As my regular blog readers know, fellow Babble blogger and Knoxvillian John Cave Osborne is one of my fave people. JCO and I first met about 8 (or 9?) years ago, right after he had rather suddenly quit his promising corporate career, left the Pacific Northwest, and moved back to his hometown of Knoxville, Tennessee to do something… different.
He wasn’t exactly sure what that something was yet, but he knew that the life he’d been living was starting to feel not-quite-right. His gut told him he had to re-orient, even if he wasn’t at all certain yet what direction that re-orientation was going to take him.
But he did know one thing. He could write, and he wanted to write. And so when he landed back here in Knoxville, he tentatively dipped his previously loafered toe into the idea of writing by signing up for a night class offered by the University of Tennessee. And the person teaching that writing class was? Me. Yes, UT hired someone who has still never taken a single writing class herself to teach one. I felt like a bit of a sham, even though I surely appreciated the paycheck.
At that point in our lives, when we first met in that night class in a downtown convention hall, JCO and I had a hell of a lot more in common than either of us realized until much later. For starters, we were just about the same age, and we came from similar, southern backgrounds. He was a Webb School of Knoxville alum, while I’d graduated from The Webb School in Bell Buckle. We both hailed from somewhat – how to put this? – quirky families of origin. And we were both 30-something, wanna-be writers in the middle of major, major life transitions.
John had just closed up shop on the identity he’d spent a decade constructing — high-flying, bachelor business guy — while I’d just ended my 12-year marriage to my college sweetheart. After years of travel and work and more travel and work, John was back in Knoxville, trying to figure out what in the world came next for him, while I was flailing around, unsure how to craft a new life where I would go from work-at-home writer mom of 3 young children to working single mom who could actually buy food and pay the utility bill without sticking her head in the oven.
JCO and I hit it off right away — never in a romantic way, but as friends who found the other clever, amusing and kind. And we hung out some during that period … and then we didn’t see each other again for several years, even though we both stayed in the same town.
Fast forward to 2009, when after sporadic emails over the years, John got in touch to ask if I could find time to have lunch with him. He wanted to tell me about the book he’d written, and the blog he was launching, and oh yeah, by the way, that bachelor guy I’d met – the one with the empty fridge and a spastic dog as his only live-in family member? Well, it turns out that since I’d seen John last, he’d co-founded a successful small business here in Knoxville, but had remained actively (ahem!) single until 2004, when he reconnected with Caroline, a wayback high school crush, after she herself had been through a divorce. And after running into Caroline in 2004, my friend and his now-wife dated for two years before marrying, meaning that JCO became both a husband to Caroline, as well as a stepdad to A, Caroline’s supercute 5-year-old daughter.
And as if that weren’t enough change, John and Caroline immediately (like, IMMEDIATELY) conceived triplets, meaning that within only 13 months, John Cave Osborne went from bachelor with a girlfriend to married father-slash-stepdad to FOUR children.
But even with all of this going on, John never gave up on his goal of becoming a writer. In fact, when we met for lunch, he presented me with a copy of his newly published book, a memoir about the whirlwind I just described to you. And he also showed me the blog he had just launched. I told him about the life I’d reassembled from the pieces of the one I’d been leaving behind when we first met. I gushed about my husband Jon,whom I’d married in 2006, and I shared stories about my three oldest children, whom he’d heard all about back when I had taught the class he’d taken. I showed him photos of my blonde two-year-old daughter, and shared that Jon and I hoped to maybe even have another baby. Even though we hadn’t seen each other in a long time, we chatted like old pals. I was so happy to see how happy he was.
Ever since that time, JCO and I have had regular lunches together at least once a month, often more. He never, ever lets me pay, and at this point, I’ve given up trying. I’ve met Caroline, and it’s very easy to see why he crushed on her for all those years before he finally landed her. She lovely in every way, and soooo perfect for him. And since we reconnected in 2009, he and I have both become parents to our FIFTH children: his, Grand Finale, and mine, Danger Baby.
