Editor’s note: This Q&A is part of a new blog series that profiles interesting parents and how they live and play.
Meet Parker Jacobs, art director on the children's television series Yo Gabba Gabba!, musician involved with Californian bands GOGO13 and The Aquabats and former child actor. He is coauthor of the recently-published children's book The Goon Holler Guidebook. He is also a father/step-father in a combined family of six children.
1. Your life has followed such an interesting trajectory — from child actor to musician to Emmy award-nominated artistic director on Yo Gabba Gabba! What do you think the most important tool is for cultivating creativity in your children and yourself?
I think providing an accepting environment for creativity and new ideas is important. Asking questions like, “Tell me about this drawing,” instead of, “What is this thing?” acts like a breadcrumb trail into the awesome depths of a kid’s imagination.
I’m also a big believer in blank sheets of paper instead of coloring books, and a ready supply of costumes. I grew up in a family of theater people, and we had an enormous costume box. We were always dressing up and making movies or putting on plays. I see a lot of that with my own children as well. They all have or want Vine or YouTube accounts, create their own characters, comics, write songs, fan fiction, etc.
2. You were recently married and combined families. Can you tell us about your family?
We now have six children combined: My two girls and my wife’s four boys, ages 15, 13, 12, 9, and two 7-year-olds. I grew up in a frightfully similar blended family situation, so I knew what I was in for. Being on this end has made me more fully understand my own stepdad and what he must have been going through taking on myself and my four siblings.
Other than how different it was to raise boys (laugh, punch, cry, repeat) and girls (always chatting about feelings and emotions), I think I was most surprised by just how much every individual action or mood can affect the whole bunch — for good or bad. Every bed made or unmade, every dish washed or left out, every happy or grumpy mood really makes a difference. It’s been a big job to get us all running like a smooth machine, and we still have a ways to go, but it’s been worth it
3. Describe a typical day in your home.
We drive. A lot. I have considered changing my professional description to “shuttle driver.” Our six kids are spread out across five different schools in two different cities, and everyone stops or starts at a different time, plus have modified early-release days, as well as after school activities which we try to support.
My wife works part-time, I work at home. It’s crazy but fun! I like that we always manage to be together for dinner, reading together, prayer and putting kids to bed. My day often ends with uploading a doodle to my blog. Often it’s something silly that chronicles the day’s adventure.
4. How has fatherhood changed you as an artist?
I've always been a kid at heart, but once I had children, I started to cater my work toward them. For example, one night instead of reading a story, I let my girls help me make one up. It ended up being about a Bigfoot named Toobaloth and the place he lived and the other people who lived there — which evolved into my latest project, Goon Holler Guidebook. The same goes for Yo Gabba Gabba!, which my brothers and I would never have created if we hadn't become fathers looking to entertain our children.
5. What music do you listen to at home as a family? Do your children play music?
Everybody listens to something different around here. Yodeling music, obscure Christmas songs, jazz and new wave. I hear a lot of Owl City coming from the teenagers’ headphones. The kids love my brother’s band, The Aquabats. I play in a ska-flavored band called GoGo13, and we also listen to a lot of The Specials and Madness. My girls sing, the boys play piano and clarinet, everyone takes a turn at the ukulele.
We have an assortment of odd whistles. We do a lot of singing as a family, though not often the same song. It’s more like howling and meowing sometimes — especially in the car when everyone likes to try to be the loudest. One of my favorite things to do is purposely mess up lyrics to a song and have the kids try to correct me, though lately they think it’s more fun to come up with their own wrong lyrics. I think good music, like good humor or good art, has a way of making any bad day better.
6. Most parents turn an empty refrigerator box on its side and it becomes a temporary play house for their kids. What would an empty box at the Jacobs’ house become?
The kids did have access to an empty refrigerator box not too long ago. They threw stuff into it from the second floor, rode it down the stairs a dozen times then … turned it into a nicely decorated play house. I later used it as part of my old school Christopher Pike costume for a Star Trek art show I was in. That box got a lot of use! (And was finally recycled. Ding! Earth points!)
Rory is a slightly neurotic mom to three young children and an intern at Parentmap. She recently taught herself to play the accordion through Youtube videos and can often be found hiding from her kids in the closet while eating chocolate chips (which she aspires to bake something with but never does). Her perfect day would include a trip to a local beach with her children, taco truck tacos for dinner, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire with friends. You can see more of her musings about parenting at ParanoidStayAtHomeMom.