Episode 35A – Jeff Johnson – Boy Lessons

Jeff has several boys, and like other authors, used what he learned raising his kids to write a book. He has been a lawyer and politician, and adds writer to his resume.

Besides this book, he runs a non-profit calls Can Do Canines where they raise and train service dogs.

Jeff recommends this book:

TRANSCRIPT:

Stephen 0:47
Welcome to another episode of discovered wordsmiths. Today, I’ve got Jeff Johnson, Jeff wrote a book called boy lessons, which is interesting, because last week, we had Doug noosed on talking about man lessons. So these two books are very similar. And it was kind of fun talking to both of them separately. If you like these types of books, the nonfiction books, the ones was self help the lessons in life. Let me know if we need more of these types of books on here. I’d love to interview more authors like this. But please, any of the books you listened to the podcast episode you listen to go check out the books, let the authors know where you found it. Let them know what you think of the books. These authors need some support. And that’s what we do. So now listen to Jeff. Here we go. Well, Jeff, thank you for coming on the podcast and talking to me today. It’s great to have you. Yeah. Thank you, Steven. I’m glad to be here from a from a distance. Right? Yeah, aren’t we all? So before we get into your book, why don’t you tell us a little bit about who you are, where you’re from a bit about your background and some stuff you’d like to do besides writing?

Jeff 1:54
Sure. So I I’m a lifelong Minnesotan, save for a few years in Chicago and Washington DC. But I was born and raised in rural Minnesota and came back here about 25 years ago after I got married to to my college sweetheart, who is also from Greater Minnesota, and we’ve been in the Twin Cities now for that whole time. We’ve got two boys who are the subject of the book that we’re going to talk about Thor is 22, I believe, and Ralph is 19. And we have a an 11 year old Bulldog who’s kind of probably counting down his last months, hopefully not as last weeks. But he’s been he’s been a part of our family for a long time. My background professionally is as a lawyer, I practiced Employment and Labor Law both for a large corporation called Cargill, and a couple of law firms in Chicago and here in Minneapolis. But I stopped practicing law probably 20 years ago and entered the world of politics. So I served a few terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. And now I just finished my last term on the Hennepin County Board, which is the largest county area in the in the upper Midwest and the county seat is Minneapolis and ran for governor a couple times here in Minnesota was the Republican candidate twice. And, and that wasn’t to be, but an unbelievably awesome experience despite election day. And now I’ve moved on and started just a few weeks ago as the CEO of a nonprofit called can do canines and we raise and train service dogs. service dogs for people with disabilities for people who have mobility issues, or hearing issues or diabetes, or childhood autism, or seizures. And it’s it’s been a wonderful change. And I’m just really excited about that. Outside of writing, and this is the only book I’ve ever written so I don’t do a ton of writing but I love to valve most of my life the past 20 years has been doing kids stuff with my boys whether it’s coaching or or work at church with the with the kids program or the youth ministry program, and tutoring kids and I also like to golf I’m not very good at it, but I do it every once in a while I I run to clear my mind, jog to clear my mind. And I like to read.

Stephen 4:22
Nice. Well, we’re gonna come back and touch on some of those topics in this part and then the next part because I want to hear more about the canine business, but before we do that, so your book is called boys stuff. Is that correct? Boy lessons. Boy lessons. I’m sorry. Yep. The last last guy. Okay. Boy lessons. So, before we talk about the actual book, why did you choose to, to write about this book and what got you into wanting to write?

