Despair turns into kids’ book about mental health

Todd and Jack Rennebohm look at the book Todd wrote to help children cope when their parents deal with mental health challenges. | Christalee Froese photo

After hitting rock bottom, including a suicide attempt, Sask. man writes book to help children with mentally ill parents

INDIAN HEAD, Sask. — It was a very dark night that eventually led Todd Rennebohm out into the light.

In the middle of a drinking and smoking binge in his garage, Rennebohm began thinking about how his kids, then aged 10 and 12, viewed his emotional struggles. Rock bottom had come after many challenges with his mental health, including a suicide attempt and a hospital stay.

“I came into the house that night and began writing the very first draft of the book,” said the 43-year-old addiction support worker.

“I ended up getting very sick and suicidal shortly after that. I ended up in the hospital that night but I’ve been sober ever since.”

Fast forward three years when Rennebohm found himself continuing to recover from his addiction and mental health issues as the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020.

The slowdown of social commitments allowed Rennebohm the time to complete the book he had started out of desperation three years earlier.

The children’s book Sometimes Daddy Cries compares mental illness to a physical ailment, allowing children to see that parents need as much time to heal as they would if they were injured.

“I’m hoping that the book normalizes depression and other mental health issues, not just for children but also for parents,” said the Indian Head father.

“My hope is that others can feel free to deal with their issues openly and honestly, instead of in the shadows or in secrecy.”

Part of Rennebohm’s recovery process involved hospitalization, counselling and time to rest and rejuvenate. During his years of recovery, his wife Jennifer and his sons Jack, now 16, and Howie, 14, were a strong system of support.

“I had a lot of guilt during my episodes and I know now that it’s OK to get sick, that mental health is no different than physical health and that as a parent, it’s OK to take the time needed to take care of myself,” said Rennebohm.

“If I didn’t take that time, then not only would I be a mess or worse, my family’s life would be a mess.”

He’s hopeful that the book will show readers the importance of talking openly about what it takes to cope with depression, addictions and any other form of mental struggle.

“It’s OK to talk about mental illness, medication and hospital stays,” said Rennebohm.

“If people are uncomfortable that means they are growing and learning and that’s a good thing.”

Rennebohm likens surviving mental health issues with being a cancer survivor.

“People are often described as ‘proud’ cancer survivors, and they should be but what I hope is that one day there are also proud suicide-attempt survivors or people who are proud to be in recovery from a mental illness.”

One of the driving forces to write the book came from Rennebohm’s desire to let his kids, and all kids, know it is not their fault when mental illnesses arise.

“They need to know that their parent loves them, even on the hardest days.”

Reviews for Sometimes Daddy Cries, which was illustrated by Jessie Stueck, have been positive.

“I love how it captures the experience of sadness and depression through a child’s perception and how the book concludes on such a hopeful note,” wrote registered psychologist Joanne Frederick.

Many have thanked Rennebohm for his bravery in putting into words their own struggles. One mother, whose husband has spent time in the hospital for mental health issues, said her daughter runs and gets the book out every time her dad goes to see his counsellor.

“Her three-year-old brings out the book and they read it together at least twice,” said Rennebohm.

“Hearing stories like that makes me so happy.”

Rennebohm’s book Sometimes Daddy Cries is available on Amazon.

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