Hi, I’m Mike, a dad of two wee boys.
And I’m Paul, a dad of two little lads.
This is Balancing Dads, a podcast exploring how working dads can be present in their kids’ lives.
This week, we’re joined by Derek Sivers.
Derek, thanks for coming on.
Thanks, guys. To those of you listening, wondering why we’re laughing awkwardly. We’ve actually just been talking for 20 minutes and then found out that it wasn’t recording.
Derek, can you tell us a little bit about your professional background?
Starting at age 14, all I wanted in life was to be a successful musician. I was massively, singularly focused on that. I didn’t want anything to distract me. In 2007, I wanted to sell my music online, but there was not a single business anywhere on the Internet that would sell your music if you were an independent musician.
So, I built my own little shopping cart. I had to get my own credit card merchant account, which back in 2007 used to be really hard. There was no Pay Pal. There was no Stripe.
It was a thousand dollars in setup fees. They actually had to send an inspector out to my location to make sure I was a valid business. I had to incorporate and set up a separate bank account.
It was all worth it because after three months and a thousand dollars in setup fees, I had a “Buy Now” button on my website and I could sell my CD. When I was done, my musician friends in New York City said, “Wow, dude, can you sell my CD through that thing?”
I honestly hadn’t considered it. It was really just for me. But as a favor to some of my friends in New York, I also sold their CDs on my band’s website. Then, the friends told their friends. Pretty soon, I had 20 strangers coming my way.
So, I gave it a name. I called it CD Baby, and it took off way more than I ever even wanted it to. It quickly became the largest seller of independent music on the web with about a quarter million musicians and a few million customers. I had 85 employees in a warehouse. It was awful. It was too much responsibility. It made good money, but I wasn’t in it for the money. After 10 years of doing it, I felt done and I sold the company in 2008.
Since then, I’ve been a writer, speaker, pop philosopher kind of guy.
And that brings us up to present.
My Internet hero.
Aw. . .
There was gushing in the previous 20 minutes [laughter].
What happened next? That was all pre-kids.
I didn’t mention the CD Baby pun.
After CD Baby, a guy I knew started a little distribution company called Distro Kid. I thought, “This is really cool. If I were to redo CD Baby again, in this age, I would do it like this.”
It was optimized strictly for digital distribution. It’s a really cool service.
So I sold my own music through Distro Kid and it wasn’t until a year later I went, “Oh, kid, baby, I get it.” I didn’t get that. Like I never made that connection before.
Oh, so you want to hear about kid stuff?
I sold the company. I was feeling a little lost and ready to lift my head up and travel the world, so I ended up in Singapore. It wasn’t a big intention to have a kid. But while in Singapore, we had a kid and he was born in Singapore.
I thought, “My kid’s going to grow up in Singapore. How cool!”
I did all the paperwork to make him a legal, permanent resident of Singapore, which means that in the year 2030, he’s going to serve two years in the Singapore Army. And that all seemed like a pretty cool plan until he was about six months old. Then, I slowly realized what it meant to grow up in Singapore.
There’s not really a lot of nature in Singapore. The nature is contained little parks where you can always hear the traffic nearby. I didn’t realize until that moment that to grow up in Singapore meant that my kid was going to grow up in a condo with shopping malls and not have the outdoors. I realized how important it was to me to grow up in nature. It’s a basic human need. But it’s especially true for little kids.
Hands in the mud, feet in the river, climbing trees, playing in long grass blowing in the wind. That’s an essential part of childhood. We had a family discussion about where we could raise him in nature. Ideally, it was New Zealand. I found out what it would take to become a legal resident of New Zealand and did months of paperwork. Right before he turned one, we moved to New Zealand for the sole reason of raising a kid.
I took a big sabbatical to be a mostly full-time dad from the age of zero to six. I raised him entirely in nature, which has shaped his personality a lot. We’re living in England now, and when I see him compared to a lot of his peers here, there’s a huge difference because he grew up entertaining himself with sticks and seashells.
When he turned seven, I felt like getting him some more cultural input. The isolation in New Zealand is wonderful, but it does lack a little cultural variety. Now, we’re living in Oxford, England. We’ll probably move again in a few months, but that’s where we are for now.
What are the differences in parenting between the three countries he’s been raised in?