Jeff 4:53
Well, the wanting to write piece was really it was almost response to my decision to leave politics. So in 2018, I was on the ballot in November 2018 for governor and lost that race and knew after that, which was my second race for governor that it was time to move on from politics. That’s one of the, I think one of the biggest problems people in politics have is that they don’t recognize when it’s time to leave. And it was time for me to leave. So I had two years to figure that out, because I had two years left on my term on the county board, which was nice. And so I started looking around for, you know, something that would be meaningful to me, and at the same time decided, you know, if I’m, I’ve always wanted to write a book, I think most people would probably say that, and I knew that if I was ever going to do it, that would be the time because once I started something new, your life kind of gets overtaken by that. So that’s when I decided, you know, in the next year and a half, essentially, I’m going to write a book. And that’s when I started. And it took me quite a while because I just did it in little fits and starts. The reason I wrote this book, regarding you know, what I’ve learned from from raising two boys, and, you know, coaching kids and tutoring kids, boys. It’s amazing to me, how every boy is, is so unique, but so similar in, in the challenges that they present us as parents. And I say that just because, you know, a lot of our friends, my wife, and my friends are parents of my kids friends. And so they are going through the same phases and the same ages that that we are or were at the time. And when we were honest with with each other as parents, as well as along with sharing those stories about how great your kid is, you share stories about the difficulties that they were causing you in the stresses that they were that they were causing you. And they’re all the same. You know, obviously, some are more severe when it comes to those disappointments or frustrations than others. But they all go through the same sorts of anxieties that are totally irrational. And they all go through that same period of of, of selfishness and self centeredness before they graduate from high school. And, you know, they There are just so many things that are similar about them. And I wanted to write the book just to share with other parents so that they know, they’re not alone. Because every parent is going through the same thing, no matter what they tell you,

Stephen 7:24
when you’re trying to write against. I love that. So you took your personal life experiences for the moment, and turned it into a book to help others, which you could have made the choice to do that about politics, you know, how to survive in politics, or how to survive as a lawyer, I think, why did you choose this as the, the thing you wanted to write about? Because

Jeff 7:49
this was easy for stories, and they’re fun stories and, and you know, that would be casual. And it just, I just thought it would be much more it was more interesting to me. And I think it applies to so many more people. I mean, you write a book about what you learned about politics, well, that’s probably interesting to people who want to go into politics, but a lot of the world wouldn’t be all wouldn’t really care about that book. And I thought this is just this applies to, you know, about half about half the parents in the in the world because about half the parents have boys and and actually, I’m learning from people who’ve read the book that a lot of the stories are just as just as accurate about girls, although there are a few things that are pretty unique.

Stephen 8:36
I love that. Because you may have heard of Chris Fox, he’s one of the writing gurus that a lot of people talk about, um, and he has a book called right to market. And that’s really essentially what you did is you looked at what you could write about, and chose the one that had the better market, the bigger market, the market that you felt more comfortable talking to?

Jeff 9:03
Yeah, no, I that’s I, I don’t know that. I did that on purpose. But you’re right. There’s truth to that.

Stephen 9:11
Yeah. And I think a lot of people take the whole right to market as, Oh, I got to figure out what people are gonna pay for and read, which you kind of did, but it wasn’t solely from the fact of, you know, this is a big market that needs addressed. It just made sense for you. So I like that. I’m gonna make sure I point this out to people when that topic comes up again.

Jeff 9:37
Well, it’s interesting too, because you know, is when I decided I’m going to write a book about my boys and and I wanted to keep it simple so that they’re not long chapters. So these are just all short little lessons. And the, you know, the most obvious way to go about this was, you know, what are the 50 things that every dad should teach his boys and, and I went online and there are 10,000 books. say that, you know, here are the things that every boy should know and what every dad teaches his son. So even though there’s a lot of similarity, I decided to take a slightly different tack and say, these are the things that I learned from my kids. You know, not because they’re brilliant, and they shared things from their brain to mind, but just because the the actual activity of being a parent, being a dad, of boys just teaches you a lot and changes you a lot. And for In my case, it made me better I think, as a as a person, and as a man, being able to raise kids, even though I screwed up plenty.

Stephen 10:38
So is the book focused for parents or for the boy themselves?

Jeff 10:43
It’s for the parents. Yeah. Okay. And, and, you know, I stay right in the introduction. I don’t pretend to have been some super dad, because I’m not there was. There are a lot of the lessons that I learned in here that I learned because I messed up as a dad, or that I learned too late. You know, there are several things in here. I say gal, I wish I had done that. As a dad, that would have been great. And I didn’t. And, you know, now maybe there’s some benefit to another dad, who’s got little kids to say, well, maybe

Stephen 11:16
I should do that. Do it that right. And I as a parent, that has kids that are older. Yes, I agree, that probably would have been great to have somebody walk into the waiting room and hand it to me read this. So well give us an example. What are some of the stories and some of the things you talk to parents about in the book.

