You know Tom DeLonge. You’re probably aware that in late 90s and 2000s, he fronted Blink-182, the chart-topping pop punk trio that performed songs — some serious, many not, all catchy-as-hell — about teenage angst, phone-sex, and, yes, the occasional dog-humping. Or maybe you’re more familiar with Boxcar Racer, his more mature rock outfit. Then again, maybe you know Delonge because of the uber-popular Angels & Airwaves, his rock ensemble full of ethereal guitars and soaring choruses. Or maybe you also know him because of his scientific exploits: Delonge is the founder of To The Stars Academy of Arts & Science, a scientific phenomena research organization that has declassified top-secret footage and gained the attention of both the general public and U.S. government.
Yeah, the dude who jogged butt naked in the “What’s My Age Again?” music video is full of surprises.
When you talk to DeLonge about music and his scientific research, his eyes light up. But when you talk to him about his kids? Those same eyes become high-intensity tractor beams, filled with love, admiration and pride, and they suck you in to his most cherished world.
He’s completely at ease, and radiating adoration as he talks about his son, Jonas, 13, and daughter, Ava, 17, his towering 6’4” frame sprawled out on a dingy couch in the green room of Cleveland’s House of Blues, where I’m there to talk with him before an Angels & Airwaves show begins. To start, we pull up an Instagram post of DeLonge’s that shows father and son enjoying a baseball game to celebrate the latter’s 13th birthday. The caption reads, “One of the most joyous things about my life is being a father.” I ask him why.
“Being a parent makes you selfless,” he reflects. “Before you have kids, you can really do whatever you want. Eat when you want. Sleep when you want. You’re selfish. Not necessarily in a bad way, but things are about you. As a father, I’m not my priority anymore.”
Delonge has accomplished a lot (he’s also produced movies and written more than 10 books, including two children’s books, the latest of which is “Who Here Knows Who Took My Clothes”?) The satisfaction Delonge has in them pales in comparison to his main goal: raising good kids. Or, as he puts it, “kids who aren’t assholes.”
His secret? “Being a dad is mostly about restraint,” he says. “Every time you feel yourself ready to give advice, or insert yourself into your kids’ lives, you have to think: is this about me, or is this about them? You have to resist saying what you might want to say, and act out of the love and compassion you have for what they’re going through.”
Here, we spoke to Delonge about parenting philosophies, his UFO research, what he tells his kids about acting stupid in his youth, and his recently announced divorce.
Given your relationship with the U.S. government, have you ever preceded conversations with your kids using, “I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you…”?
Not exactly in those words. But, there have been conversations where I’ve said, “Listen, you can’t tell any of your friends about this. At all.” The stuff we’re doing is changing the world. Just today, all kinds of news broke about stuff we’ve done. It’s really exciting. My daughter is writing all sorts of essays these days, and she seems really interested in what I’m doing. That’s really cool. She’s writing stuff about ancient civilizations – Sumerians, I think, was a recent one – that is kind of related to stuff we’ve done with To The Stars. As a dad, that’s rewarding.
What’s the part of your career that you’re most proud to share with your kids?
Angels & Airwaves. The different thing about this project – and everything associated with it – is that my kids see that I’m driven, and that I know what I’m doing. Even with the UFO stuff. The other day, I was joking around with somebody like, “What if Chris Martin left Coldplay to go hunt for the Loch Ness Monster?” We all had a good laugh, but that’s sort of a similar idea to what I’ve done and what I’m doing. With AVA (Editor’s note: In addition to being his daughter’s name, AVA is the colloquial abbreviation for Angels & Airwaves) and To The Stars, they see my passion, and my sacrifice, and my willingness to take risks even when people say, “This dude is crazy.” That makes me proud.
You don’t seem like someone who’d throw your hands up in disgust and say, “Ugh. Kids today!” But, do you think you could survive as a kid today?
I’m not sure. I’d like to try. But, man, with everything they have to deal with today, it’s not easy. Social media, and bullying, and all that shit. That’s why it’s so important to empathize. To see things through their eyes, and not yours. One of my kids – I won’t say which one, so I don’t embarrass them – was hurting because of a relationship. And your first instinct – as an adult, and even as a guy – is to say, “Dust yourself off. You’ll be fine. Wipe the blood.” And it’s bullshit. To a kid, the universe exists between school, and what they do on the weekends. It’s like their friends, their family…and that’s it. You have to be cognizant of that when you talk to them, and when you relate to them. You have to be sensitive to the fact that you live in different worlds.
What do you say to people who argue, “Kids need to be outside playing with their friends! Not playing video games!”?
I think that’s bullshit. This is a different world. Kids are different. Kids have options and possibilities today that never existed before. If I had some badass video games when I was a kid I wouldn’t have been out vandalizing stuff.
As someone who basically sent nudes to the world with Blink’s “What’s My Age Again? video, how do you justify cautioning your kids about what they put out there?
I’ve had conversations with them along the lines of, “You don’t want to be posting pictures of yourself acting silly in a bathing suit.” Because, that will follow you forever. All of the stuff that I’ve done is recorded. Well, most of the stuff. Stuff I’ve said, too. And, looking back, it’s not always fun to watch or hear.
How do you explain this world to your kids? Politically, culturally, environmentally…?
Lots of times, they have to explain it to me. I’m trying so, so hard to be as compassionate and sensitive as I can. But, like the other day, I tried to say, “LGBTQ”, and my daughter corrected me because I said it wrong. She explained to me, “No, Dad, it’s this, and that’s different from this…” We talk about it. Again, it all goes back to that desire to treat people with love and compassion. To embrace humanity. If you come at it that way, you’ll make mistakes, but your heart will be in the right place.
Is it more important to be a parent, or a friend to your kids?
Not a lot of people agree with this, but I think you have to be a friend first. Otherwise, they won’t listen to you. It’s like a pet. (laughs) If you treat a dog like…dog shit…it’s going to rebel. When you’re overbearing toward your kids, to the point where they begin to resent you, they’re going to do everything they can to avoid you. They won’t talk to you. I was raised in a broken home. Divorce. All that. And look at the crappy stuff I did. You look back on things like that, and kind of wince. Because you realize it could’ve been hurtful. It’s a fine line between being a friend and a parent, but it’s essential if you want to have a relationship with your kids built on trust. I think I’m a very instinctual parent, and my instincts have led me in that direction.
You’re a punk rock guy. What is the most punk rock thing a kid can do?
There’s nothing more punk rock than a kid who’s learned to say, “No.” Our guitar player (David Kennedy) has a one-and-a-half year old daughter, and she just learned to say it. The other day, she was eating this gigantic bagel and he asked her to share it. She just looked at him and said, “No.” And then he started trying to reason with her! He was like, “But, sweetheart, you’re never going to finish it. It’s too big…” And it was just, “No!” She was rebelling for rebellion’s sake, which was very punk of her.
Finally, news of your divorce just broke. A lot of dads in your shoes are probably wondering what happens next?
Now’s the most important time in my life for me to be a father. In fact, our priority right now – mine and their mother’s – is to continue being good parents. We’ve raised these kind, wonderful children. Of course we’re not going to just abandon that. There’s still so much love, which is the most important thing to remember in a time like this. That’s not the “PR” answer, either. I don’t think we’ve come up with a PR answer yet. That’s the truth.
This article has been updated to reflect that Delonge is 6’4″ not 6’7″ as previously stated.