JCO was one of the few people beyond family in whom I fully confided during those unbearably awful few months just before Henry was hospitalized and died; I told John over our lunches how terrified I was, and how consumed with trying to get my child safely back into rehab. Although I remember very little from Henry’s memorial service, I do remember seeing JCO standing in line to hug me. And he and Caroline were among the very first donors to what would become Henry’s Fund.
In addition to the meaningful parts of our friendship, JCO and I have also had some bizarrely entertaining friend experiences, like last spring when we were both at a conference for bloggers in New Orleans. I’d flown down from Knoxville for the event, while he’d driven. But I lost my driver’s license somewhere on Bourbon Street during a memorable evening out with JCO and our other pals from Babble who were in NOLA for the same conference, meaning that I could not board an airplane to get back to Knoxville the next morning. Thus, I ended up hitching a ride back to East Tennessee with JCO, giving us 9 hours of non-stop, freestyle chatter about everything under the sun.
During any roadtrip, I generally stop every 90 minutes or so, just, y’know, to stretch my legs, etc, etc. I mean, doesn’t everyone do that? Well, as it turns out, JCO does NOT do that. He instead prefers to barrel along without pause for ungodly stretches of interstate. So during our 9-hour journey, he tolerated my frequent requests for layovers with (literally) gritted teeth, while I teased him about an intensity and pace behind the wheel that wouldn’t look out of place at the Daytona 500.
So that — in a wordy nutshell — is the relationship that JCO and I share. He’s a dear friend, even if he does refer to me as a bag lady, and REALLY DID force me to sit in the passenger seat of his SUV for something like 274 miles in one stretch somewhere in Alabama WITHOUT BEING ALLOWED TO STOP AND USE A RESTROOM EVEN ONE TIME.
People pay John and Caroline a good deal of attention because they are the parents of exceptionally cute, now-four-year old triplets. Even Ashton Kutcher is a fan of The Osborne Three. And while there’s no question whatsoever that parenting babies/toddlers/preschoolers in triplicate is noteworthy and commendable, the most exceptional fathering that JCO does is much less flashy, and no one ever really gushes over him for it. Instead, he just quietly handles this special relationship that he has without fanfare, and without asking for any special notice or appreciation. I’m referring to John’s role as stepfather to A, the oldest of his family’s blended brood of five kids.
A already has a father, so she didn’t/doesn’t need “another father.” To his credit, JCO is hugely respectful of that fact, and of those boundaries. Yet he has still managed to carve out and define his own unique family relationship with this adorable little girl, never attempting to replace or undermine her father, but instead supporting and respecting that fundamental relationship in a way that makes A’s whole family stronger.
I am the first one to admit that I don’t know anything about being a stepparent. I am not one now, and never have been one. I also never had a stepparent of my own while I was growing up. But my own children have a stepfather in their lives — my husband Jon — and I see how challenging this particular role is to get right. Men like my husband Jon and my friend JCO who do manage to get it right are pretty special, and I am kind of in awe of how they manage to pull it off.
John Cave Osborne has a new blog post up right here at Babble Voices, titled “Fifteen Things Every Stepparent Should Know.” And even though I’m not a stepparent myself — again, I am freely admitting here that I know NOTHING about how tough the stepparenting gig actually is for those of you in the trenches — I loved reading what JCO had to say. I felt like I gained some new insight into what it’s like to be the “extra” important man in the life of a child, with all of the complexities and challenges and joys that the role brings. I suspect that for those of you who are stepparents yourselves — and stepdads in particular — you, too will really respond to JCO’s new post because he’s so clearly and compassionately articulated your life.
Thanks, JCO for being one of the important “extra” guys in my life. I am a better person for having you as a friend.
However, just for the record? The next time we roadtrip, I’m calling the shots …
READ MORE FROM KATIE OVER AT MAMAPUNDIT (HER PERSONAL BLOG)