Two years into parenting, Hasan Minhaj has come to some funny conclusions about children’s media.
“I’ve been reading a lot of books with my daughter, but I’ve realized a lot of children’s books are insane in terms of the plot points,” the comedian told HuffPost while promoting his work on “Dads,” a documentary about modern fatherhood from Ron Howard and Bryce Dallas Howard in partnership with Dove Men+Care.
“If you read ‘The Giving Tree,’ it’s super sad. That’s like a book about unfettered capitalism and/or global warming. It’s basically like, ‘You cannot trust human beings, they’re gonna destroy planet Earth,’” he said. “Or if you’ve read ‘Where the Wild Things Are,’ that kid is a sociopath. He basically leaves his family to live with monsters, and he only comes back because dinner’s ready.”
Minhaj and his wife, Beena, have a 2-year-old daughter and 4-month-old son. He said he was inspired to take part in “Dads” because of its goal to “dispel the stereotypes around being a father,” particularly the rigid notion of dads as providers who don’t have as much involvement in their children’s day-to-day lives.
Jokes about literary classics aside, the “Patriot Act” host said he’s found a lot of “really amazing” children’s books to read to his kids, including “Hair Love” by Matthew A. Cherry. The book encourages Black children to love their natural hair and highlights the beauty of differences, a message that’s all too relevant in 2020 as racial injustice dominates the national conversation.
The son of Indian Muslim immigrants, Minhaj believes in teaching kids messages of empowerment, diversity and inclusion.
“When my dad came to this country in 1982, his goal was to survive,” he said. “For me, I feel like he fought to survive so I could live. A thing I talk about in my special ‘Homecoming King’ is ‘the audacity of equality’ ― which is something I want my kids to have.”
Minhaj believes a book he’s been reading to his daughter of late captures that message ― “A Is for Awesome!: 23 Iconic Women Who Changed the World” by Eva Chen.
“It’s about all these women who had a huge impact in the world ― female inventors, scientists and athletes, who caused monumental, seismic shifts in pop culture, sports, media, science, etc.,” he said. “That theme of swinging for the fences and going for it is the undercurrent in this book. Even though it’s about how they’re all awesome, the real undercurrent is, ‘Look at all these people who are superheroes who are just like you.’ I try to tell that to my daughter.”
Now that he has two children, Minhaj feels the demands of parenting more strongly than before.
“With one child when it was just my daughter, we were playing zone defense. We could switch up. My wife could take her for a bit, and I could take her for a bit. We could take her to daycare when both of us were working,” he said.
“Now because people work from home and we have two kids, we have to do man-to-man,” he joked. “We basically go, ‘This one’s yours, this one’s yours, let’s go! I’ll see you at 7:30!’ That’s been the most difficult thing ― having two children, working from home, doing man-to-man defense and figuring out their nap schedule so you can get things done.”
Through the challenges of quarantining amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Minhaj has learned some valuable parenting lessons.
“Bribery works,” he said, only half-kiddingly. “I had to stay with our 2-year-old through the day. Our newborn son is with Mommy most of the time and I’m with our 2-year-old. Right now we’re potty training her, and to get her to sit on the potty for long periods of time, I have a lot of quid pro quo and bribery. I think it works for both adults and children.”
On a more serious note, the comedian said he has a new appreciation for just how important educators and schools are.
“I hope when we come out of this pandemic, we really start to treat and compensate teachers like the necessary workers they are,” he said. He added that he did not realize the “magnitude” of the effect they have on children, “just in terms of socialization, community, learning how to live and exist and cooperate with others, all these invaluable things that I wish she would be learning right now in school. I’m doing the best I can to teach them to her, but I’m not an educator and it made me realize that her going to school is so much more than just tetherball and fruit snacks. There’s all these unseen things that have an incredible impact on children.”
As for the advice he’d pass on to new dads, Minhaj’s answer was simple: Document everything.
“Take as many photos as possible,” he said. “I know it sucks right now when you feel like you have to make the choice between being with your kids or sleeping. But take the option of being with your kids because iPhoto or Google Photos will show you the memory and you’re gonna break down crying. That has happened to me multiple times. It’ll be like, ‘One year ago,’ and show me a super emotional video, and I’m so glad I was able to participate in that.”
He said he recently found himself tearing up over a special video his wife took when his daughter was 11 months old and started walking for the first time.
“My wife texted me, ‘Come home real quick it’s an emergency.’ Our apartment is a block away from the office, so I sprinted out of a meeting, ran as fast as I could, took the elevator up to our apartment and burst into the apartment,” he recalled. “My daughter walked from the living room to the door, and my wife recorded it on video. She has the video of me bursting through the door shocked, worried and then looking down at our daughter walking toward me. It’s something I’ll never forget, and the fact that I have the video of it is just a really cool amazing thing.”
Beyond documenting and looking back on special memories, Minhaj has another piece of advice for new dads: “More practically, take your full paternity leave!”