Jeff Foxworthy is one of the most recognizable faces in the world of entertainment.
In addition to founding “The Blue Collar Comedy Tour” with comedians Bill Engvall, Larry the Cable Guy and Ron White, the 56-year-old funny man is the most successful comedy-recording artist in history, a multiple Grammy Award nominee and the best-selling author of 11 books. He has also had a long-lasting television career, hosting numerous gameshows, most notably “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader” and “The American Bible Challenge.”
Above all though, Foxworthy is a husband to his wife Pamela, and a father to his two daughters.
Daddyhood correspondent Tyler Ragghianti had the opportunity to sit down with the Blue-Collar comedian at an All Pro Dads event in Georgia to discuss how he balances a career as an entertainer with the career of a father and a husband.
Daddyhood (DH): Tell me a little bit about how you got here today, how you got involved with All Pro Dads.
Jeff Foxworthy (JF): I drove my truck. My kids went to school in the area and I came across All Pro Dads student event probably three or four years ago and they invited me to speak at it, and I don’t even remember what I said but it must have been pretty good because they invited me to come back to this.
Being a good dad is probably the thing that I wanted to do most in life, and I was thinking about that last night. I thought if, on my tombstone, it either said “here lies a great comedian” or “here lies a great dad” I would much rather it say “here lies a great dad” because I love what I do. Wouldn’t want to do anything else, but it’s what I do. It’s not who I am, and even all through my career I would make decisions based on them and it was probably because of the way I grew up with my dad not being there.
Even when they were little, I got to the point where I would lease a plane and I would fly home every night. If I had shows on Friday and Saturday night, as soon as the show was over, I’d fly home and I’d get home at two in the morning, but I was up the next morning at their basketball games or their soccer games or whatever they were doing. Then at four or five o’clock, I’d go back and fly to Minneapolis and do a show there and fly back. Over the course of their young life and their developing years, that gave me 100 more days a year with them.
I have a weird job where it’s Friday and Saturday nights was when I’d work, but during the week I drove them. I live next door to my brother and he had three girls, I was driving five little girls to school every day. I was the captain of the estrogen bus, and you ask my kids now. My kids always had known they were the priority. I just think now they’re grown, and I have a great relationship with them. They still love to be at home, still love to come home. I talk to them often, even the ones that are away, I talk to them about every day. It was totally worth it.
DH: You clearly made the effort, even with your busy life and busy job, to come home. For those that can’t, maybe they need the extra work, that second job, what is some advice that you can give?
JF: You know what, kids need? Their father’s blessing. Little girls need to know they’re worth fighting for and dying for. That’s the way a guy should feel about them, and a boy needs the father’s blessing of, “I think you’ve got what it takes.” To me, it was always about encouraging them. One Valentine’s Day about eight or nine years ago the day before I went and bought three red sheets of red construction paper. I cut out probably 100 hearts, but I wrote notes on it to each one of my daughters and to my wife, and after they went to bed, I got the tape and I put them all over. One might be on the mirror, one might be on the coffee maker, one might be on their closet door handle, and I just taped these little notes on these red cardboard hearts thinking, “Well, this is kind of cheesy and this is kind of silly, and I’ve got seven bucks in this.” It’s been almost a decade and they’re still up everywhere. They’re still up on my wife’s thing, these notes of encouragement and the way I feel about them, and I was like, wow. For money invested, I never bought them anything that meant more to them than those little notes.
I have a job that would take me away for a long time, but I think even when you have to be gone to let them know, “Man, I’m thinking about you. I love you, and I wish I was there with you.” That’s what everybody needs. Everybody wants to feel significant. Everybody wants to feel like they’re important to somebody, so as a dad, even though there’s time you can’t be there, whether it’s a text message or a voice message or a note you left, it’s a big, big thing.
DH: Is there a single piece of advice that has stuck with you over the years and, if there has been, do you remember where you got it from?
JF: I had a buddy of mine give me a little glass bottle with colored beads in it when my oldest one was about ten. It was about four inches tall, and it sat on my kitchen counter for a decade. He gave it to me, and he said, “That’s how many weekends you have left with your oldest child before they’re gone forever.”
It sat right there on my kitchen counter and I looked at it every day, and it was like, you know what? This time is precious. What I invest in them is going to determine what they expect in a spouse and the way they’re involved in their community and their marriage and everything else. You realize other stuff doesn’t matter. 100 years from now, nobody’s going to care how much money you made or how many awards you win. But the kind of kids you leave behind, they’re still going to be affecting the way the world is. Why would you invest in something that doesn’t matter and neglect the things that does? Fatherhood’s one of those things that doesn’t get a lot of publicity, but it’s such an important role, vitally important.
