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Rob Estes: Hollywood Heartthrob Dad

You may know chiseled heartthrob Rob Estes from his roles on TV’s Silk Stalkings, Melrose Place, Suddenly Susan, Providence or even the film How to Go out on a Date in Queens, which he also produced. But at home, his son, Mason, born in July 1999, and daughter Maya, born on April 14, 2002, know him as Dad. He is a significant force in the life of his children.

Married for 13 years to actress Josie Bissett, his co-star on Melrose, Estes took a break to talk fatherhood and how his life has changed since children.

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood Heartthrob

EA: What was it like for you when you were expecting Mason?

RE: This may sound callous, but for a guy, it’s different. I had nothing tangible; I didn’t have a baby kicking inside of me. I had an EPT test. I had a couple of photos from ultrasounds. But it was just kind of like, OK, I’m excited. I read some books. I was looking forward to it but I can’t say that I had the inherent kind of joy and expectancy that I see woman have. And I would say toward the last month, when I could see Jose’s belly, I could feel it and I could see a forearm come across her belly and I was like, “Oh my gosh! You have an alien inside you. Oh, no, wait, it’s Mason.” So that’s when I got really excited. And then honestly I would say the moment the nurse put Mason in my arms, a little switch went off and I was like, “Oh, my God, this is so right, this is so good.” Up until that point, I had a little bit of blind excitement, but boy, when that nurse put him in my arms, man this is different. I knew what to do. I knew what not to do.

EA: As soon as you were holding your son, you felt natural. It wasn’t awkward for you?

RE: When she put him in my arms, I knew exactly how to be a father and I have never looked back. Not to say there aren’t differences as he gets older; I think it just deepens. You come into contact with your own stuff, and you know there are bigger challenges.

EA: Do you see any parallel between your relationship with your father?

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood Heartthrob

RE: I think I do. My parents got divorced when I was young, and my father is a great man, and I would see him two months out of the year. He was kind of like the good uncle. Everything was great and happy and fun. But then we got shipped back off for a kind of reality check back to L.A. I think with Mason, sometimes I’m too much of that. I have to find a balance of having fun and being the good uncle and having the discipline of letting him know that there’s boundaries. So that’s something that I’ve been aware of.

EA: How are you developing your strategy?

RE: I read some books and I continue to. If little issues come up I try to do just a little bit of research or ask around and find out what other kids his age are doing. I really find that nine times out of 10, he’s right where he should be. It seems kind of inherent. I’m sure the mistakes are inherent, too.

EA: Do you do anything with him that’s special between you and him?

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood Heartthrob

RE: He loves horses. So he and I go and look at the horses a lot even if we can’t ride them. We sit down and watch polo. He’s got a horse up in the hills he used to love to go see, so we go and check him out. I talked to him about camping the other day and he got all excited. Somehow he knew about firewood. I don’t know how in the hell he would possibly know about firewood but we talked about camping. And we were on the Palisades Bluff and there’s this big piece of sculpture right on the cliffs, and it was a windy, drizzling day and it had a cover over it, and so he started collecting twigs and he put them in the center of it. He and I sat there, side by side, holding on to my leg. He said, “Daddy, we have firewood now.” He’d go get a stick and come back. We sat there and pretended we were camping for 45 minutes. Then he told me what he would take if we went camping. “I’d bring peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I’d bring apple juice. I’d bring elephant with all of us.” He’s an elephant freak. Horses and elephants. He just loves them. You know what’s so funny: I was done and getting really cold and he was starting to get cold. It had been like 45 minutes of just sitting there together, huddled in front of this fake fire, talking about whatever, and I was thinking to myself, “Man, this is it!” It was just really cool.

EA: So you feel like this is your most important job, despite your high profile career?

RE: It’s nothing. It’s what I love to do. I really like to act. And I couldn’t be a Mr. Mom. I had Mason for three days a little bit ago. It just came on the heels of working, so it was so great. But if I hadn’t been working, if I didn’t have both, just for me, I would be a lesser parent or a lesser employee if I didn’t have both. So I feel blessed to have both at this point.

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood HeartthrobEA: Both are demanding.

RE: I don’t know any guys but I know a couple of women who’ve given up the rest of their life but they tend to have a special, they tend to be of a certain kind, the women that can stay home and just have that. You gotta find other things or I think you’d go nuts. That’s why a lot of the women my mom’s age were either alcoholics or … I’m serious. I don’t doubt that there wasn’t enough other influences to keep them going. I’m not saying it’s a good or bad thing – it’s just I think there’s got to be other stuff.

EA: Do you have any aspirations beyond getting a series or are you happy the way things are going?

RE: This pilot season, I really had to answer some questions to myself. There were a couple of things that were very close in hand, and we were negotiating deals and one of them, called Miracles, which will probably be the next X-Files. One of the sticking points was they wanted to be able to move the show to Toronto and I was like, “Man, I have a family,” and when I was young I could have cared less. I would have been like, “Yeah, of course, it’ll be an adventure.” But so I said no to that and ultimately lost the piece. The other thing that came with that: I was realizing, if I do a leading show, I’ll be working 17 hours a day, let’s say 12 to 17, and then I come home and memorize my lines for the next day, and my weekends I’m reading my next script and trying to catch up on what I haven’t done. All of a sudden, my kids will be 5 and 7 and I would never, ever forgive myself for missing that. With Mason so far, I have had three years of being with him a lot more than almost any father I know, and it’s just been great and our relationship is so tight because of that. I realized that I don’t want that.

EA: How’s life with a new baby?

