The Dad Advice Project grew out of Craig Kessler’s simple request for letters of advice from his fellow father friends to fill in the gaps his own father left behind. Over the last two and a half years, the project grew to feature fathers from all walks of life: CIA directors, professional golfers, and next-door neighbors, each willing to share what they’ve learned—and what they still need to work on. Craig shares his favorite lessons with Zibby and why dads usually need more advice than they’re offered. Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books has teamed up with Katie Couric Media and Random House to give away 100 copies of Sarah Sentilles’ book, Stranger Care! Enter the giveaway by clicking here:


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Craig. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss The Dad Advice Project: Words of Wisdom from Guys Who Love Being Dads.

Craig Kessler: It’s great to be here, Zibby. Thanks for having me on.

Zibby: No problem. I’m so glad we met on our little Clubhouse call. I do so few of those. It’s just not my preferred medium, so it feels like magic when a real person emerges afterwards.

Craig: I’ll tell you what, it’s the only Clubhouse I’ve ever done. It was a cool experience, but I agree. It’s nice to be able to see your face.

Zibby: Yes. Anyway, The Dad Advice Project, for people who aren’t familiar with your book, would you mind explaining how it came to be, how you got the idea for this, and what some of the best advice, you think, in the book is to help other dads.

Craig: Happy to. In the spirit of vulnerability, I don’t have the closest relationship with my dad, which is a bummer for a bunch of reasons. On a personal note, my wife and I have three boys. They’re one, four, and five. We’re in the thick of it. The energy levels are through the roof, as you can imagine. About two and a half years ago, we had two kids at the time, I asked a handful of buddies to write me a letter on how to be a good dad. I did it because that was a little bit of a void in my life. What I got back was unbelievable. It ranged from David Letterman-style top-ten lists that were hilarious and thoughtful to letters these guys wrote their kids and everything in between. Over the last two and half years, the project snowballed. With some encouragement from a few of my coauthors, they said, “Dude, why don’t you turn this into a book?” even though that was never really the intent. We pitched it to a bunch of publishers. They all told us that, “The difference between women and men is that women actually want to hear advice from other women, and dudes just want to hear the sound of their own voice. Nobody’s going to read your book,” which I found kind of interesting because I think the modern dad today is actually far more interested in talking about the ups and downs of parenthood than maybe they were ten, fifteen years ago. We discovered a publisher that was really pumped about the content. The book launched just a couple weeks ago.

Zibby: It’s so exciting. Which publisher did you go with? I could look.

Craig: It’s a publisher called Post Hill Press. They’ve done some wonderful books, mostly in the self-improvement category. They’re really fired up about this one.

Zibby: I view that advice that you got as very short-sighted. I don’t think that that’s accurate at all based on the subset of men that I know who are dads. It’s one thing to use those stereotypes about asking for directions or something like that. I feel like in the parenting realm, everyone is sort of in it together these days. There’s actually a lack of guidance for dads because people assume they don’t need it, and so they’re even more adrift. This is my two cents.

Craig: It’s so fascinating. There are a couple things I recognized as I started thinking about taking the project and turning it into a book. Number one, crazy amount of content out there for moms, very little for dads. The stuff that’s out there for dads, this is point number two, typically comes from one person’s point of view. It tells you what to do. Most guys don’t want to be told what to do. By the way, we’d rather read lots of little stories as opposed to have one person telling us their point of view. Then the third thing that came to mind is that if you’re sick, you tend to go to a doctor as opposed to googling your symptoms because the doctor has pattern recognition. They’ve seen your case ten thousand times and immediately know what to do. At least, they have a hypothesis. As a dad, and this is probably true for moms too, I find that every time we face a really big parenting challenge, it’s the first time we’ve faced it, and so there’s very little pattern recognition. I thought, what if we could actually share with the world, these thoughts that guys who’ve been dads for forty years have, and guys like me who are brand-new at this? Maybe we could help people generate some pattern recognition and help them be better parents as a result. We’ll see.

Zibby: What’s an example of a pattern that now you have maybe mastered yourself or gotten insight from others about?

