John Roderick: songwriter and singer/guitarist for The Long Winters. His film and music reviews have appeared in The Stranger and he is a frequent contributor to Seattle Weekly. (You might want to check out his most recent article, “Punk Rock Is Bullshit,” which caused quite a stir. I, for one, loved it.)
Age of kids: One kid, age two.
What was your writing schedule (ideal and actual) like before kids, and how has that changed?
My writing schedule has always been whimsical, so having a kid didn’t change it much. I mean, after the ground zero period of the first nine months had passed I went back to writing just as I always had. Mostly I write late into the night. In other words, it’s not my writing schedule that’s changed, it’s my sleeping schedule.
How do you remain present for your family even when you’re sunk deep into a current project?
The challenge for me has been to learn to be present for the baby in ways I never had to be before, full stop. As an artistic person I spent my early adulthood trying to ensure that my lifestyle accommodated my work, and gradually I carved out all the space I needed to be a daydreamer and meanderer. I incorporated my depressive tendencies and odd sleep habits and introverted nature into a way of living that celebrated these traits.
When the baby stopped sleeping so much and started to need me to be present in all these new ways, I felt slow and numb. It wasn’t just that I was tired, it was more that I had NEVER been on a schedule and had worked hard all my life to AVOID being responsible to other people. I was a loner and an artist, right?
The baby needs a kind of engagement that is exhausting to everyone, not just me, but I don’t want to be one of those fathers who retreat to a closed room just to “check out.” So I’m trying to start exercising, just to get air in my lungs and sunlight on my face so my daughter doesn’t grow up with her father constantly under a grey cloud of his own thoughts.
How has parenthood changed the work itself, if at all?
There’s enough time in the day, there really is. I travel a lot, though, and as my kid gets older it’s harder for me to be gone all the time. Musicians all deal with this differently. Some of my buddies have kids and are on tour half the year. I’m trying to strike a balance, which usually means I have the family meet me in NYC or LA at some point on a tour, both to stay connected and also to have them share in my life a little. The fact is, as an entertainer I need to be gone sometimes. It’s just how it is.
What is the most challenging aspect of being a working artist and a parent?
I need to be sure to prioritize making art. The lack of clear “office hours” can make it seem like every day is a weekend, and self-discipline isn’t my strong suit, but getting down to work should be my first priority. I’m no good to my kid if I let my work suffer and my dreams die. The best parenting I can do is to work toward being the best version of myself I can be. My kid is already watching how I live my life, so I want to do it well. That means doing my work, even if it takes me away from her. I don’t have unlimited hours to dick around anymore, so I have to grow up, but in a way that’s not antithetical to who I am. I want my little girl to see that you can make your own way in the world. I want her to see it in practice.
Do you have any advice to other writers with kids or who plan to have them?
Oh, man, the torrent of advice offered to new parents is just a sewer pipe of unsupportable gossip. Even the advice we’ve gotten from doctors is pretty eye-rollingly unhelpful. My experience has been that having a kid is not hard and is rewarding. I waited until I had no more interest in doing drugs and partying before I had a kid, and that has worked out well for us. We don’t waste energy trying to redress the patriarchy in every small action of parenting, either. We just act naturally, which turns out to be ok. Moms do more work than dads and it’s harder for moms, so being a dad is sometimes a supportive role rather than an “in charge” situation.
Having a kid is great. I recommend it.