RE: I’m a kind of late guy and Josie’s an early woman, so she’ll go to bed and I’ll take the night shift and she’ll pump. That’s what we did last time, so she’ll still get sleep, and I get to have my midnight rendezvous like I had with Mason.

EA: You do all the hands-on child raising yourselves?

RE: We’re both from families that nobody had any kind of help in our families so that’s what feels right. That’s what feels normal. We have a lot of other friends that have a lot of help, it’s just how they were raised, it’s what feels right to them. Who’s to say which one is ultimately gonna benefit the kid? I think guys are part of the equation that has been so forgotten. It’s like a political statement, but in this day and age, the guy’s role is very confusing – to be a guy with a sense of what the role is because it’s changed so much. I think this generation is trying to find the ground and it’s tough. I see a lot of marriages fall by the wayside.

IP: Too much pressure?

RE: Actually, I think the opposite a lot of times. I think there are a lot of people running around that are married and are like, it’s not time for kids, we need time for ourselves for a while. I know for us, when we had Mason, at least for me, it’s like “Oh, that’s where that energy is supposed to go. That’s what this restless thing I’ve been doing is all about.” I think I was really ready to have a kid. You know, when you have a kid, you gotta give up a little of yourself in a really good way. There’s the old saying, “Adults don’t make kids. Kids make adults.” And I firmly believe that.

When you have a kid, it’s like a whole other world opens up, and it’s pretty amazing. But for guys, we’re just so hoodwinked into thinking that everything good is gonna come out of being the president of a company or like getting 28 million dollars and being able to have a jet or whatever it is. And I think the happiest guys I know are the ones that are balancing having a good career that they’re challenged by and also having a family.

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood HeartthrobEA: In a perfect world, how involved should the father be?

RE: I think the father should be, in a perfect world, the father should be 60/40, 70/30, depending on how challenging the job is. And I think it’s important for the guy to bring home the money. For me it is. When I’m working and bringing home money, doing that is the part of me that feels really good and productive. The self-esteem is rockin’. When it’s not, I find myself at home going, “Oh man. Should I be doing this? Or should I be doing that?” So some of the parenting skills fall by the wayside.

EA: So you feel if you’re not working, bringing home the family income, that there is a self-esteem issue?

RE: I don’t need to bring home all the family’s income. Like with Jose, she works and makes money. But if I’m not, I guess it’s more if I’m not being fulfilled in what I’m doing. So it’s not so much about the money as it is there’s a place inside of me that loves to do what I do. But when I’m not doing it, I’m kind of not serving that. Then I just suffer on all other levels, parenting being one of them. I think it’s great for Mason to see a dad who’s excited about work and challenged. He’ll pick up the working energy, or he’ll pick up the “awe man, shoot” – that energy.

EA: What is your advice for expectant fathers?

RE: Don’t be hard on yourself if it doesn’t feel real yet. And if it does feel real, enjoy the excitement.

EA: Anything they should be doing during the pregnancy to prepare?

RE: At most hospitals, they have newborn classes. Jose and I went and took a class, and I think the best thing about it was she and I kind of bonded around the baby. It was like it became a project for the two of us, and then we did Lamaze, which also helped.

EA: Any advice for new fathers?

RE: I would say, as tempting as it is for a lot of guys to just pass it off and let their wives do it, take at least one feeding a night. And when you’re doing it, at least for me, I would turn on just enough light so that we could see each other’s eyes and make sure, don’t be sitting in there and whistle, looking off and thinking about the day and other stuff. Really take the time, and even though they say that kids can’t connect at that young age, it’s bullshit, they can. And just be there for it.

Rob Estes-How Fatherhood Changed this Hollywood HeartthrobEA: Is that a benefit for you, or is it for the wife or the baby?

RE: No, the benefit was for me. The benefit was for the relationship, and ultimately, your wife does get to sleep a little more. My son, from a very early age, it wasn’t all about Mom. He’s gone through stages where it’s totally been about Mom, but if something was going on, he felt just as safe in my arms. I think it was largely because of that. And he and I have always had a really good connection and I think it’s because I took part.

EA: What about dads with toddlers?

RE: Yeah, BE PATIENT! With a capital P. I guess my view on parenting is I really don’t want to get in his way. I think all kids have some inherent things that they come here with, and I’d just like to stay out of the way and let them experience, because experience is what teaches. When Mason was 1 year old, he had a birthday party. They had a big #1 candle that they lit on the cake, and he grabbed it by the palm and he burnt the shit out of his palm and we went, “Oh, HOT!” He was crying and we went, “Fire, hot!” Ever since that day, whenever he gets around fire, he says, “Hot.” And he looks at it and he won’t touch it.

EA: What’s your discipline style?

RE: I would never spank. I do timeouts. I’ll give him a timeout, and if the timeout is not working, I ignore him and I let him know, “No, when you hit I just don’t want to play with you. I’m sorry.” Sometimes he’ll say, “I’m sorry,” and I say, “No, I understand, I’m glad you’re sorry but I don’t want to be around you right now. That behavior’s just not OK.” And that’s what gets to him. There’s a lot of fun things that we all do, and when he’s all of a sudden not getting to do fun things he’s like, “Oh, OK, consequences. Maybe I won’t hit next time.” But I think for different kids, different stuff. I don’t look at the parents who spank and think “Oooo, bad parents!” It’s just not for me!

EA: You and Mason have such an incredible bond. Do you feel like you can have that same bond with your daughter?

RE: Oh, I’m sure I can have that same bond with my daughter.

EA: Will you do all the same things you did with Mason?

RE: Definitely. I’ll do all the exact same stuff; I’m not gonna change anything.

When interviewed, Estes’ daughter, Maya Rose, was 6 months old, and his son, Mason, was 3 years old.