Jeff 11:39
So, you know, the very first one that comes to mind, and this is this applies to I maybe didn’t do it just right, as a dad, but especially for boys. Sometimes they they’re not real emotive, they’re not real, they don’t share a lot of details about their lives. And both of our boys were chatterboxes as kids, as little kids. And then, I don’t know, maybe eighth grade or so early to mid teen years. They weren’t anymore. And our younger boy is is very outgoing. And he really kind of, he kind of shut down to a certain extent it it. It was difficult getting information from him. And our older boy who was an introvert just completely clammed up. So we never, you know, lots of Yeah, and know when when you’d ask an open ended question. But the one thing I learned was that every once in a while, they decided that they just wanted to, to download information from their day. And usually it was after I had waited up for them to come home and desperately wanted to go to bed. But they decided they wanted to share every little detail of their day. And it was literally the last thing I wanted to do. But I learned that my wife was much better about this than I was that, you know, if you’re busy working, or it’s time to go to bed, and they all of a sudden want to share things with you, even things that aren’t all that interesting, every, every little detail of their basketball practice. It’s time to set things aside and just sit and listen, because you may never get that information from them otherwise. And that’s where

Stephen 13:18
as a dad, and not only that, but you only got a couple chances really to do that. Right?

Jeff 13:24
No, that’s that’s exactly right. You know, another lesson that is, it’s kind of special to me is one of the lessons is to to, to enjoy the little moments with them, that maybe don’t seem like a big deal to you because they might be to them. And the example I give that is our younger son was I don’t know, maybe he was 10 or 12. And he was in Cub Scouts. And we went on a little Cub Scout camping trip together the two of us with other dads and their sons, and it was it was miserable. It was it was 100 degrees. It was humid the the mosquitoes were everywhere. We had to pitch our tent on an area that was all Rocky and just terribly uncomfortable. And it just it wasn’t a great experience. And so that night, we got we put up our tent and we got in our tent and ready to go to bed and all of the some of the other dads around us were already snoring so loud that I knew I was not going to sleep at night. But we turned on the flashlight and we’re kind of talking and he asked me the question something to the effect of dad tell me the three greatest things that have ever happened to you in your life. And so it came up I don’t even remember what the three were because I was so I was anticipating what he was gonna say. And so I told him and then I said, What are your three and one of them was I think the first time he wrote a like a real scary roller coaster and another one was I don’t remember what the second one was it had to do with a trip we took. And the third one was he said this right now just sitting here in this tent and talking to you. That’s that one of the three greatest things that’s ever happened to me and you It just made me recognize that you’ve got to appreciate those things that maybe aren’t all that wasn’t for you, or maybe don’t seem very important, because it might be one of the most important memories, you’re good as

Stephen 15:12
that. I think that’s really great. And I think it’s also great that you took all those lessons and wanted to put them into a book.

Jeff 15:20
Yeah, no one. It really, it’s just a whole bunch of stories about, you know, the, the, the joys and the anxieties of being parent, especially a parent of a boy.

Stephen 15:34
I was going to ask that, is it more more stories and less like lessons and teaching?

Jeff 15:44
You know, it’s, it’s kind of a mix of both I treat them you know, I think there’s 55 lessons in there. So each one is a is, you know, describes a lesson, but usually there’s a story or two to go along with it. And what I’ve heard from people who have read it is that the stories are meaningful to them, because they see their own kids in, in so many of these stories, because again, they’re just they are all so similar in what they go through over, you know, 18 or 20 years. Right. And I’m learning as a dad of a 2019 year old, it doesn’t necessarily get simple. They start to grow up.

