What Would Dad Do?
MARTIN MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice. And yes, OK, we admit it. We are more likely to hear from moms than dads.
Why is that? Well, maybe because there are hundreds, if not thousands, of parenting blogs and books written by and for mothers, maybe because mothers are more used to talking to each other about being parents. But if you are a father, you probably know this. A lot of fathers are trying to change that. And one dad has put his money where his mouth is, and with his own money has created a web-based show by fathers, for fathers.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES "MY LIFE AS A DAD")
ROBERT NICKELL: Welcome to "My Life As A Dad." We all know any man can be a father, but it takes someone special to be a daddy.
MARTIN: That's Robert Nickell, host of the new web-based show "My Life As A Dad." It features Nickell in conversation with celebrity dads from a variety of backgrounds. Nickell is a father of seven and somehow or another he found time to be with us now. Thank you so much for joining us.
NICKELL: Thank you for having me here. I'm delighted to be here today.
MARTIN: How did the idea for a show happen? Were you watching a show or listening to a show that had no dad representation in it. You were thinking, wait a minute, what does dad have to say about that? Or was there something like that?
NICKELL: Right. I talk to a lot of dads. And a lot of dads would say, you know, yeah, I sort of read this book. And I didn't really read it. I read, like, the first chapter and I kind of put it down or I pretended to read it, you know, for my wife. And I was trying to think of - and think what's other medium that we could use to reach dads and help educate them? And a lot of the dads who are having their babies in their 20s are young. They look up to celebrities or they look up to athletes.
And so I wanted to create a show, which is basically just a three-minute pop with some advice from somebody that somebody can really listen to. Like maybe they really like this NFL player. And they're going to go, wow, he grew up without a mom and a dad and look where he's at and look how he loves his kids or look how he really feels about supporting his wife. And I feel like if you can make a man a better dad, you can make a better child. And you can make a better child, you can make a future better dad. And I think it's just good for society.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you why the focus on celebrities 'cause you interview celebrities from a variety of backgrounds - musicians, athletes, actors.
NICKELL: Well, what gave me the idea is people love talk shows. But the celebrity comes on, and the celebrity talks about their next movie coming up or their next gig and they're off the air. And so to bring them on a show and say we're all dads. Let's talk about being a dad. Let's talk about the funny. Let's talk about the hard.
We've had a few guys have tears in their eyes on the show. And the audience when they're listening to this, what I'm hoping, is that they're going to watch and go, you know what, I really like Tom Arnold or I really like Eric Christian Olsen or Chris Paul. And they're going to take a moment and they're going to listen to what he has to say. And if we can help to change their life, that's the goal.
MARTIN: Let me just play a short clip from the interview with Tom Arnold. He has a 6-month-old.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "MY LIFE AS A DAD")
TOM ARNOLD: The first time I had him alone for two hours, I was in there looking at him in the nursery. And he was crabby, but I just wanted to take it in. And all of a sudden I hear, pick him up. And I'm like who's talking? And she was at Neiman Marcus on her iPhone...
ARNOLD: ...Watching me.
NICKELL: That's hilarious.
ARNOLD: That's creepy. It's creepy. It's weird.
MARTIN: So they obviously have a security system where she can, you know...
MARTIN: ...Check, you know, remotely. But you called her out on this. You have a term for this. It's called backseat mommy. Right?
NICKELL: Right, backseat mommy.
MARTIN: Backseat mommy.
NICKELL: That's right.
MARTIN: And you talked to Tom Arnold about that. I may, hypothetically...
MARTIN: ...Have engaged in this conduct at some point.
NICKELL: Backseat mommy - what I call that is dads, we want to try. And, you know, we're going to fail a little bit. We're not going to do it as good as mom does 'cause mom's just a pro. She's got everything. Now, my wife will think of the next 25 things that need to happen throughout the entire day as she's planning her diaper bag or her pack. As where me as a dad, I think of the next hour ahead of me.