I’d love to talk about this with you guys, the nature versus nurture thing.
Because, Paul, you have two kids now, and I’m curious to hear about the personality differences.
I read a book on happiness once. It was by Sonia Lumberski, a happiness researcher. She said in all of her decades of study, it’s been shown over and over again that happiness is 50% genetic and 50% everything else.
Some people are born with a higher set point of happiness. That accounts for 50% of your happiness in life. You could be born happy and make terrible, miserable choices and you’ll still be 50% happy.
Whereas, somebody who was born completely unhappy can do whatever it takes in life to learn how to be happy, and they’re still only going to be at 50%.
I find this idea fascinating, and I definitely lucked out with my kid. He won the happiness lottery. Even as a little crawling baby, he never cried. Never had a fit. Never had a tantrum in his life. We got really, really lucky.
I had to preface with that because his differences from kids around him may be because he grew up in New Zealand, but it may not be. Who knows? But, the way he grew up was almost entirely outside. Even in the middle of winter, we put on four layers and went to the beach to play in the rocks and the tide pools. We played in the forests.
He’s used to entertaining himself with moss and a stick. If you give him a stick or two and some moss, he’ll dig into some dead wood and find some bugs and play for hours. Whereas, kids his age that I see him around in England have grown up with devices in their hand and play video games. He goes over to a friend’s house and tries to play, and they just want to show him how to play FIFA. He just looks at them like, “What? No, that’s not playing. That’s you pressing buttons. Ugh.”
They have dead faces staring at a screen. He’s like, “Come on, let’s go play.” And to him, “go play” means let’s go out. Let’s do things. That’s a huge difference that he’s learned to entertain himself using whatever he finds in the world.
God, if he finds a dumpster – literally a dumpster of junk – this is a massive jackpot to him. If we’re driving somewhere and we see a dumpster, we have to pull over. We’ll spend the whole afternoon in the dumpster playing with things. But he has no interest in playing with video games.
It’s very difficult because screens are everywhere. Mike and I have talked at length about screens with guests.
But, our balance is that my kid gets a bit of screen time in the morning and then he basically spends the rest of the day pretending to be Transformers or pretending to be a fairy. Or pretending to be some character and bringing all his friends with him.
But because my kid’s at a little city Montessori, there’s no space to roam. There’s a really confined garden area that’s around 30 by 50 feet. It’s enough, but it’s not a great big field.
On the other hand, when we lived in London, he did have that great big field and he did go exploring. I certainly relate to what you’re saying there. It was glorious to see him wandering off into the distance and digging holes and standing in badger holes and stomping on molehills.
It’s a completely different type of play.
We’re lucky to have a rather large park across the road from the back of our house. So, we’re in that every day. It’s a reasonably good balance for how close to the city we are.
How do you find the difference between your two kids’ personalities? Massive difference?
Huge difference. Couldn’t be more different.
The first kid wouldn’t sleep. Mike’s going through this with his second kid right now. But, at eight months, we were at our wits end. He was waking up every 45 minutes. We couldn’t do anything to get him to stay in his bed.
But we put my second kid into bed at 6:30, and he sleeps through the night. We’re following this guide called, “Little Ones.” It’s a sleep guide. And we’ve been applying that for our second kid.
We joke that we’ll never know if it was because we didn’t use that with number one, but it has nothing to do with it. This baby sleeps. He smiles. He chuckles. He’s parenting on easy mode.
Whereas number one was just, oh, my goodness, he’s still tough going.
Mike, you’ve had that experience as well, haven’t you?
Yeah. We had the sleep reversed. Number one, who’s now 2 1/2, was just about an angel when it came to sleep. Number two’s been a bit of a nightmare. A few months ago, he got a lot better.
When you have a kid, you almost assume that’s just what children are like, and then number two ends up being completely the opposite.
I’m scared to have another kid. My first kid is so cool that I think any other kid is going to be worse than him.
Comparison is the thief of joy, even with your kids. You compare your kids’ behaviors. I know it’s possible for him to not do that annoying thing because his brother doesn’t do it. It can get under your skin.
It’s utterly ridiculous. But you don’t dip back into the bag and get the same thing [laughter].
A month ago, when coronavirus was hitting full force, I sent out an e-mail to everybody on my mailing list that said, “How are you? Are you okay? Because I care.”
