“Hey, kids!” is how Rob Kenney welcomes the audience in every video on his “Dad, How Do I?” YouTube channel.
With his soft Mister Rogers–like smile and warm voice, Kenney creates simple, digestible 2- to 3-minute-long how-to videos teaching everyday life skills — how to tie a necktie, how to change a tire, how to shave — things that most kids would hope to learn from their own fathers.
“I came up with the name because I pictured one of my kids in the other room yelling, ‘Dad, how do I?’ and I’d run and fix it,” Kenney said.
Kenney launched his YouTube channel on April 2, 2020, just a few weeks after the COVID-19 pandemic-imposed lockdown went into effect.
The Kent resident naively anticipated maybe 30 or 40 views of his first video on how to tie a necktie. In a matter of weeks, Kenney’s video went viral.
He was surprised by its sudden popularity and blown away by the comments. The comments section overflowed with people sharing that they didn’t have a father figure to teach them skills like this, and thanking him for “being the internet’s dad.”
Kenney’s own father left his family when he was 14.
“I understand that vacancy and what that impact had on my life,” Kenney said. “I wanted to produce something that I could have used myself when I was younger.”
Kenney, now 59, had the idea for the channel years before the pandemic; however, he kept putting it off. His adult daughter encouraged him to start, saying that people would like to hear from a “normal dad” during a time when unrelatable celebrities were trying to comfort the masses.
Over the past three years, Kenney has expanded his channel beyond simple how-tos. He now produces videos about money education, life philosophy and more. One of Kenney’s goals for his channel is to highlight the power of forgiveness. He regularly talks about his experiences and the freedom he gained by forgiving his father.
“It took me a long time to forgive my dad. I called it coughing up hairballs. I spent hours on the phone with my brother, coughing up hairballs dissolving, trying to let it go. But once I did, there was freedom for me waiting on the other side that I didn't anticipate, because I thought I was letting my dad off the hook, but really, I was letting myself off,” he said. “There’s a lot of people that have done a lot of bad things. We need to be able to forgive, move on and live our best life.”
He now has compassion for his father and understands his actions now that he himself is a father.
Because of his experiences, Kenney takes parenting seriously. It bothers him to see media figures like Homer Simpson and Al Bundy portrayed as dads.
“I think if you see that over and over again, pretty soon you think dads are just big buffoons. Being a dad is a great responsibility, and there are a lot of good dads out there, and there are a lot of good moms out there, too, and, sadly, I think people oftentimes live up to the expectations of them,” he said.
For Kenney, being a good parent consists of being patient and present. He acknowledges the privilege of being able to raise his kids with his wife and have a career in sales, which, he said, allowed him to “see everything they ever did.” But for single parents or parents who have rigid schedules, he said, there are always opportunities to be present with the kids, even if it’s for small moments. Patience ties in with his channel. He said he would always try to get his kids involved in whatever he was working on. “If I needed to build a fence, I would get the kids to help me. It would slow down the process considerably, but I wanted to encourage them,” he said.
For parents, he encourages them to write a mission statement when their kids are little, advising that it would serve as a helpful way to keep them on track.
“And when times get tough, you can refer back to the mission statement. And you can adjust them, of course, but it’d be good to keep the same principles,” he said.
Despite his “internet dad” status, Kenney maintains that he’s just a normal dad who makes mistakes and doesn’t have all the answers. “Being a parent isn’t easy, and I hope I haven’t implied that. I know I’ve made mistakes and will probably make some more. I just want to help people in any way I can,” he said.