And, you know, it's just the way that guys and women think. But from a dad's standpoint, we really want to fail on our own. We really want to do it ourselves, and we want to have our own learning curve. If we go out of the house and we forget a diaper, then we got to figure out how to deal with it. And we will figure out how to deal with it, and then we'll pack our diaper bag better the next time.
MARTIN: So you ask a lot of basic questions like what's your philosophy on discipline, what do you do about sleep time, for example.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "MY LIFE AS A DAD")
NICKELL: So 6-month-old, you done with sleeping through the night? Or is that...
MARTIN: Why do you do that?
NICKELL: I do it because I think everybody has a different reaction. I was sort of looking for a commonality. Is there really a universal commonality here of how everybody does sleep training? And there's not. Or did it really all come from how they were raised? And sometimes they emulate their parents of how they were raised or they completely do the opposite of it. But really the commonality that I find is that they love their kids. I mean, that's one thing that you're going to hear throughout all the messages is, you know, I love my kids. I really love them, and that's what I want to do.
But the other thing I ask the questions, too, because I'm genuinely interested myself. And I actually am becoming a better dad every day myself everyday I do one of these interviews because I'm learning, I'm listening to what they're saying, and I'm like, yeah, wow. That is a really - that's really good. That's a good point.
MARTIN: So you do have a lot of fun with your guests, but you also get into some really tough issues at times. And I mentioned Tom Arnold earlier, and he disclosed in the course of the interview that he had been molested...
MARTIN: ...As a child. And he talked about how to talk about this with your own kids. First of all, were you prepared for that? Did you know that that was going to happen? And what do you think of that?
NICKELL: No, I wasn't prepared for it at all. I actually talked with Tom for almost three hours that day. And he is just a very, very deep individual. And having his son come into his life really, like, woke him up. And he's, like, re-energized, recharged. He wants to do what's right for his child. And I think that a lot of that was, you know, cleansing for him to talk to me as another dad.
I can relate to a lot of dads because of having four in my 20s and three in my 50s. And I've been divorced, and I've been remarried. And Tom is just a really sincere guy. No, I wasn't expecting that at all to come from him. But it was a very truthful thing that he said and something that he is working through and putting behind him and something that he never would want to have happen to his own son.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're talking with Robert Nickell. He is host of the web show about parenting. It's by a dad aimed at dads, and it's called "My Life As A Dad."
You have scored some really big interviews. I was hearing from your representatives that, in fact, you have not had difficulty getting some people to talk about this. I think some people might be surprised that some people who are really big stars do want to come and talk about this. Why do you think that they're attracted to this opportunity?
NICKELL: I think that deep down inside guys are proud to be the dad. And I look at it back on the days of all of the sitcom shows. You always had that - the dad, like the Archie Bunker and the Mr. Brady and the Bill Cosby and the - it's all about the family and being proud to be the dad.
And I think that the celebrities and athletes that we've talked to and musicians, they like talking about being a dad. And it's good for them to - just to talk about it with me. I think they leave the show being a better dad than when they came to the show. I leave the show being a better dad. And I think that they agree to do it because they just are very proud to be dads.
MARTIN: In one episode you spoke with NBA player Chris Paul, in the news right now, one might say the biggest name at the LA Clippers right now. He's also a major figure in the NBA Players Association. And here he is talking about being a dad. Here's Chris Paul.
(SOUNDBITE OF WEB SERIES, "MY LIFE AS A DAD")
CHRIS PAUL: I could care less how much money you make. You know, I tell people all the time my kids are the most important thing to me and being with them, being around them. Any time I have to go somewhere, it kills me. I hate it. I hate traveling. I hate traveling now 'cause my son is old enough, and he'll tell me, dad, I'm going to miss you while you're gone. Why are you leaving me?