I got thousands of replies. I read every single one and replied to every single one. A bunch of people, for whatever reason, told me that they were about to have a baby or just had one.
I think this is a great time to have a baby because, at least for the next few months and probably longer, we’re going to have to change our lifestyle to be much more internally focused. We’re focusing inward instead of outward. I don’t know about you guys, but when I had a baby, I just wanted to stay in with him all the time.
I didn’t want to travel. I didn’t want to work. I just wanted to hang out with my kid. For all the people who told me they’re having a baby, I said, “Hey, congratulations, what a cool time to have a baby. You can let the world nudge you into this situation of focusing inward.”
What do you guys think about this?
It certainly speaks to the theme that we’re trying to push, which is being more present as dads. Being forced into it is a good thing in my book. I’m loving the new socially accepted, kids crashing a video call regularly at work. There are kids on the calls in the video and there’s no “that’s not professional.” I think it’s wonderful.
I’m a huge advocate for kids being present in every part of our lives over having an “appropriate” time for kids. That’s one thing that I’m really appreciating about the forced lockdown. It’s fair game now because there is no other alternative.
The variation from family to family is interesting. While we’ve been finding it a bit tough, it’s not the end of the world. I hear people saying that their whole family has dinner together every night now, which didn’t happen before.
Before the assumption was they couldn’t possibly have dinner together as a family every night because of their career. But for us that’s pretty normal. It makes you wonder how people are going to look at things afterwards.
Do you not think, though, that having a brand-new baby right now would be such extra stress added to an already stressful period?
I don’t know, Mike what do you think?
It depends. Did you say you were vaguely into stoic philosophy?
I don’t subscribe to any -isms, but when I read a book on Stoicism, I went, “Oh, my God, this is how I’ve already been living my life for 20 years! I thought I was the only weirdo who thinks this way.”
It wasn’t, “I want to do Stoicism,” but when I finally read about it at the age of 43, I went, “Oh, my God, this is this is how I’ve been living.”
I had a similar experience. Here’s an example of a little stoicism practice that I’ve adopted. In the wintertime, going outside and deliberately not wearing your warm coat. Say you’re walking to the shops for fifteen minutes. You will inevitably be very cold. But then the next time you put on that coat, you’ll really appreciate that coat far more than you have before.
And I was talking to my wife earlier and now we have to practice things like that often with many aspects of our lives, even the little things. Things like nursery or daycare or whatever situation have just been taken away.
It really helps to think in terms of, “What am I glad to be away from, and what things am I missing?” When things are back to normal, I’ll be really appreciative for all these things that I didn’t get to do, rather than yo-yoing back to being entitled and not acknowledging it.
That effect you just mentioned reminds me of the way Scandinavians are in the summer after they had four months without sun. Once May and June come, they go crazy and everybody goes outside and loves it because they’ve been so cooped up. Scotland must have that effect, too, right?
Yes. Similar. We’re not quite as cold, but we certainly have shorter days. We’re so lucky that isolation is happening at a time when the weather is starting to get nicer again. We have a garden, and at least in the UK, we’re able to go out for exercise.
It makes going outside a nice treat, and it helps dealing with kids too. I rage built a playground in our garden [laughter].
Now, we have a seesaw, a swing, and a trampoline. It helps so much with having a little two-and-a-half-year-old who bounces off the walls. It’s great for him to be able to go outside, jump up and down, and run around.
Derek, you’ve spoken about taking time off to be a full-time dad, and you wrote about being present with your kid. What’s your strategy now that he’s a little bit older? What’s your balance?
I have a very sharp line between on-duty and off-duty. When he’s with his mom, I dive into work, and I’m a workaholic maniac. Then, as soon as it’s my turn to be with him, I shut down everything. My phone is off, computer’s off, everything’s off. I’m unreachable and I lose myself in his world. So, that hasn’t changed. It’s been that way since he was born. We take turns and I’ve always been a morning person, so that helps.
I’ll be on duty from 5:00 a.m. until 9:00 a.m. so that she can sleep in. He and I will go play from 5 to 9 outside. Then, at 9:00 a.m., I hand him off and dive into work. I need that separation. I find it hard to concentrate if there’s anybody else around, I have to get into a certain mode.
