Parenting lessons from the funniest dad on Twitter
With Father's Day around the corner (June 21), James Breakwell of @XplodingUnicorn talks to Janice Rodrigues about finding humour in parenting - one tweet at a time
If you're active on Twitter - or any other social media platform for that matter - it's impossible not to have heard about James Breakwell. Writing under the handle @XplodingUnicorn, the Indianapolis-based dad of four girls shot to fame last year when his tweets - mostly hilarious conversations he has with his kids - went viral. Today, he is widely considered one of the funniest dads on the Internet, with over 914K followers there and a book on parenting (set during a zombie apocalypse, mind you) set to release later this year. With Father's Day in June 21, this ace dad talks about splitting parenting duties, embracing disaster and the true meaning of fatherhood.
Have you ever worked in a conventional job before your tweets went viral?
I was a night cops reporter at a newspaper right out of college. I spent most of my time covering community meetings where I listened to people complain for two hours at a time and nothing was ever resolved. It was a lot like being a parent.
Later, I abandoned journalism for a regular job in a cubicle. Once I realised I wasn't going anywhere there either, I dumped all my energy into comedy writing. I kind of just bounce from one failure to another. If this writing thing doesn't work out, I'm not sure where I'll go next. Maybe I'll be an astronaut.
Was being a comedian something you always wanted to do?
I had a few other career aspirations over the years. In junior high and high school, I thought I wanted to do a lot of different things: marine biologist, aeronautical engineer, nuclear engineer, or chemical engineer. Basically, anything with an impressive title that sounded like it paid a lot of money. But by my senior year of high school, I realised I hated math and science but liked writing. My path to poverty was set.
What gave you the idea to post your kids' stories on Twitter?
When I first created my Twitter account in 2012, I had two kids: a two-year-old and a newborn. As they learned to talk, more and more of my jokes centred on them. They took over my Twitter feed just like they took over my life. There's no escaping children.
Did you ever expect Exploding Unicorn to become so big?
I always hoped I would hit it big at something in writing, but I wasn't sure how. I had a general plan early on that I wanted to build up an audience first and write a book later. It seemed like most people were doing the opposite. Now that I have a book coming out, I'm not sure if my approach will pay off or not. All I know for sure is that my mum preordered it, so at least I sold one copy.
What is it about your tweets so many parents relate to?
It turns out the weird stuff my kids do is the same weird stuff everyone else's kids do, too. That's why it resonates with so many people. Apparently, the world was just waiting for someone to condense that universal experience into 140-character bursts. That's where I come in.
Tell me about your book that will come out this October?
It's called Only Dead on the Inside: A Parent's Guide to Surviving the Zombie Apocalypse. It comes out on October 10, just in time for Halloween. This comedy book explains how to raise happy, healthy children when undead hordes swarm the earth. It's a mashup of a traditional parenting book and a zombie survival guide, bringing together two genres just in the nick of time. This book is classified as non-fiction, so it's all absolutely true. No pressure, but if you don't read this book, your children will die.
What made you think of comparing parenthood to a zombie apocalypse?
There are definite similarities between parenthood and zombie apocalypse. Dealing with the big monsters trying to break into your house is just as important as dealing with the little monsters who are already in your family. Plus, kids constantly find new and interesting ways to accidentally hurt themselves. Add that to the challenge of zombies trying to eat your kids and it's not a situation you want to leave to chance.
If you could describe fatherhood in one sentence?
Fatherhood is mostly just saying, "Stop It," 10,000 times a day.
Do the five women in your life ever gang up on you and what is that like?
I don't feel ganged up on. In most standoffs, my wife and I stick together. It's usually two against four instead of five against one. If my wife and my four daughters all agree on something and I don't, then I am obviously wrong and won't even put up a fight. I'm no fool - I want to live to see another day.
Would you say you are prepared for when your girls become teenagers?
The emotions and drama don't wait for the teenage years. Rare is the morning when each of my four kids doesn't cry at least once about something. I can't imagine the teenage years being a whole lot harder than this. Of course, those are famous last words.
How would you describe your parenting style?
I try to be laid-back, but it doesn't always work out like that. Sometimes I have to remind myself to embrace the disasters. They make for the best tweets.
Do you and your wife play good cop, bad cop? And if yes, which part do you get?
We're more likely to play bad cop/bad cop. We're usually in sync - except when it involves pets.
One thing you think every dad should teach his daughters:
How to survive the zombie apocalypse, obviously.
Any life lessons having four daughters has taught you?
Fear the silence. It means the kids are up to something.
You put up such a humorous front on Twitter, but what is the most challenging part of parenting?
Keeping the house clean. It takes hours to clean up the place and only seconds to destroy it. I don't remember what my floor looks like.
Do you think that sometimes dads don't get the appreciation they deserve?
There's a stereotype that wives do everything. That's not how we do things in my family. We try to split duties as evenly as we can. If I expected my wife to do everything, I couldn't do this interview because she would've already murdered me.
A piece of advice you want to offer to other dads this Father's Day?
There's nothing in this world that can't be fixed with good grilled meat.
Any advice for our readers on celebrating their dads this Father's Day?
Treat it like any other day. If you make a big deal about it, you're just creating more work for yourself the next time it's Mother's Day.
What makes all the struggles that come with parenting worthwhile?
Every time my kids challenge me to a lightsaber duel, I know I made the right choices in life.