How much do you love me? A storybook that is a gift of love from a dying dad to his little boy

Storytime was always special for Scott and Anne Sutton and their young son, Alec. The McCandless couple often shared three to five books a night with him. In 2016, when Alec was only 8 months old, Scott was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroendocrine cancer.

Scott, Alec and Anne Sutton

Family time became even more precious before Alec’s daddy succumbed to his illness on Dec. 13, 2018, at age 36. Little Alec was 3.

But Scott left a special gift for his son: a children’s book, “I Love You Like …,” that he co-authored with longtime friend, Alec Traub, little Alec’s namesake. The two met as co-workers in Indianapolis before moving on to other jobs, with Scott landing in Pittsburgh and Alec in L.A. Their book was inspired by a series of jokey emails and text messages they wrote to each other to keep in touch.

Alec explains: “One day I randomly got a text message saying, ‘I miss you like the grasshopper misses grass … and hopping.’ I loved it. I cracked up and immediately texted him back: ‘I miss you like the anteater misses ants … and eating.’ ”

The silly exchange between the friends went on for more than 15 years with Alec saving the quips.  “I just felt as if sometime, someplace they would be worth remembering,” he says.

Not long after Scott’s diagnosis in 2016, Alec and his wife, Dana, visited the Suttons in Pittsburgh. Chatting on the back porch, the idea developed to use their jokes as part of a children’s book, changing “I miss you like” to “I love you like.”

Alec Traub and Scott Sutton

As part of their research, the partners looked at many of the children’s books on the market. What distinguishes their book from many of the others, Alec says, “is the friendship connection between Scott and me, the connection between father and son and the underlying themes of love and loss, all combined.”

“I Love You Like …” is told with father-and-son cartoon grasshoppers. The son asks the father, “How much do you love me?” and the father answers, using some of the same lines Scott and Alec used in their correspondence.

After working together for about 18 months, Scott and Alec finished their book last August, before Scott’s health took a turn for the worse and he was placed in hospice care. The two friends agreed that proceeds from sales of the book would go toward a college fund for little Alec. (You can buy it here.)

“This journey for me has truly been one of, if not the most, amazing and special things I’ve ever done or been a part of,” Alec says. “It may sound cliché, but for me, there’s so much more to this than money. Knowing that this can help little Alec in so many ways is an amazing feeling.”

For Anne, dealing with her husband’s illness and death has been difficult, but the love and warm wishes she receives from family and friends help her with her loss.

“I’ve been finding that I still want to tell the world about how wonderful he was,” she says. “Talking about him doesn’t make me sad. In fact, it’s the opposite. And for me, the book is the perfect example of everything good about Scott. He was determined. He was a great father. He had unmatched wit.

“I am still so proud of him – and telling people about his book is my way of telling the world about him.”