Balancing fatherhood with any profession is a tricky proposition. When you’re a member of a globetrotting mega-band,? Things get even more challenging. Joe Don Rooney, the lead guitarist of country music superstars Rascal Flatts, knows this from personal experience. As both a member of the chart-topping band and father of three children all less than 10 — 9-year-old son Jagger; 6-year-old daughter Rocky; and 2-year-old daughter Devon — the singer has spent much of the past decade finding that sweet spot between his life as a traveling musician and a father.
Rooney admits that as Rascal Flatts has grown over the years it’s become easier to find that work-and-family balance and says the band (whose new album, Back To Us, out on May 19) always makes it a point to “maximize their workload and also still be husbands and fathers.” Fatherly spoke to Rooney about how he does this, the challenges of being on the road, and how his bandmates taught him how to be a good dad.
In the early days of Rascal Flatts you guys were constantly on the road. I imagine at the time it was hard to imagine having a family?
Gary [LeVox], our lead singer, was the first out of the three of us to be a husband and a father. And pretty early on: he got married in late 1999 just after we signed our record deal, and then he and his wife had a baby in 2000; Brittney is now 16. So getting to see the perspective from Gary early on was pretty amazing. Seeing how he had to balance it all was amazing. Because we were doing so much back then: upwards of 200 shows a year from 2000-2004 because we were new artists and we were hungry and we were going to do everything we could to try and promote Rascal Flatts. We had heard the theory, “You can’t sell a million albums until you shake a million hands.” You gotta pound the pavement. But with that, the balance of that methodology with your home life was a challenge for Gary early on. But he did such a great job. So I got to learn from him and watch and see how it all revealed itself.
And you used this second-hand knowledge when you became a father in 2008.
Absolutely. By the time I got married to my wife Tiffany in 2007 and had my first child, Jagger, in 2008, I was a little bit more prepared. And plus our load was a little more lightened by the time Jagger came into the world. We had some really amazing success between 2003-2010. There was quite a wave really happening. I heard a friend tell me this a long time ago and I didn’t really understand it until I had a family. He said ,“You get your home life right and everything else in your world makes sense.” It’s so true. And it sounds cliché but it’s cliché because it’s true. Like anything else, you don’t know that until you go through it.
How was fatherhood initially? Were you the type of person who always knew he wanted to be a father?
I always felt my whole life growing up that at some point I would be a husband and then a father. Obviously, it took meeting the right person. And meeting Tiffany — talk about a call-and-response. It was incredible how she came into my life at the perfect time. It just all made sense. And the timing was just beautiful. I was old enough and wise enough to go through with it. If I had been a lot younger at the time it would have been a lot more challenging, for sure.
But I always felt in my soul I was going to have children. Growing up in Oklahoma I was the youngest of four children; my three siblings are a bit older than I am. The two oldest were out of the house by the time I was really aware and old enough to understand. And then they started getting married and having kids right away. So I had these nieces and nephews really early on. And I loved being around them and holding them and being with them from the time they were babies. That big family atmosphere was always a big part of my life. Now though it’s different for me and Tiffany because she’s from Florida, I’m from Oklahoma and we live in Nashville where we met. And we don’t have any family here. So it’s just us on our own little planet. We’ve had to figure it out on our own in a sense.
And it must be even more challenging given your chosen career.
It’s all that b-word: Balance. Luckily with Flatts we’ve doing this for 16 years so we’re at a place now where we have a lot more control of our schedule. And our load has really been lightened through the years. But now we can still have fun. We still have shows we do. We spent a lot of the past year in Nashville working on the new album. And I can just drive down to [band member] Jay [DeMarcus]’s house to his studio. And he lives like two miles down the road so I get to drive to his house, drive right back home and be with my family. And we get to work out the times of the day for all that so we can maximize our workload and also still be husbands and fathers.
In the years since Jagger was born has family time become a more central priority for you?
One-hundred percent. By the time 2010 rolled around, pretty much when Jay had his first kid, a little girl Madelyn, we had our iCalendars on our phone. And we have a good team that tries to keep everything straight. When you’re dealing with three different guys with three different worlds and three complete different family schedules, it’s crazy. But we’ve learned to block off all the birthdays, all the major holidays, some vacation times throughout the year, maybe once or twice, and so we’re able to block that off. That’s family time. That’s dad time. That’s husband time.
The code has been us trying to work on the weekends. We try to do Thursday- Saturday shows or Friday-Sunday. And generally through the summertime, we’re typically home Monday-Wednesday. During the school year we don’t do a lot of shows. We usually stockpile them up in the summer months and then we’ll start lightening it up around October. In December there might two or three private shows that pop up and we get to do those, which are fun; it’s easier than a normal tour. But we need to have a lot of that quality time around then to spend with the family. That’s really important for children growing up — being able to have those great memories as they get older.
Given the fact that you still do travel a great deal for the band do you find you appreciate your time at home even more?
I had another friend tell me something I like. Working in music you’re going to have stressful times. Everyone knows that. But one of the rules he told me is to leave it at the front step. Some days it’s more challenging than others. But there’s something about when you walk in the house as a father and you hear “Daddy!” or “Daddy’s home!” you gotta let that guide you. That’s what you have to take in. I keep telling my wife — and I gotta write this song one day — “I don’t know if we’re raising these kids or these kids are raising us.” I’m telling you, I’ve learned so much more from these three little rugrats than I could probably ever teach them.
That sounds like the makings of a good song.
I’m gonna write something with that idea at some point. Because it’s so true. You know what it does for me, being a father? It exposes everything you are inside.
It takes seeing your children mimic your behavior to realize how you act.
It’s so true. They’re so perceptive. And they find loopholes so quickly! They find me at my vulnerable moments somehow. Sometimes that’s a good thing but sometimes you gotta stand your ground as a father. You gotta let them know who the boss is and the respect has to be there. One thing I read awhile back that I thought was incredible was this interview with Tiger Woods. He was saying about how his father never talked down to him as he was growing up. He squatted down on one knee and made eye contact with him and literally talked to him on the same level.
Sometimes it helps to be on eye-level.
It’s very psychologically important. I’ve been trying to do that as much as possible. It’s amazing — if you crouch down right at them the engagement is much more clear. Little nuggets like that are really important. You can stockpile all of those because they’re endless.
I’ll leave you with this. My parents have been married 57 years this August. And it’s amazing to think about. My mom was 16 and my dad was 19 when they got married. And back in that generation you went and started working quickly. My dad joined the Navy and my mom had a child before she was out of high school. All of a sudden they had four kids. But that’s the thing I hold onto. That’s my foundation. Knowing that they were able to do it.