Rob Kenney’s parents divorced when he was a child, and his dad got custody of him and his siblings. But fatherhood didn’t interest him, and in October 1978, at his daughter’s ninth birthday, he told his kids he didn’t want them anymore.
“It was pretty callous,” Kenney, who was 14 at the time, recalled. “I remember just feeling disbelief.”
Kenney and his siblings were left to fend for themselves, more or less. Learning the ropes of adulthood was understandably difficult: He had to learn how to shave on his own, how to unclog a sink on his own, how to change a tire on his own.
Now a dad himself, Kenney decided to create a YouTube channel that teaches kids in similar situations lessons he missed out on growing up. The Seattle area father-of-two calls the series “Dad, how do I?” Since launching a month ago, he already has over 2 million followers.
“I just thought, if given the opportunity, I would like to be able to share some encouraging words that I wish I had when I was younger,” Kenney told HuffPost.
In the videos, released weekly, Kenney relays his advice in a plainspoken, “just-the-facts, ma’am” way. There’s the occasional dad joke. If he’s unsure about something, he’ll admit it (a hallmark of a good dad) ― and he’s quick to remind viewers of other methods of doing something. (And of course, in spite of the channel’s name, a mom could teach this stuff, too!)
Kenney is clearly a dad who knows his stuff. He emphasizes all the key details.
In his how-to on shaving, he says, “When you’re done, don’t forget to [clean the sink] or your mom, or whoever else uses the bathroom after you, is going to kill you. When you drain that water out, you’re going to leave all that hair that you just shaved off your face and you don’t want people to be angry about that. That’s a mistake I made when I was younger!”
After his dad left, Kenney’s younger sister Angie went to live with his sister Mary, who was 27 at the time. His brothers Don, 16, and Joe, 17, moved into an apartment subsidized by his dad. Kenney, then 14, went to live with his oldest brother, Rick, and his wife Karen.
“We had all learned to cope on our own since (Kenney’s father) had emotionally checked out a couple of years earlier and had left us for a week at a time,” he said.
When Kenney became a father himself in the ’90s, he knew he was going to behave differently. He and his wife of 29 years, Annelli, are parents to two grown children who Kenney is proud to say are successful, well-adjusted adults who “still talk to him!”
Now that he’s been hailed the “internet’s dad,” Kenney has plenty more people who see him as sort of father figure. On YouTube, the comment sections for his how-top videos are surprisingly wholesome.
“I’ve always been scared that when I grow up and if I become a father I won’t be able to teach my children ‘dad’ things because no one taught me,” a commentator wrote on the ‘how to change a tire’ video. “This might change that.”
On the shaving video, one comment is particularly poignant. “As a trans man, who’s dad never bothered to teach him this, or how to be a man for that matter, thank you,” the commentator wrote. “Thank you so. SO. Much.”
Kenney said he can become an “emotional wreck” when he reads the comments.
“There are so many comments, I don’t know where to begin,” he said. “I love the community that my subscribers are building, and how they are rallying around each other is very inspiring to me.”
His newfound internet fame hasn’t made him any less humble.
“I am just a dad and have little formal education, so I feel ill-equipped to deal with most of this,” Kenney said.
Maybe. But in the meantime, he’ll continue to share what he does know on his YouTube channel. Follow along here.