I would say that a good dad is somebody that doesn’t see parenting as a chore but also views it as an internship where we’re always learning. Similar to an internship, you’re not getting paid. What you’re getting out of it is an incredible skill set. ... Being a parent, it’s ever-evolving. The skill set you have for dealing with a newborn or 2-year-old is different from a 10-year-old. So I’m still learning. And I’m forgetting things and re-learning them again. I definitely identify myself as in a state of learning. —Jim Gaffigan
There was a time when Jim Gaffigan would get on an airplane, see a parent with a child and think, “Weirdo, why would you do that to yourself?”
But last year, the comedian found himself carrying a baby in a sling and following four other kids on scooters through the streets of New York City with a CBS camera crew in tow. He remembers one woman looking at him with an annoyed expression that seemed to convey the same thought he once had: “What are you thinking?”
Gaffigan is a self-described “unlikely father of five.” The man who built a successful stand-up career on a “lazy, gluttonous, selfish point of view” is busy raising five children, ranging in age from 2 to 10, in a most unlikely place for a large family. His comedy routines now include topics ranging from family vacations to home births, and his New York Times best-selling book takes on everything from the ridiculousness of buying designer clothing for babies to the impossible task of wrangling five kids on and off a subway. Gaffigan’s observations on the challenges, absurdities and joys of parenthood are now every bit as much a part of his persona as his old Hot Pocket jokes.
“Having five kids has dramatically changed me,” Gaffigan, who will perform three shows in Salt Lake City at Abravanel Hall beginning Oct. 4, told the Deseret News. “Having five kids, I really don’t have the luxury of losing sight of my parental responsibilities. There’s always a kid that needs something. I don’t think I can get lost or distracted from the task. Because in the end, the type of parent you are is going to be something that you carry with you. ... Having multiple kids, it’s been a gift in a way. It’s keeping the priorities straighter.”
In "Dad is Fat," Gaffigan's 2013 book, the comedian labels himself as a narcissist.
"Unfortunately, these narcissistic traits that made me a popular comedian do not work well for someone who truly desires to be a good husband or parent," he writes. "I’m not saying parenting cured my narcissism, but it changed me, and continues to change me every day. For me, parenting was literally a wake-up call from my own simple selfishness. In other words, I’m not quite as horrible as I used to be.”
Stand-up comics, he suggested, benefit from being self-reflective and insular. And, like any career, comedians can get "lost in ambition." So Gaffigan appreciates the perspective parenting has given him.
"If a baby’s crying, you can’t really dismiss it as, ‘Well, I’m in the middle of working on this joke on “Law and Order.” ’ You have to put your priorities in perspective," he said.
Gaffigan still talks plenty about food (his upcoming book, set to be published in October, is called "Food: A Love Story"), his aversion to exercise, his pale skin and other topics he's distinguished himself with over the years. But parenthood is now part of the entertainment package.
"Dad is Fat" is all about being a father to Marre, 10; Jack, 8; Katie, 5; Michael, 3; and Patrick, 2. Gaffigan writes about how his wife gave birth to all five children in their Manhattan apartment; how sleeping arrangements worked in that small, two-bedroom living space; and how when it comes to noise, the place is "like a construction site."
Gaffigan and his wife and writing partner, Jeannie, who Gaffigan consistently praises as a mom and calls “the funniest person I know,” are currently writing a 10-episode sit-com that will air simultaneously on Comedy Central and TV Land.
“It’s based on me being the father of five and being married to a super woman and finding the balance between stand-up and parenting," he said. "I’m kind of portraying myself as a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
But while he recognizes and jokes about his inadequacies, it's also clear that Gaffigan takes his parental responsibilities seriously.
He makes a point to have one-on-one time with each child. And while he admits it sounds cliche, Gaffigan talks about the importance of being present, listening to kids and measuring nonverbal cues. He and his wife also make it a practice to lie down and talk with their children at night. Getting kids to sleep is a "nightly wrestling match," he said, but bedtime conversations also bring some of "the more sweeter, special moments," he said.
“I would say that a good dad is somebody that doesn’t see parenting as a chore but also views it as an internship where we’re always learning," Gaffigan said. "Similar to an internship, you’re not getting paid. What you’re getting out of it is an incredible skill set. ... Being a parent, it’s ever-evolving. The skill set you have for dealing with a newborn or 2-year-old is different from a 10-year-old. So I’m still learning. And I’m forgetting things and relearning them again. I definitely identify myself as in a state of learning.”
The Gaffigans' unique living situation demands skills that someone living in the suburbs might not need.
In "Dad is Fat," Gaffigan writes that "raising children in New York City is just stupid.” While the family has since moved to a bigger place in the city, the book chronicles their time spent on the fifth floor of a walk-up (meaning, no elevator) apartment building in Manhattan with just two bedrooms.
Gaffigan stays in the city because he appreciates the diversity, energy and convenience. (“Sometimes I leave for work 10 minutes before I have to be onstage," he writes in "Dad is Fat." "I don’t want to give that up.”) So they deal with the challenges.
The family runs errands together and spends time at the park, but going out with two kids in a double stroller and three on scooters is "pretty chaotic," Gaffigan said. Not having a back yard requires that the family be organized.
"The kids can’t just kind of run around in the street, so it has to be kind of methodically laid out," Gaffigan said. "So there’s always planning meetings and stuff like that. And summer is far more difficult than when they’re in school.”
Fellow New Yorkers often wonder how he affords five children, especially the older parents who have college-age kids. But whether it's the cost of living, cramped living spaces or the fact that having five kids in New York City is so out of the ordinary, Gaffigan again tries to employ some perspective.
He knows that whether he has five kids or just two, "all my money would be going to parenting anyway." Even after the family moved to a larger apartment with more rooms and three sets of bunk beds, four of the kids still end up in the same bed. And raising five children is a monumental undertaking no matter where parents call home.
“When you have five kids, it’s so overwhelming it probably doesn’t matter necessarily where you do it," he said. "It’s a pretty difficult task in any situation ... I mean, going onstage and making strangers laugh is pretty odd in itself, so there’s a lot more people with five kids than people who go onstage and do stand-up comedy. ...
“But I obviously love it. I don’t relish being exhausted and kind of overwhelmed, but the whole parenting thing is just amazing.”
If you go ...
What: Jim Gaffigan, The White Bread Tour
When: Oct. 4, 7 and 9:30 p.m.; Oct. 5, 7 p.m.
Where: Abravanel Hall, 123 W. South Temple
How much: $38.75-$48.75