosely. He was mostly interested in collecting saw dust or what he called, “Wood Hair”. We did do other things together too. I was still Dadnamic at opportune times. One night in late July, we camped out in the back yard. We caught a frog and brought him into the tent (to broaden the audience) as I recorded #9 Australia. The story went great, but the frog pooped in the tent and Kenny knocked over a soda can which made the bottom of the tent sticky. Eeeek!
“You need to write these into books.” This was my wife’s second call to action.
Me, write a book! Ha! I was Mr. 700 Math and 300 Verbal on my SAT’s. That’s not good for the profession called writing. However, at the same time, a mentor encouraged me to write the book too. Maybe it was as simple as this… “Okay, that’s two people that want me to write a book. I can totally count on at least selling 2 copies. I’m in.”
Let’s fast forward through the rest of 2010 and 2011. Let’s even blaze through 2012 and 2013. A lot was going on. I was writing (or at least I thought). Remember the 300 Verbal thing. Anyway, Kenny and I moved past The Magic Tree House to other books like Treasure Island, The Neverending Story (that one took a while:), SuperKids, all 7 Narnia books, and a few others. We made countless visits to the library, coming back with stacks. We loved reading together. It had so many benefits. We built awesome memories. We were connecting at a very special and important time – bedtime. And the one serendipity that caught me by surprise was Kenny’s growing LOVE for books! Imagine this; a 7 year old boy choosing books over screen time and reading on his own! When I say the boy took off reading, it would be an understatement. These takeaways triggered an idea. I’m already writing the first GAD Man story… What if I made the book interactive with Kenny as the main character? That was the genesis of Dadnamics in ReadingTM.
By late 2013, I had found writing coaches, attended a writing group and a few writing conferences, studied the craft incessantly, and even joined (audaciously) The Society of Children’s Book Writer’s and Illustrators. I was actually beginning to enjoy the artform and, dare I say, even getting decent at it. Then it all came together. On September 23rd, 2013, I started waking up at 5am to write. I needed to finish Arctic Land. And I did. On January 19th, 2014, I finished the true first draft. It was a 42,000 word children’s book and along the way, Darren from High Bridge Books found his way to me. For the early part of 2014, many things happened. I struggled between the traditional publishing route and Darren’s hard charging self marketing, platform-building approach. I also conducted a Dad’s Focus Group to gather feedback on the book and I had the book professionally edited twice. It took a while, but by September I was set and ready to write the final draft. My editors red-lined the manuscript like crazy and I had over 300 revisions to make! So again, I woke up at 5am and wrote, wrote, and wrote some more. Ironically, I finished the final draft on the same exact day, one year later – January 19th, 2015! Thus, Arctic Land was finally done (or so I thought).
This is the part of the movie where everything speeds up, bringing you to what is happening NOW! 2015 was my breakthrough year. I went from an introverted writer to a project manager. My Dadnamics in ReadingTM idea grew dramatically in scope to another sub-brand called DiR InteractiveTM. This would enhance the experience of Arctic Land so that the father & son would never forget, especially with 37 activities built into the reading! This required me to coordinate the efforts of several people – Me the writer and the DadnamicsTM platform builder, Darren the publisher, Billy the graphic designer, Chris & John the editors (Chris, a mentor as well), and Dave & JB the web designers. This was a grueling period and on November 25th, 2015, I finished Arctic Land.
As I write, it is December 15th, 2015. This is supposed to be “Launch Day” for Arctic Land and the Dadnamics in ReadingTM brand, but I did not get all the working parts moving in the same direction in time. No harm. And here’s why…
Impact isn’t measured by the number of lives touched. It is measured by the depth that one life is touched. I got that confused thinking that I had to sell a million copies of Arctic Land to impact fathers & sons. The truth is, yes that will come (with your help), but today and a good part of the last two weeks I’ve learned that there are some Dads out there that really need community, tips, accountability, and more ways to connect with their kids. This is where my overall platform and Arctic Land can help and it was totally validated today on Day 1 of the Arctic Land release. I sold 2 copies today. One was to a local Dad who had already pre-read the first chapter and was awaiting the book release. I signed the book for him and his two boys. He then sent me the video posted below. The quality isn’t very good, but the boy’s excitement is priceless. The second was a friend of a friend who bought on Amazon. I connected with her to thank her for buying Arctic Land and her reply rocked my world. I can’t share the exact words of the email, but I can say that her husband was just diagnosed 3 days ago with brain cancer. His future is uncertain, yet his wife is strong. I admire her big time. They have 4 kids and my heart breaks for what they’re having to endure right now. This Mom was excited. She found my book and thought it would be a great Christmas present for him since he can’t do physical activities and he could use this book as a way to connect in whatever way he could. Okay, I have to be honest. I’m crying right now (as I write this). Could I have ever predicted that my countless hours of work with no expectation of gain would produce this??? Not in a million years. In fact, this was the last thing I expected to hear today. This is real life. No one is guaranteed a second, let alone years. This is why I choose everyday to find ways to connect with my kids.
If you have another 5 minutes, please watch these 2 videos. The first is raw footage I took of myself after an emotional first day with my book. The second video (and it’s hard to see with the low resolution) shows my first GAD Team Member receiving his book. His Dad recorded this for me and said, “Here is your first book review.”