The single most important parenting lesson I’ve learned from experience would be this concept of shutting down myself in order to enter his world. I had to learn that the hard way. When he was around 10 months old, I remember that I would sometimes play with him, but look at my phone. I always feel really icky about it. I thought, “Wait, what am I doing? What in this phone could possibly be more important than my kid? Come on.”
Shortly after, I stopped, and I made a new rule.
He will never see me on a device or on a computer because that’s a different mode. I won’t do that around him. Ever since then, it’s been my mission. Whenever I’m on duty with him, I shut down everything, including in my head. I have to pause my ambition. Pause my thoughts on whatever I’m working on and let it all go – a little bit like meditation.
I’m not really into meditation, but I’ve dabbled enough to know what it is. You have thoughts that enter your head, “Oh, I need to do such and such later today,” and then you let those thoughts go right back out again. That’s what I do when I’m with him.
I try to stay completely empty headed so that I can fully engage in his world. So, whatever game he’s playing, whatever reality he’s fabricating, I’m right there with him.
I’m aware of that and I definitely had that rule of no phones in the morning. I’ve been breaking that rule with my second kid because he’s so easy and he doesn’t require as much attention. My business is very much affected by Covid-19, so lately taking it out of my mind is an extra challenge, right?
To be fair, his mom and I are split up. We live a few blocks away from each other. So, when I’m working, he’s with her. When he’s with me, he’s fully with me. I have more of a binary black and white status of now I’m working, now I’m not.
When I’m deep into work, like when I emailed everybody on my list and 7,000 people replied, for those 12 days I hardly saw him because I had to say, “Sorry, I have to answer all these.”
Here’s the thing that happened in our house and was exasperated by the coronavirus and it was the notion of working in the same room as my wife and my kids. I was doing it to just be around. But it created this hidden tension that I hadn’t anticipated, which was that they needed to give Daddy time to work, or space to work, or quiet to work.
I didn’t need that or ask for it, but Kira was really gracious about it. She wasn’t explicit in saying that’s what she was doing, but she was having to alter her behavior to accommodate me. And that wasn’t my intention at all.
So, I very explicitly changed the rule that if I’m working in the house, I’m open. There’s nothing at all that could prevent an interruption. I can be interrupted from anything. At no point is work so sacred that I can’t be interrupted. That has created a peace. There’s no barrier. I can still get my work done.
If either of the kids need my attention, if I need to hold the baby for a few minutes, totally fine. I’ll stop what I’m doing. If I need to play a quick little game with the boy, totally fine.
That’s been my coping mechanism. Whilst trying to maintain the balance between, “I’m getting my work done,” and, “I’m being present for the kids.” That’s helped. Plus, the ability to work after bedtime.
That’s amazing. Mike, how do you do that?
I do almost exactly the opposite. I’ve been working from home for 10 years now. When my eldest was around one and a half, we had a semi-detached bungalow that we converted into a stand-alone office. So, I’ve got my little office and home gym there. It’s been interesting seeing the difference between being in the house and not being in the house.
When I was in the house, my wife found it a lot harder because if my kid was screaming, I would want to help. It’s hard to ignore that, particularly when you feel like you can help. Whereas, my wife felt somewhat of an implicit criticism there because I would stop working to jump in. Now, she’s on maternity leave and is looking after the two kids. We structure times when I come back and forth to help.
I stay until they’re changed and fed, and my wife’s had a shower, and then I go over to work. Then, I come over at lunchtime and later in the afternoon, so she can walk the dog and have a break. Then, I’m back at dinnertime.
I schedule all the times I’ll stopping by the house in our calendars for both of our benefits. Like if one of them is being a pain, my wife knows, “Mike’s going to be here in 15 minutes.”
It helps for work stuff as well. If someone tries to invite me to a meeting, it will say “No, Mike is busy.”
The busy may be, “He is busy watching the kids while his wife walks the dog.” That system has worked really well so far. It’s a happy medium.
The difference with Paul and I, too, is the difference in our roles. I’m not a manager. I’m just the engineer. I don’t have any direct reports. My work is very focused for long periods of time.
That’s amazing. It’s really cool to discover what works for each of us. There’s no one answer fits all. It all comes down to knowing your own tastes, preferences, and what works for you.
