Creative Parents.Com

  Arts Programs-What Works
  Lifelong Daddying
  Anderson the Music Man
  Grandma Storyteller
  Helping Kids Learn
  Poet Mom
  Selecting Movies for Kids
  Taback-on Illustrating
  Alice Hoffman Kids' Books
  Kingsley on "Holland"   Monday Night Art Class
  The Sisters Yankowitz
  Istar on Harry Potter


About Us
Contact Us

New Dad - Producer Christopher Roberts Shares His Views

"... the biggest challenge has definitely been work, and the --to me --strange attitude people have had about my being an involved father."- Chris Roberts

Christopher Roberts produces for theater and film and is a founding member of the acclaimed companies Other Pictures and adobe theatre company. His films"The Believer" and "Welcome to the Dollhouse" both won major awards at the Sundance Film Festival. He lives with his wife Alexis and daughter Beatrix, who was 7 months old at the time of the interview.

How did becoming a Dad change your life?

How did it NOT change my life? I can't think of a single aspect of myself that's not altered, from the most mundane things to the most profound.

In the category of profound, one of the biggest changes is the way having a child has caused me to think about my own childhood, which I didn't really expect. I've been collecting things for my child or children, like the newspaper from when Mark McGwire broke the homerun record. Or my baseball card collection. I have 5000 baseball cards that I collected as a child and that I associate with my own childhood.And now they'll be Bea's, or her siblings'. And now that she's here, I realize my memory of my own childhood is being supplanted by a new world I'm creating, the imagination I have of my own child's childhood.

In becoming a parent you rediscover and replace your own childhood at the same time. It's a kind of looking glass that reflects and can be seen through, too. When I rock Beatrix to sleep I think of my how my own parents once rocked me to sleep.

What are some of the ways your life is different now?

In the practical sense, it's turned everything upside down, topsy-turvy. My habits and temperment were those of a childless person; my instincts are child-free. I like to go out late, sleep late, and watch sex and violence on TV. Though I've always wanted to have children and was ready, I wasn't prepared for the re-adjustment in my eating, sleeping and social schedules. I knew intellectually it was coming, but had no idea what it would be like.

Have you found your routines are really altered?

I've always been a creature of habit, but right now, nothing is scheduled. Everyday is an adventure in terms of when she'll sleep and eat. Bea determines what's going to happen next. For example, when we won the award at Sundance I went up to accept and make a speech. I was on national TV, thanking my mom; it's something you fantasize about. When I got offstage and went through the crowd to kiss my wife she said that the baby had a big poopy diaper. No matter what else is going on in your life that may be momentous, the baby still needs to be changed and fed. It's very grounding.

What are the challenges of being an involved father?

I had no idea how hard it was going to be, especially socially.

It seems there are two kinds of parents, those who try to incorporate having a baby into their previous routines and those who try to re-incoporate their previous routines into having a baby. Life never goes back to pre-child days but some people aggressively try to live their lives as they did before the baby was born. It's admirable, mostly, but it's not how Alexis and I are as parents. As I said before, Bea really determines how things are going to be and if she's in no mood for brunch in a noisy restaurant, then Alexis and I aren't going to push for it. Some of our friends are more understanding of that than others.

But the biggest challenge has definitely been work, and the --to me --strange attitude people have had about my being an involved father. There's pressure from people at work -I am surprised by the extent to which men in particular think that by my staying at home and taking care of the baby with my wife I'm being generous above and beyond the call of duty. As though a father doing those things is a matter of generosity, not duty or joy. And these are people who are in the arts, children of feminists, sensitive people. Somehow, by doing anything domestic I'm doing things my wife should be doing, women's work. To some extent I get the sense that they think I am not just being generous, but a sucker.

So there isn't always a lot of support for being an involved Dad?

Either lack of support, or, more often, an absence of understanding. People who don't have children, and some who do -- but especially men --don't get it when you say that you've spent 6 hours with your child. "Doing what?" they always ask. Our lives are all very goal-oriented. We don't have a mechanism that gives value to just sitting with your child 4 hours a day, during which you can't be writing checks or going over a cost report at the same time. It's hard to explain to some people that you didn't do a work-related task while you were spending time with your child, because in their eyes, you were doing nothing.

