Murfreesboro police spokesman Sgt. Kyle Evans says James King was at an apartment building at about 11 p.m. Saturday when he saw a boy outside crying.
Police say four children between the ages of 2 and 7 had been left alone.
Evans tells the Daily News Journal that the oldest child told police they woke up to find their father gone.
Police say 25-year-old Rodger Katzenmaier returned about an hour later and said he had gone to use the telephone.
Katzenmaier was charged with felony child neglect and is jailed on $12,000 bond.
Jail officials had no record of an attorney for him.
The children are with their mother. She and Katzenmaier are separated.