In today's media world, a good dad is hard to find. If a TV or movie family has a dad at all -- and many of those portrayed don't -- he's often bumbling and the butt of jokes, or overbearing and cruel.
The era of Father Knows Best is more often, today, Father Knows Nothing.
Sadly, this reflects back some unfortunate realities, where many children today grow up without the steady, loving presence of a good father in their lives.
How Rob Kenney Became the 'Internet Dad'
In the midst of the pandemic in early 2020, into this void stepped Rob Kenney. He's an ordinary husband and father of two grown kids, living near Seattle, Washington.
But, Kenney's own father left the family when Rob was a teen. Luckily, he had an older brother who stepped up, but he knows what it's like to grow up without a father in the home.
Having since forgiven his father, and seeking to create something for his own kids or grandchildren, he started recording videos on his Samsung Galaxy 10 phone and uploading them to YouTube.
They're simply produced and modest, and they aim to teach life skills, from changing a tire to installing a ceiling fan to making mac and cheese. Kenney sometimes seeks outside help, like getting his daughter's advice on the best way to shave your legs.
Unexpectedly, Kenney stumbled into the gaping fatherhood hole in modern society, and his YouTube channel, Dad, How Do I?, now has 3.64M subscribers.
"I thought I was just going to be showing people how to do stuff," says Kenney. "I didn't realize it was going to resonate on the level that it's resonated, where people are watching me tie a tie and crying, or watching me shave and crying.
"And people put the shaving video on loop. I saw one person say that -- loop, because it just was missing her dad, and she just enjoyed the dad feels of watching me shave."
Here's that shaving video:
And one comment reads:
i’m 17. my dad has been in and out of jail since i was born. he’s never taught me the basics of shaving and stuff like that and i’m glad to have an internet dad like you. thank you
Dad, How Do I? has also grown into a website and, now, a book from HarperCollins, called Dad, How Do I?: Practical 'Dadvice' for Everyday Tasks and Successful Living.
The Higher Purpose Behind 'Dad, How Do I?'
Kenney's also in talks about a possible future TV show -- so he's definitely had success with what he's doing. But, there's a deeper purpose behind it all.
Says Kenney, "It's been proven that there is some sort of connection [with viewers]. I think it's maybe God's love.
"In a very finite, fallen way, I'm trying to show God's compassion and heart for people. I'm not perfect, but to the best of my ability, I hope to do that."
Asked what role his Christian faith has played in creating and building Dad, How Do I?, Kenney says, "It's everything. I've wondered about this a lot, because I understand that my life is a vapor.
"I'm 57 now. Again, I was 14 when my dad left, then I was 18, then I was 25. Now, I'm 57. Time goes by...
"So, that's big in my life, trying to understand that the Lord has me here for a time, and then I won't be here forever. So, if I can download information from my head, and people can stand on my shoulders, or other people's shoulders, and just try to inspire people to reach out and get help if you need help...
"And that all comes from my faith. I've shared this a lot, because several people said, 'You shouldn't say "God bless you" in your videos, because a lot of your followers don't necessarily believe in God.' And I said, 'Well, I'm going to keep saying it. ...
"If admitting I'm a Christian causes the whole thing to come down, so be it. I can live with that. I'm not going to compromise there."
It's Not Kenney's Way or the Highway
But Kenney doesn't think he's some kind of big-time expert.
"I'm a dad," he says. "I don't have professional training in mental health. I'm trying to do the best I can from a dad's perspective, and just try to help people and walk alongside people.
"I'm not going to have all the answers. It's OK to say that. But, again, it's the Lord maybe softening people's hearts as I'm talking in my videos."
Kenney's had bumps along his own faith road, so he knows what it's like to walk away -- and to come back. He hopes to impart the value of that to others.
"If nothing else," he says, "if I can get them to rethink that maybe there's more to this than what I'm rejecting.
"I might be rejecting religious people that have offended me, instead of ... what is God really like?"
He explains, "A lot of times you mention you're a Christian, and immediately the walls go up, 'Oh, you're a Christian.'
"I'm a beggar trying to show another beggar where to find bread. It's as simple as that. I'm not better than anybody else, but Jesus is.
"Jesus is the reason. He's the one that deserves all the glory and all the credit."
That extends to Kenney insisting that, even though he's showing people how to do things, he's not claiming that his is the only method that works.
"I even started my videos," Kenney recalls, "way back when, when I showed how to iron a shirt, I said the same thing. I said, 'This is how I've done it for years, but if you've got a better way, great. I'm just trying to show you a way to do it.'"
What Kenney Has to Say to Other Dads
He also has a message for other men.
'Obviously," he says, "I can't paint with a broad brush. Everybody's in a different situation of why their dad left, or their dad dies, or what have you. There's so many.
"I did a video on perspective, and I talked about having a long-term perspective on your life.
"Because, you got a window of time with your kids, and if you leave ... if you, as a man, decide to leave your family, somebody's got to clean up that mess, whether it's a family member or foster care or society, is going to clean up that mess that you left behind.
"Somebody's going to have to fill that void. And if the void's not filled... then, we, as a society, end up paying for that, because they're off making bad choices and doing stuff.
"So, I just wanted to send that reminder out that, please think long and hard about the decisions you make."
Kenney doesn't expect to change the world, but he says, "If I can even, with one person, help them understand how cool it is to be a dad, and what an opportunity you have to be a dad, for a window of time."
Along with advice, Kenney also offers words of encourage. Here's his most recent video:
Image: Allison Fann, for HarperCollins
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Content Manager at Family Theater Productions.
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