Ken Jennings became famous the easy way – through an unprecedented 74-game victory streak worth $3 million on Jeopardy. Since that 2004 era, the affable quizmaster has gone on to host a podcast, become a beloved Twitter hero, write several books, (including the newly released Planet Funny: How Comedy Took Over Our Culture), and continue raising his two children with his wife Mindy.
Here’s how he parents.
Name: Ken Jennings
Job: Author and ex-game show contestant
Family: Mindy and I have two kids, Dylan (15) and Kate (11)
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
The kids were planned. (Well, the conceptions were planned. Everything since then has been a total free-for-all.) My career change has been the biggest surprise. I was a perfectly happy suburban dad and computer programmer back in 2004, the year I turned thirty. I was not expecting to win on Jeopardy! for six months straight and start a new career as a writer and professional know-it-all.
Take us through your morning routine. What are your best tricks for getting out the door?
I work from home most of the time, but I do make sure I engineer a daily errand to get me out of my chair once a day, even if it’s just walking to the post office. I have the lifestyle of your 85-year-old grandpa, basically.
How much outside help do you get as a parent? Who or what can’t you live without?
With two kids and two of us and two pretty flexible work schedules, we can cover most of the bases ourselves. But the driving! Even with just two kids, we are driving somebody somewhere all the time. Carpools are a life-saver. It’s gotten to the point where I won’t let the kids start any new activity unless we can figure out some other nearby parents to run a carpool with.
What are the gadgets, apps, charts or tools you rely on?
There are gadgets and apps that will parent my kids for me? This sounds fantastic. We do use a “find my friends” app to track the kids at all times, since they seem congenitally incapable of answering phone calls or texts in a timely manner.
Has becoming a parent changed the way you work?
My home office is right by the front door, so as soon as the kids are home from school, they come barreling in. I thought about putting a lock on the door but I ended up just embracing the catastrophe. I work as fast as I can so that I can be mostly done with the day’s writing before the quiet ends.
How do you decompress?
We have a pretty hard-and-fast rule that the kids have to be in their rooms around 8:30 or 9. They don’t have to be asleep, but devices stay plugged in downstairs so they actually have to do something boring like read a book. This gives me and Mindy a few child-free hours to put on a movie or the next couple episodes of whatever show we’re watching.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
I like to see the kids confident about stretching their wings a little. When we were in New York a couple summers ago, they both really wanted to go play Pokemon Go in Central Park one evening, but Mindy and I had dinner reservations. We decided to let them walk over on their own and have a little adventure. They could not have been happier or cuter about it, and also did not get kidnapped and die.
What moment are you least proud of?
100-way tie for every time they spilled water or broke a glass in a restaurant.
What do you want your kid to learn from your example?
Hopefully that every single person they meet deserves to be treated with decency and respect. And also to load the dishwasher in the correct way that I load it, not the weird way their mother does it.
What are your favourite funny/weird/special family rituals?
When someone in a movie says the title of the movie out loud, we always applaud briefly (and quietly, if we’re in the theatre). It didn’t come up much in, say, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, but a movie like Coco can be brutal.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of parenting advice that has really stuck with you?
All the cliches about how “the days are long but the years are short” are absolutely true. You’re not going to be the parent of young kids for very long, relatively speaking. Live it up. Go to the park. Buy them ice cream.
What’s the hardest part about being a parent?
Having to keep up with all the new youth slang and internet memes to annoy your kids with in front of their friends.
What’s your favourite part of the day?
4:20, baby! 😉 😉 😉 That’s usually when the UPS guy drops off any Amazon packages.
Any tips for teaching a kid how to be funny?
This is a can’t-miss as far as I’m concerned:
What’s one piece of advice you’d give to all parents?
Read to your kids every night. It’s not just an unwind-before bed ritual; it will change their lives.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
If at all possible, arrange to win 74 times on a game show.