I work down at a homeless mission every week. I’ve done it for six years. Almost every one of those guys that are there got jacked up as a kid some way, and I would say that great majority of them were by their dads either being totally absent or just not caring.
DH: Because of your career, you have to have a strong wife to help raise a family. Talk about how important it is, not only to be a dad, but to be supportive of your wife both when you’re in town and when you’re on the road.
JF: Like I said, when I was in town I always thought for my girls the way that I loved their mother was a template for them for what to look for in a boyfriend. One of those boyfriends is going to turn into a husband, and that was important. I remember one of my buddies saying one time – he had a new baby, first one, and his wife was messing with him because he wouldn’t change diapers – and he’s like, “I just told her men don’t do that.” I was like, “You know what men do? Men do whatever needs doing. If it’s changing a diaper, that’s what they do. If it’s bathing the kids, if it’s putting them to bed, that’s what they do. Men do what needs doing.” That was important for me as an example to them, and I couldn’t have done what I do without a strong wife, somebody that had the ability when I wasn’t there. She’s the kind of girl, who could just handle stuff. She’s incredibly smart and incredibly tuned in to them.
I always tried to reinforce that when I got back I was back in the game. As soon as I walked in the door, I was back in the game. It didn’t matter if I’d been to three cities in three days. She probably needed a break, and we were always good about that when the kids were little. Coming in, picking up, go take a walk. We’ll do something else, and I always tried to do my share. Even if I was dead tired coming home, I was like, “Go to lunch with your friends. I’ve got it.” Maybe that’s why we’ve made it 30 years.
DH: Soccer moms had their moment in the spotlight as the anchor of the family, and there seems to have been an about face recently as if dad has reentered the picture. How important is that to you?
JF: The pendulum, it swung too far the other way, and moms, man, that’s the most important job on the planet and probably the most difficult and the most under appreciated job on the planet. A dad’s important, too, especially that father’s blessing to look at a kid and go, “Hey, you got what it takes. You have what it takes to make it in the world.” The people that got that were lucky, and the people that didn’t, that’s what they long for. It’s an important job. I’m glad to see people talking about it again.
DH: You were raised by a single parent. What’s some advice that you have – whether it’s for dads or moms – about how difficult it can be?
JF: It’s unbelievably tough, and I think back to my mom who was working full time and would walk in the door and start cooking dinner. I don’t ever remember my mom missing a ball game I played in. I look back on it now and go, “How did she do all of that?” The thing you get when you’re on my side of the equation, when your kids get grown, is that time that you’re raising your kids is a short season of life, and you’re life’s divided up into a lot of seasons. Maybe you’re in the midst of it. I remember nights going, “When are they going to go to bed? When are they going to go to bed?” Looking back at it, it goes so slow, but by the end, you’re going to look back and you’re like, “Where’d 20 years go? It’s gone.” Persevere and keep grinding. It’s not going to last forever. It’s a season.
DH: You have to be a certain kind of parent and have a certain kind of relationship as they get older. How do you evolve overtime from overprotective parent of a toddler to the parent who’s child just got cut from their high school sports team.
JF: You know what I think? It’s like anything else you do in life. If you want to be good at something, you look at the people that are good at it and you go pick their brain. You know what I mean? If you want to get in shape, you go to a trainer. It’s kind of the same for me. I would look at people that their kids turned out great, and I would go pick their brain. How’d you do this? How’d you do that? I didn’t have an example leading me that way, but that was great advice because good parents, it’s an invaluable source. And that’s why it’s fun for me on the other end to be able to come back and do that for somebody else. Go, “Here’s what I found that works. Here’s what I found that doesn’t work.” Go ask people that are good at it. Get a guide.
DH: Did you ever have any situation with your daughters where you wanted to get involved and protect them but knew it better to hold back?
JF: Yeah. I think you need to let your kids fail, and I try to tell my kids that. If you’re not failing, you’re not pushing yourself and doing new things. I probably learned more from my failures than I did my successes, so it’s kind of hard. We live in an age where parents don’t want to let their kids fail. We want to fix it when they do but, to me, that’s where the life lessons are, in the struggle. It’s okay to let them fail, and it’s funny. If you only have one child and you’re telling me how to parent, I’m going to laugh at you because they’re totally different. My kids, my oldest one, if I punished her by sending her to her room she was totally happy because all she wanted to do was go lay on her bed and read anyway. My other one, if you made her go to her room, she’s a social butterfly and that was punishment. With the oldest one, that wasn’t punishment. That’s where she wanted to be. What works for one doesn’t work for the other.