Dax Shepard is a Good Dad With a Chip on His Shoulder. What of It?

He's an actor, podcaster, husbander (famously, to Kristen Bell), and a father. And the likable thing isn't an act.

by Donna Freydkin
Kreg Franco for Fatherly

Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard have an unusual relationship with the media. They make headlines. They make the front page. But they don’t make compromises. Parenting is at the core of their family brand, but the public has never seen pictures of their two daughters thanks to the successful initiative the couple launched to stop tabloids from running unauthorized paparazzi pics of celebrity offspring. Bell and Shepard — who tend to get name-checked in that order — may be, in short, the closest thing the Hollywood of Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin has produced to genuine parenting role models. For Shepard, who was raised by a single working mom in Michigan and has spoken publicly about being molested at age seven, this feels far from inevitable. He wanted to be a great dad. He went into the experience open to change, but he knew there weren’t any guarantees.

Still, it worked out.”My full-time job before kids was worrying about what Dax needed and wanted,” the actor and podcast says. “Spoiler alert: That used to make me unhappy.” At 44-years-old, he’s happy and busy. What else is there? “I like myself a million times more,” he adds.

Raising Lincoln, 5, and Delta, 4, may have changed Shepard in profound ways, but that doesn’t mean his story, which has become his family’s story, is over. There have been several happy endings, which seems right given that he’s married to Anna from Frozen, but there are more to find. And Shepard’s approach to finding them is incredibly straightforward. He is take-no-prisoners, spew-no-bullshit, authentic. Fatherly spoke to Shepard about how worked his way to such a good place.

You have two daughters. How has being a dad changed you, in a broad sense?

There’s something about making someone else your priority that results in a good deal of self-esteem — or shame, conversely, if you’re screwing the pooch on it. I feel like I’m a great dad and that gives me an incredible amount of self-esteem.

There’s so much talk these days about raising strong, capable, independent girls. How do you do it?

Telling your kid that they’re the best and that they’re capable of anything doesn’t instill confidence. It’s just talk. You give them the opportunities to demonstrate their ability, the opportunity to prove to themselves they’re great. My oldest rides a dirt bike. She falls down and gets back up. I create scenarios where she can acquire that confidence.

For both of them, I’m trying to constantly to nudge them in a direction where they can feel lost for five minutes and find their way back. If we go for a walk, I let them walk way ahead. If they go to set with me, they need to find the way back to the trailer. I let them be unsupervised. Be on your own. That builds a sense of competency. If you’re doing everything for your kid, they haven’t done shit. So why should they think that they are the greatest?

Who’s the tougher parent in your house?

I’m the disciplinarian, unfortunately. Which makes sense in general. Boundaries come easier to me than they do to Kristen. I had a fucked-up childhood. No one is going to make me part of a game plan I don’t want to be a part of.

Many parents have a problem with following through on threats. And that makes them meaningless and counterproductive. What’s your approach?

My wife has that issue. I don’t want to interrupt her parenting in front of the kids or let them think we’re not on the same side. On the side, though, I will recommend that you’re setting consequences that are way too ambitious. I try to make it something immediate. You’re not going to take away TV for five days. Saying that you will has no impact. I always have a ball in the chamber.

I never thought of that. Small punishments!

Make the consequences smaller and more immediate. For me, it’s like, you only have three miserable days ahead of you. Whatever you’re trying to correct, they’ll keep pushing and eventually they will surrender. You want to have this mini war or a gnarly three days? That’s where Kristen and I differ. I don’t mind if they’re mad at me. I know they’ll feel differently in three hours. It does impact Kristen more. That’s the best part of her. She is endlessly nurturing and endlessly available.

You’ve been so open about your sobriety. Have you talked about that with the kids?

I love to talk to them about sobriety. It came up naturally. I go to meetings every Tuesday night. Am I going to pretend that I’m going somewhere else? I don’t understand being afraid of topics with your kids. Explaining to them the components of addiction — I’m excited to tell them. I’m proud as hell that I’ve stayed sober for 14 years. They’re likely to deal with it. Odds-wise, one of them will have a problem with it. They will have an example of someone who overcame it. I don’t think it’s a shameful thing.

A shrink told me that you need to deal with tough topics directly with kids, instead of sugarcoating them.

Exactly. We talked about death to our oldest daughter. We told her we would all die at some time. We were so tempted to tell her we’d meet in heaven but we didn’t. She started bawling. And then 90 seconds later, she ran outside and started playing. They’re fine. I can’t understand protecting your kids from reality.

What was the impetus for your hello bello baby line? I know there are other celebrities with products in the space, but yours are… affordable. And really good.

I have a bit of a chip on my shoulder, a class warfare chip from growing up modestly. I was raised by a single mom. Three kids. Working full time. And then we had an unlimited budget when we had our babies. My wife was so meticulous about what we put on our kids. I thought it was unfair that my friends in Michigan didn’t have that option. I call it a product line that has mom standards and dad prices.

Speaking of reality, or rather fantasy, you have a new show airing in April, called Bless This Mess. Tell me about it.

It’s Green Acres meets Money Pit. It’s really funny. It’s great people.