For instance, right after Beatrix was born we were up all night and sleeping all day. When we got home from the hospital, I had a phone message from the executive producer of my film. Because of our schedule --and the distraction of this brand new baby --I didn't return the call right away. Finally when I did call him a few days later, he was annoyed not to have heard from me. I explained that we had just gotten home with the baby and were still adjusting. He didn't even congratulate me and just launched into his business questions. I guess having a baby was not an acceptable excuse to put off business matters.

Do you think it's more difficult or less when you're in the arts?

One thing that's uniquely difficult about the arts is that you need to be 110% on your game every time you play. Every decision has to be just right. As William Goldman has observed, every single person working on a movie has to do his or her best every single day for the movie to even have a chance of succeeding.

As a producer you need to bring to bear your best decision-making all the time. And, what's even harder, you have that pressure and there's no objective standard for what you're doing. No one is counting up your widgets at the end of the day and telling you if you're ahead or behind schedule. You have only your gut instincts to tell you if you're doing a good job. Hard to do when your attention is split by something as absorbing and important as being a parent.

Is it hard balancing working on a production with having a baby?

It's hell doing that and having a baby. It's like having 2 babies. Of course, the film is not as important as my baby, but the film is an enormous responsibility and in certain ways becomes as important as your family. It deserves that kind of passion. It's not fair to commit to it if you can't give it your all. When you care, you feel morally obligated to pursue it to its perfect conclusion.

Do you think artists have gotten a bad rap as parents?

Many people from all walks of life are bad parents - stockbrokers, lawyers and so forth. Artists are not disproportionately bad, they are more visible and known.

It's true that being an artist can make a person selfish of their time and energies. But great artists are very disciplined people and are capable of balancing the two. To succeed in the arts you need to be very disciplined. When an artist is a bad parent, it's not because their artistic temperment prevents them from it; it's because of another character failing they're using their status to hide behind.

Does being a Dad influence the kind of work you do or want to do?

It hasn't come up yet. It is weird to think that I just made a film I wouldn't want my daughter to see until she's a young adult or at least has the word "adult" in her age-title. But I don't spend a lot of time thinking about that.

All people can compartmentalize - there are aspects of our being that are separate from our kids. My wife and I are less tolerant now of gratuitous sex and violence in the media since we've become parents. We've always disdained the gratuitous but now it gets under our skin more.

But the things I work on, which tend to be R-rated, I'm still going to work on. In the arts, you need to feel passionate about what I'm doing and you can't be passionate if you're always censoring yourself.

Has your work influenced your feelings about being a father?

Though I did just talk about the ways we compartmentalize our lives -- and find ways to separate our adult identities from our larger roles as parents --I often think about the bizarre, insensitive ways people behave in general, and particularly at work. And I worry about how I'll explain this to my children? How can I impart good behavior to them without being tyrannical? How will I ensure that they will be moral and upstanding people in a world where gentlemanliness is not much prized? And I don't know how people can behave immorally by day, and count themselves as good parents at the end of the day.

I once had a strange experience where someone broke into my legally parked car so he could move it and take my space. He ended up doing a lot of expensive and unsightly damage to the car. In the presence of the police he, of course, denied everything but after the police had left he admitted the events and blamed me for parking in front of his building. I couldn't help but ask him if he had children. He had three. And I just couldn't help but ask him if he was going to go home that night and tell his kids what he had done. He got very angry, and thought that was a completely inappropriate comment. I guess he thought what he had done was reasonable in the world of adults but that it was somehow unseemly to try and draw a connection between that and what happens at home.

I think the people we are at work should be representative of the people we are at home. We shouldn't forget that kind of sensitivity and compassion. I always tell the people who work for me on my movies, this is just a movie - it isn't life and death.

If you are a new dad and want to share your thoughts, or have other comments on the interview, please contact us.

Copyright© 2000 Dr. Istar Schwager
Back to Top


Articles  Interviews  Reviews  Activities  Resources  Surveys  About Us  Contact Us
Copyright © 1999 Dr. Istar Schwager. Site design by ArtMar, Inc.