Comedian Greg Fitzsimmons on Parenthood: "The main thing for me is staying engaged"

by ParentCo. February 10, 2015

Greg Fitzsimmons is an Emmy-winning TV writer, comedian, and producer. He also hosts a weekly radio show and bi-weekly podcast. His book, "Dear Mrs. Fitzsimmons: Tales of Redemption from an Irish Mailbox" was published in 2013. He lives with his wife and two children in Venice, CA.

Parents: Greg and Erin Fitzsimmons

Kids: son Owen, 14; daughter JoJo, 11

Parent Co: So, 14 and 11, huh? You’ve got some good experience under your parent belt. Mine are six and four.

Greg Fitzsimmons: Oh, you’re still in the woods.

You’re telling me there’s hope? Do you feel like you’re out of the woods?

Yeah, well, out of the woods and then entering the rapids. You know - when they get to the age when you don’t have to necessarily be trailing them all the time and making sure they’re not eating glass and falling down. Then all of a sudden they can do their own thing and you’re supposed to do your own thing, but now my son is 14 and it’s time to start paying attention again.

You have a bit in your Comedy Central special in which you talk about birth being the pinnacle and then it’s all down hill from there; about how we go through life with more and more rules being placed on us. How does this notion effect the way you parent?

It’s tough, and like I said, my son’s 14 so we’re having to tighten the leash a little bit, but we let him get on his bike with friends and ride to the beach and the 3rd Street Promenade… My daughter’s on the surf team so she’s out there, possibly drowning, three days a week.

One of the things my wife pointed out to me is that kids seek thrills. If you keep them from having those thrills they’re gonna have them in bad ways. It’s much better to let them fall down, let them get into trouble, let them scare themselves surfing or whatever it is so that drugs don’t become the thing they turn to, or sex, or anything that’s more destructive.

I think it’s much more about communication and freedom as opposed to rules and punishments.

How do you think that’s working out so far for you and your kids?

Well, my wife has been a full-time mom since our son was born and I can’t really extricate anything from the impact of that. I think that having her be there with them all the time is such a gift and we’re very fortunate that we’ve been able to do that. It builds the confidence and the independence that allows them to go and be more trustworthy as teenagers.

Do you guys have any family rituals or good habits that help keep you close as a family unit with life going on, as it tends to do?

Yeah, we learned something from the Obama family. We do “Roses and Thorns” at dinner most nights. You have to say your rose - something great that happened today - and then something bad that happened, and each person does it. It sounds kinda corny but it’s a great way to get them to talk about stuff.

And we watch “America’s Funniest Home Videos” a lot and just laugh hysterically.

We also do a lot of camping and ski trips. I feel like if you set up the tradition of doing things as a family, on vacation, then hopefully that’s something that they’ll still wanna do when they’re in college and in their 20s. I’ve seen families grow apart, but we just have such a good time together. We genuinely really love being together. When we go on any kind of trip nobody’s on their phone and we’re not watching TV, we’re just with each other and having a blast.

How did parenthood change the way you approach your work?

I think I’m more focused on it, like I prepare more for when I go on stage as a stand-up. I show up right before I go on and leave right after I finish my set - I don’t really hang out the way I used to. And it’s the same thing when I’m writing on a show or producing a show. I try to work really hard and contain the hours because the number one priority for me is that I’m around for my family. If I’m not, I feel very guilty and I feel very lonely. If I don’t keep that cup full then nothing else really works.

Did you ever struggle with finding that balance?

Of course, it’s a work in progress. I mean, the thing is, I do stand-up. I go out on the road 20 weekends a year, so that time is lost - and those are weekends. That’s when couples are inviting you over for dinner and kids are having soccer games - so I try to manage all the big events.

A year in advance I know when the school concerts are, and the graduation and the plays, the tournaments. I try to book my stand-up schedule around that, but inevitably you’re still missing stuff and that always makes me feel bad.

Do you talk about that with your kids? Like, “I’m really bummed I’m missing this, but it’s part of the deal.”

At a certain point they thought that I was going on vacation all the time. So I started to explain to them that this is work, it’s not a vacation and when I’m gone I’m making money for us to live on. But then my wife pointed out that it’s also important that they see I’m passionate about what I do for a living and that I not say that I’m completely bummed when I’m gone, that I come home with good stories and good energy about how I was able to pursue my dream while I was away.

It’s pretty special that you get to model that for them.

Yeah, and I explain to them that there are sacrifices, but they still come first.

Is there any bit of parental wisdom you’ve gained that you like to share with friends?

Oh God. I mean, to me it’s about doing stuff with your kids. Otherwise you just end up watching TV a lot and being in separate rooms. I think doing any kind of project - you know, yard work or having them do chores and then helping them - activities for us are important. I think my mother sees us as kind of manic because we do so much stuff, but it feels gratifying and you feel close when you get out.

Do you ever feel like you’re fighting against how you were parented?

Hmmm. You mean what’s my overriding thought in life? Well, depression was a big part of my parents life and bringing me up and it’s something I deal with. So the main thing for me is staying engaged and not withdrawing too much, not using guilt and somehow trying to be myself as much as possible and fight that urge to shut down.

What brings you out of it in those moments?

You just have to engage. You just gotta go put yourself in the room and try to talk, try to go do something. I don’t really sit and read very much in the house, because I feel like I could (instead) be doing something with my family.

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