Stephen 16:21
Oh, man, I was thinking that as you were talking, my wife and I, we’ve got six and five, her over a team. And it doesn’t really change. It doesn’t get simple, that you know, the first time they have to set a doctor appointment and go fill out the paperwork or go to a job interview. You know, they’re in your face, like, Oh, my God, what do I do? What do I do?

Jeff 16:43
Now that is that’s very true. And our older son just graduated from college a couple months ago. And so now he’s in the whole job search process, and he’s back home staying living with us for probably a few months till he finds something. And, and yeah, you just realize they’re, they’re not completely developed in their brains yet even especially boys, even at 22.

Stephen 17:04
Right? And how many country songs are about guys, after their father passes, wishing they could just ask them one more thing? Yeah. Yep. No. So did you publish this yourself? Or did you get an agent and a publisher?

Jeff 17:21
No, I did it myself. I tried to, I didn’t even pitch it to anyone because I, you know, I talked to some people who knew the business and they said, you can try that. But it’s gonna be hard. And I really wanted to get it written and done and out before I started my new job on January 1. So you know, what 810 12 month process wasn’t realistic for me. So I just decided to do it on my own, got the help of a professional editor and hired her, she was great. And did hire somebody to do the cover design and the interior design. So you know, spend a couple 1000 bucks in the end, and then, and then another person who helped me kind of navigate Amazon and all the other things that I had to do, which is, can be a little daunting, I think, if you don’t have a bunch of time,

Stephen 18:10
right? So it’s been out for how long? Six weeks, seven weeks, it was not November that I put it out? Okay, and what type of feedback have you been getting from readers?

Jeff 18:24
I’ve been getting great feedback. I mean, the, you know, the reviews on Amazon, there aren’t a ton of them. But there’s 20, or 25. And they’ve all been just really positive. And, you know, some of those reviews are from my friends and family. But when I started getting ones from people I’d never heard of that actually meant something to me, it wasn’t just someone being nice, because they knew me, right? And I’m, you know, I’m on Oh, gals called discovery or read z or something like that. And that had a really great review with five stars and somebody, you know, put some real effort into writing it. It’s just been really positive. And I think it is because people, again, they’re seeing their own kids in the stories and the stories. I mean, I try to show a little humor and humility. And I think people people appreciate that. Because, you know, we all everybody’s got great kids are almost everybody has great kids. And mostly you hear about how great those kids are. And people don’t often share the, you know, the anxiety that goes with it and, and where they mess up. And I think it’s I think people appreciate seeing that. And by the way, I did let both of my boys read this before I did. And they both had veto power over everything and and didn’t choose to change anything. So I appreciated that.

Stephen 19:41
Oh, nice. Good. So it’s available on Amazon. Do you have it anywhere else available?

Jeff 19:47
You know, I? Yes, there’s a there’s a site called Itasca books calm that is selling signed copies for the same price. And then I’m pretty sure it’s on most of the other sites as well, Barnes and Noble. When I think it’s not Apple books, because I went through Ingram, so I think they kind of put it out far and wide.

Stephen 20:09
So, you’ve got this available ebook and print? Yes. Yeah. Do you find it selling? Better one or the other?

Jeff 20:19
Yeah, many more printed copies than he bought? Not even close.

Stephen 20:25
And why do you think that is?

Jeff 20:28
You know, I have no idea other than for me, I mean, maybe there’s just a lot of people like me 1015 years ago, whenever it was that I, you know, got my iPad and started deciding I was going to do ebooks, he just wasn’t the same. And now I do very few ebooks, and I just prefer to have a paper copy in my hands. So I don’t know if that’s, you know, if that’s it, or if the topic has anything to do with that, whether it’s just all books or that way, but I’d say it’s, it’s at least 10 to one paper?

Stephen 20:57
Well, actually, I was, I was placing a bet with myself that you were selling more print copies, a lot of help, and seem to sell more print, at least as what I have seen. And things for kids, whether it’s for kids or nonfiction parenting type book, they seem to be more print. So

Jeff 21:21
that’s interesting. Yeah, no, that’s definitely the case here. And it’s, you know, it’s a it’s a short and small book. So it’s easy for people to, you know, to stick in a folder, or backpack or briefcase or something like that.

