Once upon a time, a work-at-home dad in L.A. was getting very stressed out about this exhausting business of making sure his twin boys were still alive at the end of the day. His wife, who was extremely wise, suggested that he start a blog. And so he began The Daddy Complex, a parenting blog that’s “irreverent, at times a little offensive, and I cuss,” says writer David Vienna. (“To be honest, I was shocked that that name wasn’t already taken. Actually Daddy Complex was taken, and I don’t advise you going to look at what that site is about.”)
One day in a fit of supreme pique, Vienna wrote a short, pithy post, satirizing the grab bag of utterly contradictory parenting styles—attachment parenting, free-range parenting, RIE parenting, French parenting, tiger parenting, helicopter parenting, you name it—all of which have been touted at some point or another as the THE ONLY WAY to ensure your kids won’t grow up to be a serial killers.
Vienna claimed that he too had “stumbled upon a new technique that will guarantee your child grows up to be an exemplary student and citizen.” He promised a simple, two-step process, one that parents could employ whenever they started to sweat that they were completely screwing up their kids … or that their toddlers had fallen off the fast track to Harvard because they hadn’t yet mastered the ABCs. It was called the CTFD Method, as in:
- Calm the fuck down.
- There is no second step.
His post went crazy viral. Huffington Post picked it up. So did Jezebel, The Good Men Project and the Australian site Mamamia. It sparked commentary in The Atlantic, The New York Post, on The View and TODAY Show. And earlier this year, the little post that struck a chord with over-anxious parents everywhere became the basis for Vienna’s phenomenally funny book, Calm The F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need. Published by Knock-Knock, with whimsical cartoons by Spanish illustrator Erica Salcedo Saiz, the book offers practical, real-parenting-life applications of the CTFD Method, totally vetted by two bona fide childcare experts with degrees and everything, including kids of their own.
Since hitting the shelves, Calm The F*ck Down has dominated the Amazon best-seller rankings—and been translated into Hungarian, Czech and German. For the new or expecting parent on your holiday list, this book makes the absolute perfect stocking-stuffer … not to mention a perfectly acceptable—yet not so subtle—way to tell that hand-wringing parent (or grandparent) in your life to basically get a grip and STFU already.
Norine caught up with Vienna to chat about calming down, screwing up and how he became an “overnight” success.
David, you’re like a jack of all writing trades, the poster guy for refusing to be pigeon-holed into a single kind of writing. You’ve been an arts/entertainment journalist, a playwright, a reality TV writer, and my personal favorite (since it lets me claim you as one of our funniest contributors to The Big Book of Parenting Tweets) a Twitter comedian. Add in the blog, and your damn funny parenting book, which actually contains some incredibly useful advice, and I think you hit all the bases. Unless you’re a sonnet writer too, and I just didn’t dig deep enough in my Google search.
They’re not published, but when my wife and I were first dating, I wrote her a sonnet or two.
Get out! Seriously?!?
Well, my major in college was British Lit, with a concentration in Shakespeare. I tried to make use of that when I was dating, so I wrote a lot of sonnets.
Sweet. So, it always amuses me when someone suddenly hits it big and people are like, Wow! One post and he’s famous! Lucky bastard! But that’s not the way it typically happens, is it? You had your blog for about five years before CTFD Method went viral. And you were writing professionally before that. Your “overnight” success was really decades in the making. Tell me about that.
Basically, for the first two years of my boys’ lives, I was a work-at-home dad writing for House Hunters and Good Buy/Bad Buy on HGTV. And as a young dad of twins, you kind of go a little crazy. Like every day. I was really stressed out and my wife and my dad suggested, because I’d had a blog before, that I start another blog. I’d done my first blog anonymously, thinking for sure that people would stumble upon my genius, and I’d have a book deal in no time. Back in the day, it seemed everyone was getting a book deal off their blog. All you had to do was start one and be good and they would just throw book deals at you. Surprisingly, no one stumbled upon my genius.
Exactly! I thought that too! Sadly, I, too, was not stumbled upon.
This time though, I started a Tumblr blog. I picked Tumblr because it was free. And that was kind of a happy accident because I caught two waves I didn’t know were coming. One was the dad blogger wave—there weren’t as many work-at-home dads in the media as there are now. The other was the Tumblr wave—Tumblr got popular really fast, and I just happened to be ensconced in it when it did.
I love Tumblr because there’s this built-in community. I started out writing long essays, but I could see what people liked and were reacting to, almost see it in real time. So I adjusted for the audience, which I hadn’t done before. Just give ‘em what they want. When I started paying attention to that, it really took off. My follower number just grew. At the same time, people who were not on Tumblr were starting to pay attention to Tumblr, and when they were looking for people who were making waves on Tumblr, I was one of the people in the parenting community they found. That helped me break into the larger blogosphere. By that time, I’d already honed the voice and the tone of the blog and so when the audience came in, they very quickly understood what they were getting into.
