Sometimes Daddy Cries
Todd Rennebohm hopes his new children’s book inspires parents to initiate a conversation about mental health
By Joel Steve, Contributor
Indian Head, Sask. author Todd Rennebohm joins the Zoom call with a joyous grin. It’s a Friday afternoon, and we’re about to talk about his new children’s book Sometimes Daddy Cries.
The book is about a young boy whose father has depression, and all that entails for him and his family.
Rennebohm’s demeanour is warm, welcoming and sets the tone for an enjoyable conversation; however, like his book, we cover some tough-to-discuss topics. He’s candid about some stress caused by early traction the book is getting.
“I launched it on Saturday, and it’s just kinda been insane since then,” he says. Joking, “You know, way to give myself anxiety. I write a book about social anxiety and then go out trying to promote it.”
He shares some of his struggles with depression, addiction, and self-harm over the years. The first draft of the book was written four years ago – the same night he quit drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.
Rennebohm says life with his young family has been on the ‘up-and-up’ since then, although writing motivation has been a bit sporadic.
“Well, because of mental illness and being an artist, I kind of flake out on stuff once in a while. I would come back to it and rework it,” he said. “And then COVID hit, and I was stuck in the house. I thought, ‘well here’s a good opportunity to finish this project.'”
In the book, the boy understands his father’s depression by drawing an analogy to a stomachache. Rennebohm hopes the story could help other families like his own come to understand their experiences.
“I know my kids saw me suffer through it, and we didn’t really know much about it at the time,” says Rennebohm, “I figure this book might help kids to understand how it works or what to expect. Maybe to have some empathy for their parents or other people suffering through mental illness.”
The timing of the book could not be better. Amid the current pandemic, many people, especially parents, are experiencing new stresses at home. Having a resource to use for discussion with younger children could be a beneficial tool.
“I think a lot of parents want to talk about mental health with their kids, but they don’t know how to get the conversation started,” Rennebohm said. “So, I’m hoping maybe this book can start those discussions.”
He also spoke about the parenting and writing challenge of balancing the positives and negatives surrounding mental illness.
“It was tough writing the book and walking that fine line making it realistic,” he said. “Not making it so gloomy and doom-filled, but also not making it fluffy or making light of the depression.”
The illustrations from Jessie Stueck help strike that balance. Each image expertly conveys the emotional tone of the corresponding text, contrasting warm with cold.
“I love her artwork,” Rennebohm said. “I thought it was absolutely perfect for the book. I mean, you can almost feel the images. The first bundle of images she sent me, I started weeping.”
When I ask about future projects, he jokes, “It’s like a band just finished an album, released it, and now people are asking, ‘When’s the next one?'” He is open to the idea of more writing someday but focusing on promoting Sometimes Daddy Cries for the immediate future.
Additionally, Rennebohm leads by example with ‘boots on the ground’ mental health advocacy and through his work life.
“I can complain about the funding of mental health programs all I want… And it is getting better, mental health is getting out there more and more, he said. “But I do think it’s up to the people with mental illnesses to destigmatize what it’s like to have a mental illness.”
He now works at the addictions treatment facility where he was a patient in the past.
The book is available in Regina at Aware House Books and newly opened The Penny University Bookstore.