Andy Roddick opens up about being a dad: 'Everybody likes to brag about their kids'

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Tennis great Andy Roddick talks giving back to kids and his own life as a dad of two. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Tennis great Andy Roddick talks giving back to kids and his own life as a dad of two. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of childrearing.

With tennis season in full swing, it's difficult to not still feel a pang at Andy Roddick's absence. Having retired in 2012, the former World No. 1 has found plenty to keep him busy — including raising two kids, 5-year-old Hank and 3-year-old Stevie, with wife Brooklyn Decker and running the Andy Roddick Foundation (ARF) and its programs serving underserved young people.

Currently hosting a free virtual summer camp, ARF has this week launched its latest project intended to helping kids thrive: Whatchamafeelit Kits providing "little lessons for big kids." Each backpack — one of which is donated to a child with every purchase — comes with workbooks, emotion cards and other goodies designed to help children better express and understand the emotions they're dealing with. 

"We're not trying to reteach what's done in school; a lot of our stuff has been around social-emotional learning," Roddick tells Yahoo Life. "With Whatchamafeelit they'll learn five very important social-emotional skills: self-awareness, which is recognizing how you're feeling and planning accordingly; self-management, which means you're able to manage your emotions and responses; social awareness, obviously taking another's perspective and seeing the world from their [perspective]; relationship skills that hopefully allow us to build and maintain a healthy relationship with others; and responsible decision-making."

Here, the former tennis champ speaks on his passion for helping young people and how he and Decker are bringing up their "really sweet" son and daughter. 

What inspired you to devote your foundation to helping kids?

I started the foundation when I was about 17 years old; I wasn't much older than a lot of the kids that we were aiming to help. Something about being able to affect the trajectory of someone's life through education and applying resources really appealed to me. And obviously when we started running our own, direct service programs in 2014, we didn't know that at that time they would be able to scale as much as they have. We certainly didn't ever have any intent on becoming one of the best of out-of-school-time national programs. But it's been amazing and we're continuing that this year. I don't think we're quite ready for in-person again, but we're doing another one of our virtual summer programs this year for all of our campers and we have some interesting themes that are pretty exciting. 

Are these conversations about emotions trickling down into your own role as a parent?

The pandemic expedited so many different, important conversations, one being that we're finally dealing with a lot of mental illness out in the open. We're dealing with emotional support systems and learning from not only what's worked in the past, but what hasn't. We're pretty in tune with our kids and [teach them] there's no wrong way to feel or right way to feel though there might be a better way to to deal with it. There's a lot of commonalities between the way we try to parent on our best days and what's in the Whatchamafeelit Kits. 

I interviewed Brooklyn back in March, and she said that movement was really important to you, specifically in terms of getting outside with your kids. Do you guys have a favorite activity?

Before kids, you kind of have this idea of what your kids might be into. You know, Brook never thought that we'd have a daughter who talked about princesses and wanted to wear pink all the time, and that's what Stevie is. And Hank wants nothing really to do with sports, but he loves being outside. He loves digging for rocks, he loves building things. And so for me, I'm less concerned about the actual activity and basically just providing a set of options and letting them kind of gravitate toward what they're interested in. But sitting inside all day... it's probably selfish, but I get a little claustrophobic, so I am big on getting out and taking walks. We go on family hikes now. The science is pretty obvious around getting out and seeing things that are green and kind of disconnecting and getting some fresh air, so that certainly is important to us. 

How would you describe your parenting style? Are you strict? Are you a pushover?

I'm probably stricter than Brook maybe. I'm big on accountability. You don't just get a free pass because you're in a bad mood. I think there needs to be a conversation around the right way to do things and the wrong way to do things. But as long as there's a common respect in place, we're pretty open to most things with our kids and we're lucky — they're really sweet. Everybody likes to brag about their kids, and Hank is able to kind of understand pretty tough emotional concepts at a young age, which we're very proud of. Our daughter is a little bit more of a wild card [laughs].

Do you have any hard and fast rules?

We have the "I'm full" rule. You know, [a kid saying] "I feel full," and if you're super-full then there's not much of a treat afterwards. I think that the biggest thing that I personally believe in is just a process toward things. So if you want X, Y and Z, let's get these things done before we get to the X. It's not just "stop all things and get what you want all the time"; there needs to be a bit of a process toward a reward of sorts. I'm a pretty big believer in that. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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