When I was a teenager, I was super into the Beatles. I remember reading an interview about John Lennon. He had his first kid, Julian, at the height of Beatlemania. He was not there for Julian or his wife. I think she had to be kept a secret so that the fans wouldn’t be upset, so he was a really bad dad. Apparently, the song, “Hey Jude,” by Paul McCartney was written to Julian because Paul felt bad for Julian.
It was “Hey Jules” originally.
When John had his second son, Sean, he decided to do the opposite. He put his whole career on hold for five years and took a sabbatical. He told his agent, “The answer’s ‘no’ to everything for the next five years. I’m going to be nothing but a dad.”
This was only a few years after the Beatles broke up. He was still in peak demand, but he said “no” to everything. I remember, even as a teenager, thinking, “If I ever have a kid, that’s what I want to do.”
Especially those crucial early years, what a great thing to be able to be there so much instead of giving some excuse like, “I can’t really be there because of work.”
When I hear that, I think, “Come on, your kid is more important.”
At least for me. That’s my value system.
When people ask, “Do you have any advice for a potential new father?”
I always say, “My best advice is to make as much money as you can. Save your money. Then, when your kid’s born shortly afterwards, take a sabbatical and be a full-time dad. It’s great.”
I really like that. The idea of laying a foundation is helpful.
If you are planning when to have kids, you can at the very least, take your foot off the accelerator of your career for a little while. T
Now that we’re kind of having kids, the things I find time for or how I prioritize things are different. I used to stay fit and go to the gym more before I had kids. I think if I was trying to start now, I could see myself being one of those people who says, “I physically don’t have the time because I would fail at these other things.”
Am I going to work a 60-hour week to try get promoted or am I going to work a 40-hour week and just tread water for a while as I spend a bit more time with my kid? For a lot of us, that is a choice we’re making.
You’ve been able to go fairly extreme on that in a really positive way, in a way that I’m sure a lot of dads would love to do. But even if you can’t do that, you can probably still make some changes. You can still decide to turn off your phone, or whatever that may be, to provide a little bit more foundation.
Nice. Thanks for that example. I made it sound like, “No, here’s what you should do. Take a sabbatical. Don’t work at all.” But you’re right. It’s finding that balance that works for you.
I thought you might like this story that just happened a week ago. My kid and I play a game called the opposite game. What’s the opposite of this? What’s the opposite of that? It’s fun because the answers get creative.
I asked, “What’s the opposite of being a dad?”
He thought for one second and said, “Playing video games.”
I loved that because he’s got a couple friends who are video game addicts, and he also has two different friends whose dads are video game addicts. Even in New Zealand, his best friend’s dad never came out of the basement. He was always staring with a dead face at the screen, addicted to video games.
This guy was not there for his kid because he was playing video games all day long. That was a wonderful, anti-role model for my son, who said, “That’s the worst thing a dad could ever do!”
He never played with his son. I get something between smug and blushing when he tells me, “He’s not like you, dad. You always play with me.”
There is a middle ground, though. I love video games. I don’t play all that much. But my four-year-old said to me this morning, “Can we play the Switch?! Can you set it up so that I can be the goose and help me find a person to honk at?”
[Laughter]. That’s playing together. That’s different.
But there are times when my kid will sit on my lap with me and we’ll do Minecraft together on his iPad, but we’re doing it together. I lay the dynamite. He lights it.
With any game that he’s playing, I want to know about the game. I want to see what’s going on. I want to see the progress.
There’s a wonderful iPad game that my kid’s been playing called Dragon Box, and I’m always pushing him to play it. It’s a counting game, and it’s so creative and so fun. I see the good in it, because it really brings the kid into the game and for every level, there’s something to show. It’s a good application, but it comes down to balance.
If you go on Wire Cutter, they have a section on Lockdown iPad Educational Games [laughter]. There are some really good games there.
Growing up, the first computer came into our house when I was six or seven years old. We had Kings Quest Five, which is like Roberto and Ken Williams. My dad and my brother and I would play and try to figure out the puzzles together. I would consider some of those experiences very rewarding in my life. I don’t want to say it’s all bad.
Have your kids ever turned you on to a show that they like, and you ended up loving it?
[Laughter] Not yet.
