Clint Edwards, FATHER-ISH

Clint Edwards, FATHER-ISH

Zibby Owens: Welcome, Clint. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Clint Edwards: Oh, hey. Happy to be here.

Zibby: That’s when you say, “Thanks for having me.”

Clint: That was my que. I missed my que. I’m not very professional. People are always like, why don’t you go live? I’m like, because I’m so awkward.

Zibby: No, you’re not awkward. You’re so funny. I started reading this book not in the best mood. You know those moods when you’re like, I just don’t feel like laughing? I don’t want to get out of my bad mood. I just want to marinate in it for a while. I was reading your book. You made me laugh a few times out loud. I’m like, gosh, okay, fine, I’m not in a bad mood anymore.

Clint: That’s good. That’s the goal. I think I’m funny, and that’s the most important part. My family, I think they’re tired of me. They’ve known me for so long, my siblings and my mother in particular. I love to bring up at family dinners that I’m a recognized humorist. I’ll be like, “You guys know I’m a recognized humorist. I’m a funny guy.” Everybody at the table just groans.

Zibby: You can always trust your family to put you in your place.

Clint: You can really. Yep, your family and your children. Definitely.

Zibby: Father-ish is your latest book, Laugh-Out-Loud Tales from a Dad Trying Not to Ruin His Kids’ Lives. You have an amazing blog. You’ve written other books. You just have this way of making all these everyday moments in parenting life really funny and relatable. You end up really rooting for you. You compare yourself often, in this book at least, to Clark Griswold who was, as a child of the eighties, my dad hero of sorts or something. You’re much less awkward, it seems, than Clark.

Clint: It’s funny. My blog, it’s No Idea What I’m Doing. Across platforms, I’m getting close to a half a million followers, which seems really cool. I still have a day job, so it can’t be that cool. What is funny is I often have people say, oh, man, I wish we were neighbors. I wish we could have dinner or hang out. I’m like, you would be shocked how boring I am in real life. I think what I’m good at is just finding the humor in boring things. For the most part, I’m just this thirty-something-year-old dude wandering around in sweatpants. I’m not that interesting. I’ve just been lucky enough to be able to find some of that humor. I’ve been lucky my wife is willing to let me do it. She’s allowed me to be able to write freely about our kids and her. They’re the most interesting people I got, easily. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to just sit down and be able to find the humor in it.

Zibby: When did you start writing? Did this proceed your kids? Did you write as a kid yourself? Is it something that came up when you just had all this material in your head suddenly?

Clint: I don’t know how far back I want to go on this.

Zibby: Go all the way back.

Clint: I was not one of those kids. I graduated high school, and I didn’t know how to type. I’d never read a novel. I was a failure of the education system. When I met my wife, I was twenty-one. I told her I wanted to go to college, but I didn’t know how to type. She was like, “I’ll help you.” She actually typed my papers when I first started college. I would handwrite them. My spelling would be so bad and my handwriting was so bad, she couldn’t actually read it. I would sit next to her. She was living in this apartment across the street from the liquor store, just this run-down, crappy apartment. I would read the paper to her, and she would type them. That was when we first started dating. I couldn’t help but fall in love with her. I was really scared to take English composition and all that sort of stuff when I got into college. Then I finally did. I had a really great professor. I got really lucky. One of the first assignments was to write a humorous essay. I wrote a story about when I crapped my pants my freshman year in PE. Everybody just thought it was so funny. I had so much fun writing it. The professor was like, “This is really unfortunate, what happened to you, but this was really, really funny and well-done.”

That was when I got the writing bug. I changed my major from powerline technology to English. My mother was like, “What are you going to do with that?” I just told her, “Homeless.” It’s what she wanted to hear. It was the easier answer. My blog is titled No Idea What I’m Doing. It’s because my dad had a drug addiction and I didn’t know him very well. He was in and out of my life. That was kind of how I felt going into dad stuff. Anyway, I started writing a lot of essays that were funny. Then I started writing a lot of serious stuff. Then I eventually went and got an MFA in creative writing. I thought I was going to write this heartbreaking tragedy memoir like Liars’ Club type of thing. I finished my MFA. I spent a summer as a stay-at-home dad trying to sell the book. I was rejected by — I have a whole spreadsheet. It’s a spreadsheet of shame. I have two hundred-plus agents and small publishers in there that rejected me. I was so depressed and so frustrated. I thought, you know, I got to do something different. I took the dust off this blog that I created as an undergrad and just started writing about my kids. It was something else. I didn’t think anyone would be very interested in my kids, but maybe they would. The first thing I published on there was about being a stay-at-home dad. I think it was read by a thousand people. My head just exploded. I thought, what? A thousand people read this? The last literary journal I was published in was North Dakota Quarterly. How often do you read that?

