Some of you have asked me some perfectly valid questions about the fact that I’m writing a book on parenting. Questions like: Rob, do you actually feel qualified to write a book about being a dad? Shouldn’t you wait until your kids are a little older–you don’t even have teenagers yet and that’s when the real parenting begins. How can you write, “a guide to not messing your kids up” when you don’t know if your kids are going to get messed up?
Before I answer these let me back up and give a little context. Nearly all of the books I’ve published up to this point are works of fiction. It takes a lot of work, dedication, sweat, tears, and blood poured onto the page to write stories that are any good. There is a certain kind of universal truth in stories, but I could always hide behind the fact that everything I wrote was make-believe. Some people read my first novel and asked, “Is that what you really think about church?” I could answer, “No, that’s what Ryan Fisher thinks.”
I can’t hide behind fiction in The Perfect Dad because this is the first book where I am letting you into my marriage, my parenting, my kids, and one of the darkest moments of my life. You get to read it all and I stand behind every word I wrote. Not some fictitious character. This is me, Rob Stennett, the man, the father, and the author. But I know you still have questions. So, let me start with the most rudimentary of all.
QUESTION #1) Rob, do you actually feel qualified to write a book about parenting?
No, not at all. At least I didn’t when this book got started, which is what sent me on this journey. I realize that my children are the most important gift I’ll ever receive and parenting is the most important job I’ll ever perform. I wasn’t trained for any of it. Some people have told me, “Yeah, but you’re a dad that makes you qualified.” I don’t know if believe having a kid makes me qualified to teach parenting any more than owning a riffle qualifies me to teach about gun safety. It’s easy to acquire things. That doesn’t mean we’re experts.
When you suddenly become responsible for something with an incalculable value like a signed Babe Ruth rookie card, or the Ark of the Covenant, or the life of a tiny human-being it snaps you to attention. It makes you feel like you’re crossing a tightrope between two skyscrapers. Fatherhood is the most difficult job I’ve ever been given, so I’ve decided I need to train. This book is about that training. Think of it less as if I’m Dr. Spock of James Dobson walking down from Mount Saini with parenting tablets of wisdom. It’s more like I’m Rocky training for a fight and I feel horrifically mismatched for, yet doggedly determined to make it to the final round.
QUESTION #2) Shouldn’t you wait until your kids are a little older—you don’t even have teenagers yet and that’s when the real parenting begins?
Here is how I look at this question. Once upon a time in the 1990s when Kurt Cobain, Bill Clinton, and Arsenio Hall ruled the world, I graduated Junior High school. I remember some of the things this phase of life threw at me like having a locker for the first time and trying to talk to girls as my voice cracked. I also know there are many moments that have slipped away like orbs in the memory pit of Inside Out. If I could write a book about Junior High while I was still in school it would carry a certain amount of authenticity. I wouldn’t be able to write from the privilege of hindsight knowing how the story ends. I would just have to let you into the story one day at time as I was living it.
This is what I’m doing with my parenting book. I wanted to capture moments like discovering my wife is pregnant, the baby’s delivery, dealing with toddler meltdowns, and having my kids cry about not wanting to go to school. I wanted to write about this not from the position of an expert who can say, “Grasshopper, this is how it’s done,” but more like a fellow castaway trying to stay afloat in this crazy ocean of parenting. Think of me not like Gandalf offering sage advice, but more like Sam Wise walking alongside my fellow dads as we try one step at time to scale Mount Doom. And moms if you want to know what’s going on inside our heads as we try to climb this mountain, this book may give you a great insight.
QUESTION #3: But Rob your book is called a guide to not messing your kids up! How do you know if your kids are going to get messed up when they haven’t even left the house yet?
Obviously, I don’t. When I started this project I wrote out a list of twelve jobs I think every dad should know how to do. Twelve jobs that I’ve been required to either perform or fake my way through since becoming a parent like being a doctor, a coach, a protector, a teacher, a pastor, or a judge when I administer discipline. I then sought out the expertise of other fathers and parents who knew something specific about these jobs. I talked to a fathers who specialized in law enforcement about how to protect my kids, I talked with the principal of elementary school about how I could better help my kids with their schoolwork. These dads are both an experts in their field and parents with grown kids.
At the core of every one of my questions I was asking other dads who have walked ahead of me: How can I do this without messing my kids up? Not that I care if my kids mess up, but as one dad I talked to said, “There are some kids who succeed in spite of their parents and some kids who succeed in because of their parents. I want to be the latter.” This book is a result of me taking the advice of other fathers and applying it to my own life. It most challenging and personal thing I’ve ever written and you can preorder it here.