So there was a lot that went on before people heard of me; it wasn’t overnight. I’d been plugging away at it, cultivating my audience for years before my post went viral. If people go back into The Daddy Complex archives, there’s five years of content. You know, if you want to do anything with your blog besides make it a personal journal, it’s an investment of time. It’s not going to happen overnight. I considered my blog a job even though I wasn’t being paid. I would work my paying job, and then I’d work on the blog. My wife thankfully understood, especially because she was the one who suggested I do it in the first place.
Well, kudos to her because otherwise, you might not have written your famous post and finally landed your book deal. So, where’d that come from? I mean, “calm the fuck down” isn’t exactly lollipops and unicorns.
That’s really the tone of my site. I use a lot of satire and sarcasm and raw honesty. But the idea definitely came from a place of anger. It was about six months after the tiger mother stuff was going crazy, and I’d read another story about minimalist parenting. I just started to think about all these parenting methods and everyone thinking they’ve got The Answer. Parents are already scared. And when people tell parents who are already scared, You’re doing it wrong unless you’re doing it this way, it just upsets me. I was angry and stressed out. We were in the middle of a really stressful year, and I just vented all this stuff that was kind of directed at myself. I know parents get scared. But I also know that those people who come shouting at you that you’re doing it wrong are not helping. So I created my own shouty post about how everybody was doing it wrong, but obviously the underlying message is you’re not doing it wrong.
You clearly struck a nerve. I saw on your site that the post got some 173,000 likes. People were talking about it in The Atlantic and on Jezebel. That’s about as broad a spectrum as you get.
I tallied the shares over all of the sites, and it’s more than half a million. And that was two years ago when I was doing the book pitch. It’s still being shared, so the numbers are higher. Basically I let anyone who asked, have it. As far as branding and getting your message out, for me it’s always about reach. I was like, As long as you put my name on it and put a link back, it’s yours. And that’s why it went to these big outlets.
Exactly. that’s why we do what we do at Science of Parenthood. To let parents know they’re not alone. You might be going crazy but there are a whole bunch of people who’ve been exactly where you are and survived. We all make it through.
That’s why I love the parenting blogger community. People might write a post because they just need to get this thing out, and they think they’re the only ones experiencing it. Then they get likes and comments and realize they’re not the only ones. It’s a great result of this many people talking about a single topic.
So with the book you’ve managed to take most (if not all) of the moments that spin parents around and you’ve checked in with two experts, a trauma specialist and a psychologist. I thought that was a really clever way to approach the material.
I had that idea very early on. I thought it would give the book a little more clout if people knew I wasn’t just riffing on the topic. My book is the worst-case scenario that would never happen, but then I wanted to give the parents a break and say, Here’s what would actually happen and here’s why you don’t need to worry and here’s proof because I checked with experts. What you have is satire with some info.
One of my favorite sections was I Haven’t Studied Parenting At All, and you say “You know how many parenting books you must read? Exactly zero.” And you go through the basics: When the baby cries, tend to it. If you have any concerns, ask your pediatrician. Make time for yourself when you can. Don’t throw the baby into a ceiling fan. It’s like USE YOUR HEAD!
That’s really the whole point. The original post was just telling people to chill out. But the book is Chill out and trust your instincts. That list I made is kind of ridiculous, but it’s true. Obviously if your instinct is to beat your kid, you are dong it wrong. But if you’re not beating your kid, trust your instincts. I don’t want to say It’s all obvious. But it is. There’s no one answer to these issues, so do your best. Although, I do know two parents who have thrown their kids into ceiling fans—Upsy Daisy, right into a ceiling fan. One kid was crying but okay; another kid was laughing. I used to make that joke a lot, and then over two years, two friends confessed that they’d done it, went Upsy Daisy … and forgot they were in a room with a ceiling fan. I once saw a one-panel cartoon with a dad, his eyes wide and there’s a ceiling fan and the walls are covered in blood.
I think that’s what keeps new parents up at night; that we can’t help but envision all the things we can do that will kill the baby.
I know. It’s consuming sometimes. I even say, Have the thoughts. Let them cycle through. Then get back to business. Parenting is terrifying and you’ve got to know that we’re all terrified and it’s okay. We’re all faking it as best we can. We don’t know what we’re doing, but somehow we end up in the right place.
And in the moment, when it sucks, it’s helpful to be able to laugh. Humor is an essential survival tool. If you can laugh, it won’t be so bad. And if you’re a blogger, you’ll probably write a funny post.
After the CTFD post and the book, people think I’m this super-chill parent, and I’m not. I stress out about stuff and I lose my cool and I bark at my kids, probably more than I should. But I don’t think, OMG I’m a terrible parent. What I do is say, Was that justified? If it was, I talk to my kids about how we can change it. And if not, I apologize and tell them why I lost my cool. What I’m doing is giving myself the freedom to screw up and know that it’s not going to turn my kids into serial killers. So Parents Who Are Stressing, you’re not the only ones going through this. You will get through it. And in a week or 10 years, you’ll laugh at it. And then you’ll be good.
Calm The F*ck Down: The Only Parenting Technique You’ll Ever Need is available on Amazon and in select retailers and gift boutiques. You can also find David Vienna on his blog, Twitter and in The Big Book of Parenting Tweets.