This platinum- selling country artist is father to two toddlers and two teens and thinks “Daddy“ is the coolest word in the dictionary.
With 30 charted singles, four platinum albums and four children ranging in age from 1 to 15, country music star Clay Walker has an office full of awards and a house full of kids. A dedicated philanthropist, he’s raised more than $2 million for multiple sclerosis research, recently donating $50,000 to aid children with MS. But above all Clay says, “There are no earthly words to describe the joy you receive from having children. “˜Daddy’ is the greatest word you can be called. It’s the coolest word in the dictionary.”
You‘ve got teenagers and toddlers. Which age is easier?
The hardest thing about having toddlers is the lack of sleep. And you have to baby proof everything. There’s so much anxiety. With teenagers, the most difficult thing is getting information out of them and trying to communicate with them on a level they respect and doesn’t make it sound like you’re from the Stone Age.
You became a father for the first time at 25. And you had a baby girl last year at age 40. What‘s the difference?
Having William (2) and Mary (1) a little later in life is really cool because I know the mistakes I made as a first-time parent with MaClay (15) and Skylor (11). As you have more kids, the joy just keeps multiplying. And with each child you relax a little bit more and can forgive yourself a little quicker when you make a mistake. So now, I don’t sweat the small stuff.
What song do you sing to Mary to put her to sleep?
My favorite song to sing to them at bedtime is “This Is What Matters.” I recorded it three albums ago. My voice is really deep on it, so when the kids are lying on my chest and I’m rocking them, they’re soothed by that deeper voice. That song is all about family, so that makes it special, too.
Who gets up with the baby?
This is the toughest question of the interview! With a 1-year-old and a 2-year-old, right now sleep is the biggest commodity in our household. Mary is breastfed, so when she gets up because she’s hungry, Jess gets up with her. I would get an F in this category and it’s something I have to work on. I don’t know why I’m so bad at it. I tend to play dead and let Jess get her. And it’s really unfair and it’s something we’ve been talking about recently. Jess has hardly slept in three years because the kids are so close together. I just don’t feel I can comfort Mary like Jess can. Part of that is a cop out, but part of it is true.
Have you spoken to your older girls about what they say on Facebook and being careful about posting photos online?
MaClay is on Facebook like most teenagers are. We’ve had some serious talks about it; told her how serious the Internet can be, especially for girls. It’s a scary thing. As a parent, I wish I could keep her off Facebook, but that’s how teenagers communicate. That and texting. I think you do have to set boundaries and check up on what they’re doing every now and then.
What‘s a good age for a child to get a cell phone?
I say never. I wish that we (parents) were the only ones they would talk to on the cell phone. It’s a known fact that talking on the phone or texting while driving is more dangerous than driving drunk. So you have to teach your kids to be as responsible as they can. And you pray that they will follow what you’re telling them. I don’t talk on the phone in the car because you have to set the example for them to follow.
What‘s your parenting specialty?
I do almost all of the bathing. I put their towels in the dryer, so when they get out, I’ll wrap a warm towel around them. They love that. I do all the cooking at dinner. Jess does breakfast and lunch. It’s rare that we go out to eat because we just love being home and cooking. I’m good at roughhousing with Will. He’ll say, “Dad! Let’s wrestle!”
What‘s the benefit of having your youngest so close together in age?
There is a closeness between them that Jess and I recognize that is just surreal. They almost read each other’s minds. I know they’ll grow up to be close like I am with my sister, Kimberly. Besides that, being close helps because they’ll both be out of diapers about the same time too!
You have multiple sclerosis. Do you have advice for parents who have to discuss a serious illness with their kids?
My advice to parents is not to hide it. I show the children that I try to take care of myself every day. I take a daily injection of medication that helps me keep the MS in check. My older girls have even given me the shot before. They haven’t shown a lot of worry over the years about it, but every now and then they ask what it is and how I’m dealing with it. It helps to talk about it. Just let them know you’re doing everything you can to fight it.
If you were to die tomorrow, what would you want your children to know or remember about you?
There’s no handbook with raising kids. They don’t come with manuals. So I hope they know that I always try my best with them. And I want them to be parents some day so they can experience the joy of having children.
What would you like to add?
I want to talk about motherhood for a minute. My wife, Jessie, is the most selfless person that I’ve ever known. It’s so much fun to raise children with someone who sees the beauty of parenting and motherhood. We could have a nanny, but Jess says, “I want to be the only one to put my hands on my kids.” If there’s one person I could be more like, it would be her.
I know the joys of fatherhood, but I think I speak for most fathers when I say this: We have it somewhat easier than mothers. Motherhood is a job that we as a culture should put up on a pedestal. It’s not recognized enough. It’s more than a full-time job.
Deborah Bohn writes Busy Bodies for this publication in addition to celebrity profiles. She lives in Franklin with her family.