Zibby: Anytime I’m in North Dakota.

Clint: Always.

Zibby: I’ll always pick it up.

Clint: Every quarter, it comes in my mailbox. I think the circulation was three hundred. It’s a very respected journal and blah, blah, blah, but I’m pretty sure I read the essay, and the managing editor. I think those are the two people that actually read that edition. I was like, wow, a thousand people read it, so I just started posting on my blog every day for five days a week. I was like, let’s see what happens. I did it for a year. By the end of the year, I had gotten the attention of the Huffington Post, so I wrote for them. Then I wrote for The Washington Post and The New York Times. I had this one post just explode on The Washington Post. Good Morning America came to my house. It was the worst experience. If Good Morning America wants to come to your house, you tell them no. It’s so awkward. They were following me around, and my kids. It was eight hours or something. It was some obscene amount of time. I think I was on the show for maybe five minutes. I thought, okay, I should be able to publish a book. Then I sent it out. I started trying to publish a book about parenting. I got rejected like two hundred times again. I have two spreadsheets of shame. I actually self-published my first book. Then eventually, I ended up getting the attention of Page Street which is distributed by Macmillan. That’s who published my last three books. Sorry, you said go all the way back. It was a long story.

Zibby: That’s what I wanted. That whole thing was really interesting.

Clint: It was a long journey. I’m here now. I just kept at it. I kept blogging, kept writing. Fingers crossed, hopefully, I’ll make all sorts of money. I’ll be able to be a full-time writer. That’s my goal now.

Zibby: You said you have another day job. What’s your day job?

Clint: I work in an athletics program. I tell the student athletes to do their homework, so I’m really popular, as you can imagine. I’ve been there six years now, something like that. It’s a good university job. It’s fine. I love helping students. I love education. I never really got out of the university once I got into it. At some point, I would love to just flip my desk and peace out and be a writer full time, but that’s a lot hard than you think.

Zibby: At least, you have to put it out there. You have to get that goal out there. If you don’t have it as a goal, it’s definitely not going to happen.

Clint: I’m surprised how many people think I just write full time. They think that is what I do. I’m like, no, that’d be cool, though. It’d be great. Maybe someday.

Zibby: Maybe someday. It is a hard profession in that regard, unfortunately, because the talent is not commensurate with the compensation in the slightest in this industry, I will say. It’s funny you talk about how you couldn’t sell your book about parenting because I actually had the same experience. I was doing all this essay writing about parenting and all these everyday moments and whatever. I was like, this is great. I’ll do a whole book about it. Everyone in the industry keeps saying, no, books on parenting don’t sell. It’s so hard. Meanwhile, I read books on parenting all the time. I love essays books like this. So do other people. I don’t know. I think it depends on the book, like with everything else. I think blanket statements like, books of essays don’t work or parenting stories don’t work, it’s not that. You just have to have the right storyteller.

Clint: I think a lot of people get caught up in the rejection. I’m telling you right now, I was rejected hundreds of times. It’s got to be in the thousands by now across periodicals and essays and books and different things. It used to really emotionally cripple me. Now I just wrap my arms around it. I give it a hug. I pull it in. It is what it is. Rejection is a huge part of it. If I had given up after that first rejection or whatever, I wouldn’t be selling books and having people message me and say that I helped them with X, Y, and Z. There’s really cool stuff that happens with it. We’re in a really cool time where, yeah, they say no; okay, cool, self-publish. Put it up on a blog. Put it out there. Keep trying. There are so many avenues to publish right now. It’s a really cool time to be a writer. Think about this. I am living in the middle of nowhere, Oregon. I’ve started a blog, most of the time writing at the McDonald’s PlayPlace at five o’clock in morning because there were no kids around and they had diet soda. I could just get jacked up on Diet Coke and write for two or three hours. I don’t go there now, but I’ve been doing stuff like that for years. In the middle of nowhere, Oregon, I’ve been able to put together half a million followers and have three books out. What other time could you do that? I don’t know. It’s a cool time to be able to do it.

Zibby: That’s true. I like that. It’s very optimistic. Yet you also have this same sad side to you as well. I think a lot of humor comes from pain to begin with. You write openly on your blog about having anxiety and depression and even when you tinkered with your meds and even stories in this book about how your dad was there more for your older brothers and taught them to do more of the handy things. You missed out on that, and so you tried to teach your son, which ended up being another hilarious story. There’s sadness in all of this. This is your way of challenging it. Yet you also share it, which is very unique for most — not to make sweeping generalizations, but a lot of men aren’t as comfortable sharing all of that. Tell me a little bit about that piece of you and coping with what happened with your own dad and coping with your own mental stuff.