MARTIN: I again wonder whether this might surprise some people that somebody that - a professional athlete, somebody who's as well recognized as Chris Paul would have those kinds of feelings. So I was wondering if it surprised you. Or do you look for people who kind of contradict the stereotypes that some people might have?
NICKELL: I take every interview just completely open-minded. And I just want to hear what they have to say. And Chris Paul, I mean, his son was there the entire time. I mean, in between little breaks, he'd run in with french fries and grab this and grab that. And just as you could see Chris Paul's sincerity for how much he loves his son, I mean, it was there. I mean, it was 100 percent true. And Chris is going to be a great dad, and his kids are going to be extremely luck to have him as a dad.
MARTIN: I noticed that often the interview subjects bring their kids to the set with them. Do you - is that something you encourage them to do or did that just happen?
NICKELL: So once we built out the new studio, we built an area called the play room, which when my kids see it on the show, they think it's theirs. They're like, what are those kids doing in our playroom, dad? But, yeah, we just - we encourage them to bring their kids down because a lot of people, they always see mom. They see mom at the stores or maybe they see dad at the amusement park, but they don't often see dad just sitting on the floor interacting with his kids.
MARTIN: Are you ever tempted to correct any of your guests? I mean, do you - do they ever say things that you don't agree with?
NICKELL: I have had a few where I've thought, you know, I really need to, like, maybe have a daddy session with them later and really talk about a few things.
MARTIN: Did you edit that out or did you leave it in?
NICKELL: On the particular individual I'm thinking of, we left in. We didn't change it. My goal is not to correct or to judge anybody when I'm interviewing them. So my goal is to listen to what they have to say, discuss it with them and move on to the next subject.
MARTIN: I want to mention among the people you've interviewed - I mentioned Tom Arnold, I mentioned Chris Paul - you also interviewed J.R. Martinez who was a fan favorite on "Dancing With The Stars." He's a severely injured veteran of the armed services from the Iraq war and has - had some interesting stories about how he was competing as his wife was pregnant and, you know, trying to balance her needs with his. Anybody - do you have a favorite interview? Is there an interview you really wish you had or you really want to have?
NICKELL: Oh, there's lots of people that I would love to have on the show - Elon Musk. If he's listening, I would love to have him on the show. And - but as far as a favorite, so far, Eric Christian Olsen just - I interviewed him before he ever had a baby. And then we're going to interview him again in the fall to talk about what it's like now a year and a half later - you know, how he felt before and how it is now.
MARTIN: Well, finally, how do you think this has changed you?
NICKELL: Well, we talk a lot about technology all the time. And, well, I'll listen to different dads, and they'll say, like, you know, well, I'll put my cell phone down or I won't put my cell phone down or I try to have specific time. And just the fact of talking about the technology and the cell phones and things like that, when I walk into the house at night, I take my cell phone out now and I'll put it on the banister. And I'll make sure I spend a good amount of time with my kids where I'm not checking my emails or looking at my text messages.
Another one is with listening to your kids. And Christian Hosoi, who I don't think his is up yet on the YouTube, but he was very, very down to earth as far as listening to his kids and relating to them and asking them about, you know, their feelings. And sometimes I don't necessarily - as a dad, I don't think about that myself, even though I'm doing this whole show.
But I'm sitting on the couch with my kids and my son starts to say, you know, just something to me about the gym class that he was at. And I think to myself, oh, this is a listening moment. So I start encouraging him into the conversation. And then the next thing you know, we've talked for 10, 12, 15 minutes about his gym. And I might not have done that otherwise. And so that's why I'm saying, it does make me a better dad because it makes me more aware of what's going on.
MARTIN: Robert Nickell is the host of the web series "My Life As A Dad." He's a father of seven. And he was kind enough to join us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Our studio's not as nice. They don't have as many play - things to play with as his studios, but, you know, we do our best. So, Robert Nickell, thanks so much for joining us.
NICKELL: Thank you, Michel. I appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.