Craig: It’s interesting. One of my favorite parts of the project — the manuscript was done. I printed it out. I poured myself a drink. I read it cover to cover. Every time a new theme came up, I’d write it down. If came up a second time, I’d put a tally next to it. I was trying to track these themes just to look for the patterns. I would say there were three themes that came up more than any others. Number one, kids need to feel psychologically and physically safe. There’s a whole bunch of tactics in the book around how to do that. Number two, and this is my wife’s favorite conclusion from the book, it is, love your spouse, and make sure your kids see it. That’s how they learn how to have healthy relationships. In my case, I’m married to a woman, and so I think it’s one of the ways our three boys will learn how to treat women, not just have healthy relationships. Then the third most-common piece of advice, which I find interesting, is that kids need to fail not just because they need to learn failure’s okay, but because they need to learn coping mechanisms. One of the best ways to learn how to cope with adversity is to actually go through failure. Again, there’s a whole bunch of tactical tips on how to bring those three principles to life.

Zibby: Wow. It’s so funny. I’ve interviewed all these people. Now two days in a row, I’ve talked to male authors. You and the guy I interviewed yesterday, his name’s Alex Michaelides who wrote The Maidens and The Silent Patient, both of you said that once your book was done, you poured yourself a drink and read the book. Literally, not a single woman has ever said that. It’s more, I obsessed. I made it better. I did this. I did that. No one’s been like, I’m kicking back and enjoying my book.

Craig: I can’t speak to why there’s such a difference. I don’t know. What I can tell you is — maybe this actually comes back to a piece of advice in the book. There’s a guy named Jon Altschuler, really interesting dude. He says, “My one piece of parenting advice is, from this point forward, do the best you can. It’s very hard to redo the past, but from this point forward, do the best you can.” For me, it’s like, yes, it can always get better, the book, but this is two and a half years’ worth of work. Why wouldn’t you put your feet up and sit back and try and enjoy the fruits of your labor to some extent?

Zibby: It’s true because you should really be writing the books that you want to read. That’s the best book you could possibly write, is something that, who cares if nobody else likes it? If you love it, that’s it. Chances are, if you love it, other people do as well.

Craig: Well said.

Zibby: There are so many good, little snippets. Here, I’ll just open up to Seth Wolkov. He did the list format. “Listen more than you talk. Always say yes. Teach your son to be a good man by being a good man. Always do what you say you’re going to do. Quantity of time spent is more important than quality. Tell them you’re proud of them as much as possible.” These are not, by the way, just for dads. This is also a great book for moms, PS. I’ll just co-opt it.

Craig: Before you go on, I got to tell you something. When my wife read the book for the first time, I asked her, I said, “What’d you think?” Her conclusion, I thought, was so cool. She said, “Most of the time when I read advice on how to be a good mom, I leave feeling less than because I realize I’m not doing all the things the author just told me I’m supposed to be doing. When I read The Dad Advice Project, it made me want to be a better person because most of the dads talk about failure and mistakes as much as they talk about the things they’re doing right.” By the way, they’re telling stories as opposed to telling you what to do at least half the time. She said, “I understand, Craig, why you called it The Dad Advice Project because that was the purpose behind the book for you, but really, this is the human advice project. Whether you have kids or not, if you’re a man or a woman, this book is about relationships and finding joy.” I just thought that was a really inspirational takeaway.

Zibby: I hope you hired her as your marketing and PR manager for this book.

Craig: It’s too expensive.

Zibby: That should definitely go in the talking points and everything else. It’s true. Who is this who said this? Ryan Nowicki, “Humility, hunger, smarts.” Some of these are so great, laying out your values even. Who is this who said this? John Speer, “We will always love them unconditionally. Being kind to others is powerful and takes practice. Seek out rewarding hard work and new challenges. Trying and failing is much better than not trying at all.” Again, universal, certainly for moms here. This should be a gift people give but actually use themselves. “While I can’t be there, I always try to be present when I am there,” Keith Schneider. “Be a good husband. Come home early once in a while.” So much stuff. It’s so great. I love the short snackability of the advice, which again, I think is great for anyone who is short on time and wants just a little infusion of advice to get them through the day. Honestly, some days are just super long and hard with kids. If you know anybody’s out there rooting for you and that they’ve survived, that can make all the difference.

