By Kathleen Guthrie Woods
My nephews love Suck It Up, Tate!, one of three books for kids by Ron Harner. It is one of those books they beg me to read to them “Again! Again!” Clearly, Ron “gets” kids, so it may come as a surprise that he doesn’t have any of his own.
How many times have we heard “You wouldn’t understand, you’re not a parent” and felt our blood boil? The next time some unfeeling person slings this at you, remind them that Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, didn’t have children of his own. Then tell them about Ron Harner. His story is below.
By the way, when Geisel was asked about not having kids, he responded, “You have ’em, I’ll entertain ’em!” Sounds like Ron is doing a bang-up job of this as well.
LWB: Are you childfree by choice, chance, or circumstance?
Ron: Most definitely by chance. I was on track to be a father, and then my first marriage blew up unexpectedly and pretty spectacularly. I was reeling for a while. Having kids was the plan, but life doesn’t always stick to the plan.
LWB: Where are you on your journey now?
Ron: Not having children is something I made peace with a while ago. That’s not to say I don’t get twinges occasionally, but, after my breakup, I didn’t go looking for a mother. I didn’t go looking for anybody. I met a girl in an elevator one day, and everything changed for the better. Kids weren’t in the cards for us. That was twelve years ago. I’m glad I didn’t take the stairs that day.
LWB: What was your inspiration for the first book/series?
Ron: I’m the youngest of five children. My brother and sisters all have a bunch of kids. One Thanksgiving, we were sitting around the table and my oldest sister said, “You write everything else, why don’t you write a children’s book?” And then she added, “…but not one that’s all sunshine and lollipops. I’d love to find a book in which the kid screws up and has to deal with it.”
So, I wrote one. It’s called Suck It Up, Tate! I’m fortunate to count a ridiculously talented Disney animator [Michael Surrey] among my friends, so I enlisted him to make it look great. I was able to publish that one, and then was asked to write two more.
LWB: Are readers surprised to learn you don’t have children?
Ron: Readers do seem surprised to discover I don’t have kids. But, like I mentioned, I have a brood of nieces and nephews who I adore. I spend as much time with them as I can, and they supply me with a ton of material.
I should note that I have a dog, Maggie, who I need as much as she needs me. People see the way I act with her, and that’s when I get the “How is it that you don’t have children?” question the most.
LWB: How gratifying is it to hear “My kid wants me to read it to him every night!”? Do you feel like you are making a difference in a kid’s life through your stories?
Ron: My aim was to write books that would appeal to kids and adults. The messages in these books are lessons my father gave me when I was young—not verbally; Dad wasn’t a big lecturer. He led by example. I took what stuck with me, added funny characters, and the stories just poured out.
I have to say it’s incredibly gratifying when I get a note from a parent who tells me one of the books has struck a chord with their child or that he or she shouts out the title at the right point of the story. Books played a big part of my life growing up, so that makes me smile.
LWB: What’s the hardest part for you about not having children?
Ron: Most times I’m fine. There are times when I’d love to be able to be share some of the things I’m passionate about with someone just coming up in the world. I play my favorite records for my dog, but she seems underwhelmed.
LWB: What’s the best part about not having children?
Ron: I’m able to spend real quality time with my wife, doing the things we love to do together. Until just recently, when we got hitched, we were not tied together by anything other than the fact that we love being with each other. Plus, I can indulge all the creative stuff I like to do, including writing and performing sketch comedy with a great group of comedians I met at The Second City. That stuff is pretty liberating.
LWB: What’s the best advice you’d offer someone else like you?
Ron: The only advice I’d dare give anyone is to be truly honest with yourself. I’m insanely happy with my lot in life. Don’t do something just because someone expects you to, and don’t turn away from something that drives you just because it’s difficult.
LWB: Are more books coming?
Ron: Kids frequently ask me if I’m going to write a fourth book—they’ve even gone so far as to suggest new stories! Maybe I’ll reread the first three books after this interview. Who knows where the next good idea will come from?