Clint: I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder. I was probably nineteen, I think is when that started to really hit home. Now I think I live a pretty normal life. I was never Jack Nicholson bad in — what is that movie? As Good as It Gets. I was definitely never Bill Murray in What About Bob? I never got that bad. I definitely had a lot of, and I still struggle a lot with anxiety. A lot of it has to do with having kind of a difficult childhood. My dad was a drug addict. My mom has a lot of emotional problems that she hasn’t dealt with. I ran away when I was fourteen. I was just like, peace out. I left and eventually was raised by my grandmother. It took me a while to be open about my anxiety and my depression and stuff. Some of that’s cliché masculinity stuff. It takes a while for you to even understand it yourself. I don’t even know if I fully understand it. I will say that I’ve found a lot of humor in the tragedy. Some of the best medicine you can do is to just laugh at it and laugh at what you’re doing, laugh at the anxiety. It definitely takes the power away.

I’ve been writing a lot more about my mental health and depression and trying to make sense of it. I was worried that people would give me crap or call me crazy or whatever. I already call myself that, so it’s easy for them to do too. I’ve actually had way more people reach out and just say, thanks, I went on medication because of you. I reached out to my therapist because of you. You helped me figure out how to better manage my own anxiety. It’s not like I think I’m saying anything really profound. I’m just writing about it and being open about it and being a presence. That really helped. I think that helps a lot of other people. That’s cool for me as a writer. It helps me not feel so alone. Of course, this all is about me. I feel less crazy by talking more about my crazy, I guess.

Zibby: Wow. Why do you not have a podcast?

Clint: Why do I not have a podcast?

Zibby: Yeah.

Clint: Oh, man. Listen, I have no desire to hear my voice any more than I already hear it. I have no desire to do a podcast. I have no desire to be a vlogger. I went live a few times. I just found it really awkward. I didn’t like it. I just want to write. That’s what I want to do. I want to write. I like to write. Writing is great for me to help me process the world. Parents listening to this, particularly dads, you want to be a better dad, write about being a dad. Sit down and just reflect on it. Think about it. Take some time to really understand, why is that moment sticking out in your head? Why did you feel like a jerk then? Write it down. You will be shocked how much — it’s been the best thing that I could’ve done for my marriage and my family, is for me to just sit down and be reflective about it. I can’t count how many times I’ve been writing a blog post and I’ll think to myself, man, I don’t know why I can’t stop thinking about that. Then I’ll be like, oh, it’s because I was being a dick. Then I’ll go and apologize to my kid or I’ll apologize to my wife. I was like, “I just realized that I was being a total jerk back then. I’m sorry.” I apologize, and I can finish the blog post. Being reflective and thoughtful is one of the best things you can do.

Zibby: That’s great advice. Your essay on when the dog was choking on the gingerbread might have been the funniest. It’s a David Sedaris-level humor thing. It’s true. It’s what you just said. At the end, you’re like, can you believe I made the dog say you’re welcome? or whatever it is you did. Just so funny. The other great thing about this introduction, even, in your book is you say there are no parenting experts. No one is a parenting expert even if you call yourself one, parents who view themselves as one. It doesn’t matter how much TV exposure, what you put on the label underneath your title on a book. No one knows what they’re doing. That is just the most universal feeling because it’s true. Your whole thing about control, we have no real control over these constantly changing animals. I have four kids. It’s just impossible. It’s always impossible. You have to just buckle your seatbelt.

Clint: We were talking about my son going by the name Flip. Whatever you think your kids are going to do or whatever you hope or if you even think they’re going to be interested in anything you’ve ever done, throw that all out the window. They are definitely their own little people. They are interested in their own little things. Parenting has been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s the most rewarding. I love the heck out of my kids, but they’re definitely confusing. I can’t figure them out.

Zibby: I also feel that the more kids I have, the more I realize I have not that much to do with even how they’re turning out to begin with. They’re kind of born the way they are. I didn’t know that at the beginning. I thought whether or not I had the kid on my lap or next to me in the music class would actually make a difference in their development overall, and what music class, the fact that I even had them in music classes. Whereas these guys, I’m like, whatever. It makes no difference. They’re born basically who they are just like you and I were. All we can do as parents, I think, or what I’ve come to realize, is just not mess them up. Protect who they are. Just try hard not to mess it up.