Craig: I totally agree. It’s interesting that the common thread, one of the many common threads that all the authors have, is that I’m lucky to call them close personal friends. Many of the authors in the book, your audience won’t recognize, they’re next-door neighbors or colleagues of mine at Topgolf where I work, but there are a bunch of recognizable names. George Tenet, who was the CIA director on 9/11 and my college professor, wrote the forward. Davis Love III, the golfer, and Adam Wainwright, the Cardinals pitcher, they have submissions. The reason I bring that up is, again, when I was introduced to a couple of parenting books, I often found myself thinking, I can’t relate to this author because this author’s nothing like who I am or doesn’t encounter any of the struggles that I encounter with marriage or work-life balance or whatever it might be. What’s interesting is that you look at the diversity of authors in the book, and I’m confident no matter who you are, there’s at least someone going through — or in a profession similar to yours, which makes the content relatable. The other thing that I find is, the most common question as I’ve done podcasts and panels over the last few weeks in launching the book is this question around, how do you manage being a professional leading a big business and a husband and a dad? I look at a guy like George Tenet who, in the wake of 9/11, is literally trying to protect the country and run an organization. Oh, by the way, he’s a husband and a father. He figured out how to keep those balls in the air. I think there’s something to learn from people who have really, really had true tradeoffs to make, tradeoffs that I’ll never be able to compare my life to. We’re talking about entertainment here, not saving the country. Again, when I think about the magnitude of who some of these guys are and what they’ve been through, it’s very, very humbling. It gave me a chance to learn a ton.

Zibby: That’s the other piece of dad advice. Continue to learn from people who are smarter than you are. That’s the advice I’ve always been given. Get it from as many sources as you can because most people are smarter than you are.

Craig: That’s right.

Zibby: Maybe that’s sort of a backhanded compliment in my own family or something. I don’t know. Maybe I need to look into that. Now that you’ve complied this and you have a book out in the world, do you approach bath time with your own three boys any differently? Anything in the moments of bedtime, bath time, a weekend of dealing with sports, or whatever it is that’s going on in your life, do you find yourself then sort of highlighting like a word search where you press ‘find’ and something highlights up as a word? Does it happen like that for you now when you’re doing the active business of parenting?

Craig: Yes, but there’s a little bit of a disclaimer. We should be totally clear about one thing. My wife and I are still screwing stuff up every single day left and right. Just because we did the project doesn’t make us special parents by any means. We’re doing the best we can just like most people are doing the best they can. What I’ll tell you, though, is that there are a few idiosyncratic, one-off, tactical pieces of advice in the book that we’ve put to practice in our family. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Josh Redstone, he owns a small business. They do this awesome family tradition where while they try and eat dinner as a family all the time, at least once a month, they have a formal family dinner. That basically means they use placemats and napkins. They’ll set the table. One by one, kids and parents — parents are not excluded. They have to take turns standing on their chairs, introducing themselves by name and by age. Then they have to tell the group one thing that they’re thankful for. What the family’s practicing are a bunch of things. It’s self-confidence. It’s public speaking. It’s projecting your voice. Most importantly, it’s practicing gratitude, which we all know the research shows leads to happiness over the long run. As we’ve implemented this in our family, we’ve taken it to a whole new level. We’ll even do this at restaurants from time to time, which is the most awkward scene that you’ve ever seen.

Our boys will now argue with each other over who gets to go first to say what they’re thankful for. To me, it’s kind of a cool thing. There’s another example from a guy named Rex Kurzius. Rex has a software business. What Rex talks about is how we give our kids exposure to all these things in life that we want them to have exposure to and feel comfortable around: swimming, arts and crafts, team sports, religion. I give you a bunch of examples. When it comes to business, he said most parents shut the door. They say things like, Mommy’s got to go do a work call. Dad’s got to go interview somebody. Can you give me some privacy? While his kids are a little bit older than mine, he’s like, “It’s kind of bullshit. Why not open the door and give your kids exposure to all those things in the professional world which, A, will give them a leg up over the long run? B, at family dinners, it creates engagement on topics that are meaningful to you and will now become meaningful to them. Let them listen in on an interview. Put it on speakerphone. Then debrief it for a few minutes. See what they come up with.” I just thought that idea of opening the door instead of closing it was a really cool one.