Paul and I have talked before about our shared love of Dino Trucks. We got Disney Plus for the two-and-a-half-year-old to have during downtime. If he runs around the whole time, he gets exhausted and really, really grumpy. So, we let him watch something on Disney once a day.
It’s been nice watching all the old Disney films again, like The Lion King and Wall-E, which is one of my favorite films of all time. It’s fun to gauge my kid’s reaction and figure out if he is into based on often how much he talks about it afterwards.
When my kid was when he was three, I took him to the cinema for the first time to watch Penguins of Madagascar. We’re in a little small town in New Zealand. He’s eating a bag of popcorn. Fist goes in the bag, “Chomp, chomp, chomp.”
Then, the movie starts. He’s never seen a screen that big in his life. He held that fistful of popcorn suspended in the air for 90 minutes.
He was frozen [laughter] watching that movie. Hypnotized. It was so funny looking down at this fist of popcorn that would not move because he was so into it.
An interesting thing happened this year. His mom lets him watch YouTube for kids. He and I just always play outside still, so YouTube for kids doesn’t really enter into our time together.
Every week he’d tell me about something he’d watched that week. He babbles some nonsense that I don’t understand.
“Well it’s the crystal gems. Sapphire has this. . .Garnet has as a fuse between Sapphire and Ruby and this and that. There’s Steven Universe and the pink diamond. . . “
This went on for two weeks. Finally, I said, “Wait, wait, wait. You’ve been talking about this for a couple weeks. What is this show you’re talking about?”
And he said, “Steven Universe.”
When he went to bed that night, I looked it up on Wikipedia. It says that it’s actually this critically acclaimed great show that teaches good morals and lessons.
Instead of letting him watch three minutes at a time on YouTube filled with ads and other stuff trying to sell him toys, I downloaded the entire commercial-free four seasons of Steven Universe into MP4 files and put it directly on his iPad.
Most importantly, I sat and watched it with him. I said, “Let’s start at the first episode and watch it together.”
Dude, it was awesome. It is such a good show. I got really into it. It even has a great intro song that I can’t stop singing. It ended up being a really bonding thing to do together. Now, when he’s drawing, he draws the Steven Universe through the crystal gems and he makes these quotes and jokes from the show and I know what he’s referencing because I watched it with him.
That was about a year ago. Then, a few months after that ended, he was in the mood for another show to get into. He said, “Dad, I feel like watching something about the four elements. You know – wind, fire, earth, and water. Are there any shows about that?”
And I said, “I think there might be.”
I never watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, but I remember people talking about it on Reddit and I knew it was something about a kid and the elements. I went to Wikipedia to see if it was a quality show. And again, Wikipedia said it is a critically acclaimed, great show.
I downloaded all three seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender, and we made it a real, father son thing, one episode a night before bed. It’s actually really cute. We always sit there with our heads touching. We kind of like lean our heads into each other cheek to cheek and watch the show.
Again, amazing show. So good. One of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life. And it was really bonding. After we watch an episode, the next time we go out to play, he’s like, “Alright. Now, I’m Water Bender. You’ll be the Fire Bender. We’re going to fight,” and the show merges into our play. It’s this thing that we have in common.
Before last year, I would have been very dogmatic to say that screens are bad, but done in the right way, it can be a bonding thing and not a separating thing.
Hugely. Your question threw me a little bit. My kid doesn’t just watch the shows, they become a part of him. Yesterday, there was a two-hour long roleplay where my four-year-old was Megatron. And this kid is a comic. He was Megatron from the Transformers and I was Starscream, and we plotted our evil plans together.
I said, “That’s so evil, Megatron.”
He said, “Isn’t it?!”
We were being supervillains together. There was a perverse pleasure that he finally decided to be the bad guy [laughter].
There are so many good, educational shows. Netflix just launched a thing called Dinosaur Train. It’s a school-level paleontology learning program wrapped up in a cartoon. It’s way more educational than a cartoon and my kid laps it up.
There are people doing really, really great things. The biggest thing that I’ve enjoyed getting into recently is Helpsters, which is on Apple TV Plus. I’m a total fanboy right now. It’s Sesame Street style monsters solving problems. It’s got great music, great characters, great concept.
Three minutes into the first episode, my kid said, “This is amazing!”
