Steve Schirripa is known for playing the tough guy in his roles in “The Sopranos” and “The Secret Life of an American Teenager,” as well in his stand-up routine. In his new book, “Big Daddy’s Rules,” Schirripa brings his blunt approach to bear on parenting. But, if you think he takes a softer approach in raising his daughters, you can fuggedaboutit. In this exclusive essay for Bookish, Schirripa describes why he thinks fathers can “lay down the law” and give their daughters confidence in ways that moms can’t.
A lot of people tell me I’m too much of a hothead to give parenting advice. That parents need patience (of which I have none), that they need to stay calm and, above all, that they need to avoid phrases like “shut up” or “because I said so.” Here’s what I have to say to those folks:
Because I said so.
Look: I’m no genius. I’m just an overweight actor who happens to have raised the two most perfect, wonderful, incredible daughters in the known universe. (And I’m not exaggerating. I’ve said a million times—I don’t exaggerate.) But I do know this: There are three reasons they came out so perfect.
One: My wife seems to know what she’s doing.
Two: I just got lucky. Hey, I worked in Vegas for years. I’ve spent a lot of time in casinos, and if I learned anything there, I learned this: When it comes to luck, you can’t beat the house. But, if you play your cards right, you can improve your odds a little bit.
Which leads to number three: I improved my odds by following one simple rule of being a dad—Be There.
Everybody treats dads like total jerks these days. In every movie and every TV. show, the dads are morons. And dads tend to react by doing what dads do best: They check out. They say, “Ask your mother.” They accept the fact that they’re the number two parent.
And that’s the worst thing for your kids—especially for your daughters.
People get that dads have a place in the lives of their sons. But you have to be just as present with daughters, maybe even more so. You have to get in there and be part of the game.
For one thing, you can lay down the law in a way that moms can’t. Moms and daughters can negotiate over anything, and they can go on longer than it took to settle the Vietnam War. And look how well that turned out. Sometimes, they need you to just step in, say as loudly as you can, “Do what your mother told you now,” and leave the room. They will bond over the fact that Dad is being such a jerk.
They will roll their eyes.
And then they will do just what you told them to do.
How do you know this will work?
Because I said so.
But there’s something else you can give your daughters that their mothers can’t.
You can give them confidence.
With girls, there’s an insecurity that starts early on. It hangs around them, like some annoying kid from down the block who won’t take the hint and go home when dinnertime comes. And moms are usually not great at giving their daughters confidence. One reason for this is that they grew up with the same insecurity—the same treatment from the mean girls, the same self-doubts that their daughters are facing. Not all of them, of course. Just like not all guys are clueless, only most of us. But I’m just saying.
So when a daughter starts expressing that fear, that self-doubt, Dad is the one who’s gotta step up and say “Fuggedabout it! You’re gonna do great! You’re the best!” Because, when you tell your kid she’s gonna knock it out of the park, you’re gonna believe it. And that’s gonna make her believe it.
Because that’s what dads can do.
I’m lucky—my kids are pretty confident. Sometimes, because they’re good at stuff. And sometimes, because they’re brave. But they’re brave because their mother and I taught them early on—or we tried to, anyway—that you don’t walk in to any situation with your hand on the exit door. Whatever you do, you go in and do it.
And that’s what dads can give their daughters. You can let them know they’re the star of your team. The franchise player. She’s gotta know that no matter how crazy it may make you when she screws up, when she acts stupid or flunks a test or leaves a mess in the kitchen or forgets to call you when she’s coming home late or any of the 1,000 other messed-up things kids to do make you crazy, she’s still the superstar, the absolute most incredible kid you’ve ever known. And when she walks out that door, she’s gotta act like it.
That’s not so hard.
After all, you act like you’re a superstar.
And look at what a jerk you are.
Nothing personal. I’m just saying.