Zibby: Maybe don’t open it to all of them at the same time.

Craig: For sure.

Zibby: I try to do that too. I feel like it’s so easy with what I do because the books — I can be like, this is what I’m reading today. Then two days later, now that they know the plot, they’ll say, oh, that’s that mystery you’re reading about, blah, blah, blah. I’m like, I just interviewed the author. Occasionally, they’ll come and sit on my lap and do the podcast with me. I feel like it’s much easier for them to digest seeing what it is. They know what an interview is. They know when I’ll be done. Then they can listen to it after. There’s no hidden here thing. I’m not going off into some world of spreadsheets and business-speak that they find hard to relate to. It is so obvious, what I do, versus other jobs. It gives them a sense of ownership, too, when they hear about it and root for you. Then I often talk at the dinner table about an interview. Oh, my gosh, I talked to this guy today. Listen to what he did. He got all this advice. Then it becomes something of interest to talk about as opposed to just, sit down and eat the broccoli.

Craig: Totally agree. Broccoli, by the way — you could do lots of cool things with your family. In our family, I don’t think the broccoli’s ever getting eaten. You have to teach me your ways.

Zibby: My husband actually is an amazing cook and has found a way to cook the broccoli so that they eat it, which involves some sort of sauté with chicken broth and butter. I don’t know. It was probably not healthy, but it’s delicious.

Craig: Can we write a book together called The Broccoli, or Vegetable Advice Eating Project? I think there’s a market for that.

Zibby: Yes. I want to do a Dads Don’t Have Time To book, to be honest. I need to hit you up. Maybe I’ll get a bunch of dad essays, not about advice, necessarily, for being dads, but just on life in general.

Craig: Love it.

Zibby: More on that later when I finally get around to it. First, are you going to do any more books? Yes? No? Not sure?

Craig: Haven’t even thought about it. There’s two goals now. It’s to get this book into as many people’s hands so that dads are better dads and kids live better lives. There’s a charitable component too. I’m a big supporter of the Boys & Girls Clubs. If the book continues to perform, that will trickle over to the Boys & Girls Club where I went as a kid. Then the second goal is, we now have forty-two dads that — most of them came to my house, actually, a few weeks ago to meet each other for the first time before the book launch. It was awesome. It’s some of my best friends in the world meeting for the first time. I think if that group turns into a group that continues to support one another almost like a little brotherhood of dads who want to be good dads, it’d be pretty neat.

Zibby: I love it. I love that component. It’s all about community. That’s amazing. Do you have advice for aspiring authors?

Craig: Don’t write a book. What a process. What I would say is, for me, I was deeply, deeply passionate about the project. Frankly, I needed the advice. It was worth it, but it is hard, probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done. It’s an area that’s new to most people. The publishing world is a very different world. Generating awareness is really, really challenging. You don’t make money writing a book. For someone who thinks, I’m going to go write a book and sell a million copies and ride off into the sunset, no, wrong motivation. Then what I would say is, pick your partners well, partners on the publishing side, partners that will help you promote the book. One of the things that I learned is you can do a massive national news story, but if the audience isn’t the captive audience that’s watching the news program to find content like yours, it may not move the needle at all. You can find, let’s just say, a mommy blogger who has only seven hundred followers, but they’re loyal followers who really, really trust that person. A post from that person could be worth 10X what a national news story could be worth. Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to getting the word out. Hopefully, those little nuggets are helpful.

Zibby: That is helpful. I found that too. TV seems to be the least likely to move the needle, but still fun to do. Awesome. Craig, thank you. Thanks so much for coming on. Thanks for assembling all this advice for everybody, not just dads. Thanks to your wife for highlighting that fact and not getting any recognition. She gets an extra bottle of champagne tonight or something like that. It was great just having our paths cross. I hope to meet you someday.

Craig: Zibby, thanks for having me on. I think what you’re building is really cool. When you talked about it during the Clubhouse, I was super inspired. To be a small part of it is very cool. Thank you.

Zibby: Thank you. I have a lot of fun. Thanks so much. Take care. Buh-bye.

Craig: Take care. Bye.



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