Mister Seahorse And Me
A reflection on the passing of Eric Carle and my own journey in fatherhood
This is not exactly my typical writing fodder. I am mostly a comic writer so it is rare that I would tackle a subject like fatherhood, but the truth is that what I love doing most is playing against type. I want to subvert expectations, so writing a serious story about a children’s book is a perfect about face. This makes me a perfect fit for the Duckpin, whose motto is basically, a little of everything. My next article will probably be about types of farts or weak side blitzes. Today though, I want to talk about Mister Seahorse, written by Eric Carle.
Mister Seahorse is the story of a father seahorse who, like all seahorse fathers, is tasked with caretaking his young until they set out into the world. Along the way, he discovers two things: other fathers in the sea caring for their young and some sneaky camouflaged fish. The book itself is beautiful in the way only Eric Carle’s books can be. Eric used a very unique style of collage with his art that set him apart from other brilliant children’s artists. Born in Syracuse in 1929, he grew up in Germany before returning to the states in 1952. Still, it wasn’t until 1967 (when he was nearly 40) that he found his true calling, illustrating (and then writing) children’s books.
Mister Seahorse was a gift to my youngest son by my now wife. My first wife had passed away, and I was a single father for two kids, 1 and 3 years old. She knew the significance of the book and what it would mean to me, but also what it would mean to my boys. It became an instant hit in our home, and I have read it 30-40 times to my kids I’m sure. I relate to Eric Carle in many ways, especially in the sense that at 40 I am still finding myself. I have only started writing in the last three years, and, while I am sure I will never be Eric Carle, I enjoy writing more than just about anything.
As we close in on Father’s Day, Eric’s recent passing is a reminder to me of the importance of fatherhood. There is a mountain of data on the importance of fathers in their children’s lives, but I think it is less about the abject title and more about what we (and mothers also) do. Fathers who raise their children by providing hands on care, attention, love and fun, provide something kids desperately need: a safe place. I think a lot about how to be a safe place for my children. I need to be accessible. I need to be vulnerable. I need to be honest at all times (I even try not to joke with dishonesty). I need to be forgiving. I need to provide consequences for behavior that will damage them later in life. I need to provide compassion when the consequences hurt. I need to listen. I need to speak.
The world will always be cruel and hard at times. My children found that out at a very young age. It will never come as a surprise to me (at this point) that this is so, but it will to them at times. I always want to be a harbor they can return to when the storm is too great. Some people are exceedingly hard on their kids to prepare them for life. I have found that the cruelty of life finds children sooner than ever. There is no reason to rush it. They will find out soon enough, if they haven’t already.
I appreciate the story of Mister Seahorse, because it shows the importance of fathers. It takes the time to acknowledge the fathers who are their children’s daily caretaker (married or not). This is not a popular topic for many children’s books. It also shows the camaraderie of men, and the importance of connection and supports. These are important things for my young boys to learn. If they find themselves as fathers later in life, I will find it one of my greatest accomplishments if I have helped to raise them to be safe harbors for their own children. Eric Carle is gone, but his legacy is not forgotten. I hope my legacy will be remembered too, even if it is not written about in a small blog (or every media outlet in the country). I just need mine to be remembered by a couple young boys.