It’s really, really sweet. We watch it together and talk about it together.
If you sit and watch TV for hours, there’s a problem. But if you use it as a jumping off point for imagination, then I think it’s wonderful.
We’ve always read lots of bedtime stories to our two-and-a-half-year-old. He’s really into stories. But recently, he wanted me to read a story and I had my hands full. So, I created this character called Mega Pig, who is effectively just Superman who’s a pig because I’m not very creative like that.
It’s been fascinating. Now, he will often ask for Mega Pig stories over us reading him a story. But I can see that he’s starting to use it to process his thoughts on his day. I mentioned that he got a new trampoline. He would go play on it and later that evening, he’d say, “Tell the story about Mega Pig’s daddy and the new trampoline.”
It’s funny seeing that. He obviously wants to talk and think about things, but in this abstract way where he doesn’t ever pretend to be Mega Pig, but yet Mega Pig seems to do lots of things that he has in his life.
That’s so cool.
There are a couple Sci-Fi movies that have this idea of future memories being implanted into a kid. There’s a movie called Dark City where the key to this guy escaping this horrible world is actually implanted into the dreams he had when he was much younger. If he pays attention to his dreams, they’re going to guide him out of the prison.
I like to think about the things that are going to stick in our kids’ memory. They’re going to stick there regardless, so they should be good things, and we can help guide them. So, hold on to that idea for a second.
In the song, “Hey Jude,” there’s a line that as a teenager, always stuck with me. It goes [singing],
“For well you know that it’s a fool
Who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder.”
That line stuck with me, and as a teenager, there were a few times I had a choice where I could have been colder, and I thought, “No. It’s a fool who plays it cool.”
But that lesson stuck with me.
As part of our nightly routine, I’d sing him lullabies to sleep. I had this collection of around 15 songs I would sing to him. Over the Rainbow, Hey Jude, Yesterday, Blackbird. . .
I’d when singing the same songs to him for two years. I was singing, but I was thinking about this idea of putting a lesson into his subconscious for later in life. I thought, “I’m a songwriter. I can do this, and I’ve got lessons that I think he should know.”
I’ll pick one example, which is a rule of thumb that served me well in life, which is whatever scares you, go do it. So, as he’s falling asleep, I started making up a melody like you did with Mega Pig.
I made up this little song and I sing him now at bedtime [starts singing].
“Whatever scares you, go do it.
Whatever scares you, go do it.
Whatever scares you, go do it.
Because then you won’t be scared anymore.
Won’t be scared anymore.
Won’t be scared anymore until you are, then,
Whatever scares you, go do it.”
And I repeat that a few times. It was so sweet. I would sing that to him for a few weeks, and then one day, a month later – granted he’s only three years old with his tiny little voice – he started singing along with me and he knew all the words.
So, I really like this idea of like putting healthy thoughts into his subconscious through lullabies.
Yours is just so poignant and sweet.
I sense a theme here where, Derek, you present the platonic ideal of these parenting things and then I come along with my vulgar, Dublin, bearded version [laughter].
I’ve been trying to get my kid to brush his teeth, but he doesn’t do it. He hates cheese. So, my song is,
“Who wants cheesy teeth? Who wants cheesy teeth? Who wants fromage?”
He doesn’t want his teeth to turn to cheese because he hates cheese.
I’ll sing it while I’m brushing his teeth and he’ll sing it back to me, “Who wants cheesy teeth?”
Paul, what’s so cool about that is that he’s going to teach his kids someday. He’ll probably think that it’s some old Irish folk song.
But what if his kid really likes cheese?
[Singing] Who wants pickle teeth?
Probably 50 percent of what we do, our kids will do and be to their kids. Then, there’ll be other things where they’ll say, “I’m never going to do that to my children. That was super annoying,” but we don’t know which are which, yet.
Apart from all the many things, the one thing that my dad did that I thanked him for on his 70th birthday that I always will always be thankful for: He always showed up.
That is the theme of what we’ve been talking about. Everything. Games, piano recitals, exam results. He was just always there. And I will take that. That’s my gratitude.
That’s a beautiful note to end on. Derek, thank you so much for joining us.
Derek, if people want to hear more from you, where can they find you?
Go to sivers.org. There’s a contact link there. You should click it and introduce yourself and say hello.