Rob Lowe’s Discipline-First Approach to Raising Sons Paid Off

Rob Lowe, the teen heartthrob turned adult heartthrob, has built his family a private paradise.

by Donna Freydkin
Kreg Franco for Fatherly

You have every right to resent Rob Lowe. He’s handsome to the point of excess and charming to the point of too-muchness. He’s been on an unprecedented, nearly 40 year hot streak since he stole the coming-of-age classic The Outsiders from Tom Cruise. He kept Parks and Recreation going. He’s gotten the girls (Fawn Hall, Winona Ryder, Princess Stephanie of Monaco, his wife Sheryl). He’s gotten rich. He’s gotten roasted and laughed it off. At 55, he’s a happy, sober, stable guy. He plays golf with Chris Pratt on the weekends and cooks with Aziz Ansari and goes skiing with his kids and hangs out on his boat.

Think you saw him buying paper towels in Costco? You didn’t.

It would be kind of a can’t-have-it-all relief if Rob Lowe was a jerk about all this. But he isn’t. Not at all. He’s confident (wouldn’t you be?) and funnier than you’d expect, but he doesn’t brag about The West Wing or Parks and Recreation. He won’t bring that stuff up if he doesn’t have to. He’d rather talk about his sons, Matthew Edward Lowe and John Owen Lowe, graduates of Duke and Stanford respectively (without a single bribe taking place, as Lowe cheekily pointed out in a Twitter post that Sheryl asked him to take down). “They are for sure the two people that I would most want to spend time with, for sure,” says Lowe. That is what Lowe sounds like when he brags. It’s nice.

Talking to Lowe, it’s remarkable how grounded he has remained — or, more likely, became — while building an enviable life doing things he likes with people he loves. “I want really quality time,” he says. And he seems to mean it.

As Lowe gears up for his new gig as the host of Fox’s new series Mental Samurai, Fatherly spoke to him about kids, candy, and what quality time really means to him.

Let’s start with the most pressing question first. Who’s the better golfer, you or Chris Pratt?

We’re pretty even. He gets it further. I’m more consistent. We’re perfectly matched. It’s a good game. Neither one of us is head and shoulders above the other. Oh and by the way, I’m better.

I follow you on social media, and you seem to spend a ton of time with your sons. How did you manage to raise two normal people in the Hollywood universe, where pretty much anything goes?

I don’t mean this to be the kind the story where you compare yourself to others, but our way of doing it was was by being truly involved, in the trenches, focused on academics and discipline. We were the most discipline-oriented parents of anyone in their peer group. I don’t feel like we were a police force, but to hear them tell it…. We kept them on a tight leash.

Give me an example.

We used to keep M&Ms in a beautiful vase on the coffee table. You should be able to have a bowl of candy sitting in your living room and not have your kids run amok on it. Anytime they wanted some, they could ask mommy and daddy. But they knew not to take things that didn’t belong to them.

I would walk into other people’s houses and there would toys everywhere, all over the floor. Our kids didn’t get to put their toys all over the house. They could have their toys in their bedrooms. You have to establish your boundaries.

How do you define being a discipline-centric parent?

I’d like to think we got the balance of love and wanting to be their friends right. They don’t need friends. They need parents. That’s the way we did it and, knock on wood, I’m really proud of who’ve they become.

What are you most proud of as a dad?

For sure, my relationship with my sons. Now that they’re older, they don’t need so much discipline. I can lean into the friendship. I love having that time with them, talking about work, about jobs, career advancement and strategizing and going out golfing or going to a Dodgers game. It’s the best relationship I could hope for.

So what career advice do you give them?

It’s a cliché, but it’s the best one: Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life. It’s a good one. They haven’t found it yet.

You’ve had such a long career, while so many others have flamed out. What’s your secret?

The key for anybody, not just me, is you have to have the goods. If you don’t have talent, you can fake your way through a couple of movies. You can’t fake your way through multiple ones. You have to have your head on correctly. You can’t go down from craziness or drugs or ego. You have to have a meaningful life outside of show business. And then you need to embrace change and not make choices based out of fear. You have to have a healthy case of the fuck its.

You’re now hosting the game show Mental Samurai. What’s that all about?

I’m a huge fan of American Ninja Warrior. The co-creatorrs wanted to do something like that for the mind. In my fantasy world, I can’t compete with an American Ninja Warrior. But in terms of doing something mental, I can maybe do that. We put smart people under duress. The questions are designed for good play along. If you have a weakness, it’s going to find it. My weakness is around puzzles. And sequences. I’m great with history, memory, and knowledge. I’m terrible with puzzles and sequencing.

I assume you’re insanely competitive.

Uber crazy triple-A competitive. I was known in my friend group — you do and don’t want to play Trivial Pursuit with me. I’m really good at it and I’m really competitive. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth making a blood sport out of it.

You certainly seem to live a pretty great life. What’s your perfect day, so we can all vicariously through you?

I would say surfing in the morning, a big family lunch, and then in the afternoon maybe a golf game then watching a movie or TV or sports by the outdoor fireplace. That’s basically every weekend for me. I’m very simple that way. I don’t need to go to this premiere or be at DJ Khaled’s afterparty. That’s not my scene.