Steve Schirripa’s tough love: The ‘Sopranos’ actor talks about his book ‘Big Daddy Rules’
As Bobby Baccalieri on HBO’s “The Sopranos,” Steve Schirripa was a hot-headed, loud-mouthed, opinionated guy. As a father to his two daughters (17 and 21-years-old) he’s pretty much that same guy. Which is why, he says, he wrote his book “Big Daddy Rules,” a rather unconventional parenting manual. ”It’s s a conversation with me and it’s written in my way,” he says. “So there’s some cursing in there. That’s the way I talk, so that’s the way I had the conversation.” The book was written as a love letter to his girls. “I guess I don’t always tell them how I feel,” he says. “I mean, I yell a lot. I’m pretty strict, and also I’ve got a lot of opinions, and I wanted to put them all together in a book.” We got Schirripa on the line from California to school us a bit on his rules for parenthood.
What kind of rules are in this book?
The first rule is, I make the rules. I’m your father, not your friend. But I’m the best friend you’re ever going to have because nobody is going to care about you the way I care about you. The four greatest words in the world are “because I said so.” That’s why you can’t go out tonight, that’s why you can’t go to the party where they’re serving beer. Because I said so. You know, parents don’t want to tell their kids “no” anymore. No, the answer is no. You cannot do that, you cannot go there. So, I’m not Doctor Phil, I’m not a parenting expert. I’ve never read a book in my life, but this is how I’ve done it. And so far, so good. I’m going to make mistakes, I’m going to make my own mistakes.
So you’re not the kind of dad who can be sweet talked by his daughters?
Well, they try, and I’m not saying it’s never happened, but I mean, absolutely. The other day she came in at 7 and said “can I go to this party? It starts at 9, I’ll be home by 11.” She’s giving me the whole spiel, and I said “there’s not a chance on earth you’re going, you know that right?” And she says, “yeah I know that, I just thought I’d try.”
What’s the hardest part about raising girls?
Look, a boy, you give them a ball, you give them a Lego, they’re fascinated. Girls are smart, they’re cunning, they’re calculating. They bat their eyelashes, they manipulate you. They’re smarter, you know? I think boys are easier. I don’t have boys, but I would raise them both the same way whether I had a boy or a girl, so it doesn’t matter.
Before you had kids, did you care whether you had a boy or a girl?
No, no, I really didn’t. It didn’t matter to me, as long as they were healthy. It was scary though, when my wife got pregnant. Even though we were trying, it was scary to me. I was not prepared. I was a guy that went out a lot, I worked nights, I was living in Las Vegas. I thought my world would come to a stop, as I’ve seen with so many other guys. But it turned out ok.
What’s an uncomfortable situation you’ve been in, as a father?
My daughter dated a boy when she started high school, she was 16, and I think I made a mistake there. I don’t think she was emotionally ready. And they broke up, and she took a big hit. It took about three months for her to snap out of it. And I don’t think I should have allowed that. I was reluctant, and I would not make that mistake again. That was a mistake.
But do you really think you could have stopped her, even if you wanted to?
I mean, I didn’t embrace it, but he still came around here and there. I hear what you’re saying. I can’t control everything they do, and I don’t try to, but I want to be present whether I’m there or not. I want them to think “what would my dad think about this decision I’m about to make?” I mean, my daughter is 21, she’s in college, I don’t know what she’s doing at every moment, of course. But I want her to think, “hey, I don’t think my parents would approve of this.” So I say in the book, you know Big Daddy has a big mouth, a big temper, a big heart, and he’s always present, whether he’s in the room with her or not.
So you’re that scary dad that intimidates the boys who come around?
I mean there have been some boys, and they’ve been nice kids. There haven’t been a whole lot, there’s only been two, actually. So, I want them to look me in the eye — I mean, they better not come home with a dagger tattoo on their face and their underwear hanging out, that’s not going to fly. They’ve got to be gentlemen, at least in front of me. I’m very much an old-fashioned guy when it comes to that stuff. I was a gentleman, and I’m still a gentleman to their mom.
Do you play the bad cop to your wife’s good cop?
I mean, I am who I am. It’s not an act, they kind of know me by now. My wife is a little more lenient, she tells me I need to let it go a little bit. I have a hard time with that. I mean, they’ve got to grow up, and you’ve got to let them do stuff on their own, I’m well aware of that.
How did you handle the sex talk?
My wife had the sex talk, I was out of that one. I’ll be honest, I didn’t have the sex talk. I talked to my wife about it, and she said she’ll handle it. So, that’s on her.
Did you let your daughters watch “The Sopranos” when you were on it?
They were young, they didn’t watch the show. I don’t think [now] they’ve even seen all of it, I think my older one has seen bits and pieces. She’s old enough now to watch it, but it’s not for everyone — and especially when they were younger. I mean, they knew what I did, but it wasn’t for them.
Were you strict with TV in general?
I am still! I hate that reality crap. I saw them one day watching “The Jersey Shore” and the “Kardashians” and I said I never want to see that again, ever. I mean, you’re a smart kid, you don’t need that. It’s complete garbage. I said, I’m embarrassed for you to watch that. You think this is for real?
What’s the best part about being a dad?
Look, I like spending time with my kids, I like my kids. I enjoy them very much. I don’t like a whole lot of kids, but I like my kids.
How about the worst?
Well, you worry 24 hours a day. I’m only at peace when we’re all together. I worry about them, all I want them to do is be safe and be good people. When they’re not there, I’m never calm. That’s the worst part, you’re always worried. And I think every parent is like that. Every parent who cares, you know?
A lot of kids today are financially reliant on they’re parents late into their 20s, even 30s. What’s your stance on that?
I would give them as much as I can, as long as they’re out there and working. If I’m doing ok, I don’t mind helping them. It would be my pleasure to help them. I mean, they have to work, they’re not going to just stay in my apartment. But I don’t think they want to. I think they want to be out on their own. If I was completely wealthy, I would help all the way, I’d pay for their apartments if I could. As long as they’re working — it’s when they’re slackers, I wouldn’t.
What’s your best piece of advice for a new dad?
I think the best thing is to be present. Get in there, get your hands dirty. Be involved. Don’t let your wife just be involved. You know, in every movie, every TV show, the dad’s an idiot. Don’t be an idiot. I’m not an idiot! Take charge, change a diaper, help. Be involved with the kid’s life. You had the kid, now take care of them, that’s your responsibility.