Stephen 21:37
Have you thought of trying to do an audio book?

Jeff 21:41
You know, I thought about a little bit and talk to my friend who was in the publishing business. And he said, you know, you can do that, but he, he didn’t recommend it, because it probably wouldn’t be the sort of book that a lot of people would want to listen to, they’d actually want to read it and, and maybe read it again. So I haven’t I don’t know if you have any advice there?

Stephen 22:02
Um, well, I know audio books are picking up. And I know a lot of people like to listen to audio books. I don’t know. It’s just something maybe, to think about. You’ve got a very pleasant voice. You could even try and record it yourself and see what happens. Yeah, no, I

Jeff 22:20
guess I hadn’t really given once he said, Dad, just just get the thing out. And don’t worry about it. I haven’t really given it a second thought. But that’d be kind of fun to do. Yeah.

Stephen 22:31
So do you have any plans for another book?

Jeff 22:34
I don’t. I am. No, I don’t, I’ve got ideas for other books. But I’m pretty sure in the short term, and probably the medium term for the next several years, I’m going to be really focused on my new venture here, and just probably won’t be able to, or won’t choose to put the time into that. But you know, maybe 10 years down the road, or when I retire, it’d be fun to do something again.

Stephen 23:01
Because there’s also lots of other things like an actual like workbook, which goes hand in hand and has exercises or places for parents to write down notes on what they did, and things like that. It’s just the possibilities of doing this, in many other ways independently is pretty staggering sometimes.

Jeff 23:26
Yeah. You know, I hadn’t given that any thought of, you know, kind of a little more interactive, you know, something else to go with this book, as opposed to just starting from scratch with something different. And that would be I mean, that would be kind of fun. I think it would be if I, if I would put the time into it. It could be very useful. I think for other parents, maybe down the road.

Stephen 23:47
Maybe that’d be interesting to hear later. If you’ve done anything more on what happened with it. Yeah, no, absolutely. I’ll get that. So. So Jeff, do you have any favorite books and authors that you’ve read throughout your life? I, I,

Jeff 24:03
I do I there is, Oh, no, I can’t recall the name of the author. But what it takes is a book there’s a political book that I have read more than once. There’s a book called Abraham that I’ve that’s the most recent book that I’ve read that I thoroughly have enjoyed. I tend to be a nonfiction, nonfiction readers. So I love biographies and just read are just probably halfway through a nonfiction book about Dodge City, Kansas. And I apologize that I can’t remember the names of the authors of these books, but it’s a it’s essentially a book about about that cow town that you know, turned into the wild west essentially. And I’m thoroughly enjoying that Most of my reading time is with nonfiction and history and biography.

Stephen 25:05
Okay. That’s, uh, I’ll have to look up some of those books and link them in the show notes. Yeah, that’d be great. They’re, they’re good. And where you live? Do you have a local bookstore that you’d like to go to?

Jeff 25:19
Not a, not just kind of a mom and pop local bookstore. In fact, I don’t know that in the suburb that I’m in. I don’t know that we actually have one. To be honest, we’ve got you know, there was a Barnes and Noble at the, at the mall. But most of my books I have ordered online for the past several years now. And I usually try to have two or three sitting by the bed at once and just read them all at the same time and in different funks.

Stephen 25:50
Okay, well, before we close this part of the podcast, if there’s someone listening, and they’re debating whether to buy your book or not, what would you tell them a reason that they should go get your book.

Jeff 26:04
I will tell them it’s a it’s a very quick and fun read. And if you are a parent, particularly a parent of a boy, or maybe a grandparent of a boy, you will, you will appreciate the stories because they’ll be familiar to you. And you might learn something about doing what you do even better.

Stephen 26:25
Great. All right, Jeff, I appreciate you taking some time to talk to us about the book. And for everyone that’s interested. We’re going to have a second half of the podcast where we talk about the life transitions and writing a book. So thank you very much, Jeff. Yep. Thank you, Stephen.

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