Clint: One of the things that I’ve struggled with is for a long time, I would compare myself — we were talking about keeping the expectations low for this interview. I did the same thing as a father. I thought to myself, I’m doing better than my dad. Well, my dad was a drug addict. He was in and out of jail. The best relationship I had with my dad was when I would visit him in jail because I knew where he was. I knew where to find him. For the most part, he was sober. That’s a pretty low bar. It was a while there before I got into it. I was like, why am I still comparing myself to this guy? I should be raising my bar even higher. The thing with this book, too, is so much of it — the original pitch was a Christmas book. I wanted to do a book all about Christmas. That’s why the first several essays are about Christmas. The publisher was like, “I don’t know if that’s going to work.” We eventually settled on a book of fails. Ultimately, this book, it’s a collection of all my mistakes. So many of these mistakes, I went into it thinking I was screwing it up and then found out that it actually wasn’t that bad. I actually didn’t do that bad of a job. I think that’s ninety percent of parenting. You think you’re screwing up your kids in every avenue. Then you start to realize that you were there and you were trying, and that was enough. That’s cool.

Zibby: It doesn’t even have to be such a verb, like to parent. Growing up, my mom — this is back when there weren’t a lot of parenting books. She was definitely more interested in romance, best-selling salacious reads, and all this other stuff. She had this one little parenting book. It was How to be a Better Parent or something. I remember seeing it and being like, what do you mean? You’re reading about how to be a parent? Don’t you know? Doesn’t that just come with the territory? What do you mean you’re reading about it? It blew my mind. Then I think about the eight trillion books that I have, which mostly go unread. I like to read the funny things about actual parenting. There’s no real roadmap, but here we are.

Clint: We’re all lost. It’s fine. I like to think that my kids think that I know everything, but I’m just really good at googling. That’s really the fact. They’ll ask me questions, and I google them.

Zibby: That’s true. Now they don’t even ask me. They’re just like, “Siri…”

Clint: Yeah, that’s true. My kids are pretty good at asking Alexa how to help with math now because they know Dad’s of no use.

Zibby: Redundant. I might as well not even be around. Anyway, so what are you going to do next? What’s coming next? You’re going to keep doing your blog. Do you have another book in you that you’re thinking about?

Clint: Yeah. My thought right now is I might do more parenting books, but I’d love to write a really funny mental health book. I would love to write something that’s a really funny look, just dark funny look at my own mental health and trying to understand. The goal would be to help others know how to overcome this sort of stuff. I’m not saying I’m the best at it. I’m still living with it. I will say that one of the best things I ever did was to try and — so much of what my father did with his drug addiction — whenever I discuss him with my therapist, they’re always like, “Was he bipolar?” I’m like, “I don’t know. He would’ve never gone to a therapist.” There’s so many parts, these crazy parts of my life, when I’ll talk to a therapist about it, he was probably having a manic episode. Then you get jacked up on pain killers and just make it worse. Understanding how to take those lessons of bad mental health management that I learned from my parents and unpacking it, undoing it, and learning how to have healthier habits. I’m hoping to write something in that vein, but funny. We’ll see. We’ll see if it works out.

Zibby: That sounds great. Awesome. Normally, I end by asking people for advice for aspiring authors, but you’ve given so much advice along the way. Give me your last final shreds of wisdom.

Clint: This is the best advice I can give to any writer, and they hate it. They hate this advice. You need to write every day. There are authors that will disagree with you. I can tell you, when I was in grad school, this John Reimringer — I’m probably messing up his name. He wrote a book called Vestments. It won a Minnesota Book Award. He came and talked to us. He pulled out these calendars. Each day had a couple stars on it. Each star represented an hour that he wrote. He would give himself a star. There were weeks where he didn’t have anything. For the most part, he had years of these calendars where he gave himself a star. He said, “I recommend to people to write two hours every day.” I remember thinking to myself, that’s not even a part-time job. I just dragged my family halfway across the United States to get a creative writing degree, and I wasn’t writing part time. It was right then that I said, I’m going to write at least two hours a day. Geez, that’s been ten, twelve years ago. I write way more than that now. If you write every day, you’ll get somewhere. You’re going to write to no one for a very long time. That’s just the facts. That’s when things started getting better for me. I always would say, if you’re married, sit down with your spouse and establish that schedule. I write in the mornings. The whole family knows I write in the mornings. If you bother Dad during writing time, he’s a jerk about it. I am territorial. This is my time. I have claimed it. That’s when you’re going to get the most writing done. Write, write. Figure out a time. Establish it with your family. Then be a jerk about it. You’ll get more done.

Zibby: Awesome. I love it. Clint, thank you so much. Thanks for talking to me about your views of parenting and your books and all of it. This was really fun. I can’t wait to read your next book and follow along. It’s been really awesome.

Clint: Thank you. It was awesome being on here. I appreciate your time.

Zibby: No problem. Take care. Happy Thanksgiving.

Clint: Bye. You too.

Zibby: Bye.

Clint Edwards, FATHER-ISH