Freddie Prinze Jr. on being a 'super-strict' dad: 'My mom did not play, and I don't play'

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Freddie Prinze Jr. on holiday plans and being a strict dad. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Freddie Prinze Jr. on holiday plans and being a strict dad. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)

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

Thanks to his new partnership with Heluva Good! Dips, Freddie Prinze Jr. has his festive food spread on lock. But the actor and dad of two — he shares 12-year-old daughter Charlotte and 9-year-old son Rocky with his wife and sometime co-star, Sarah Michelle Gellar — tells Yahoo Life that the holidays won't be quite the same this year due, predictably, to the pandemic. 

"We were always the 'straggler house' and everybody would come over," Prinze says of his and Gellar's tradition of hosting friends without family or the funds to fly home. "So my children have a lot of non-blood aunts and uncles, and we would be 20-, 25-deep sometimes based on people not being able to catch flights or just not wanting to spend the dough to fly home for two days. But for the last year and a half, we've had no guests — no stragglers — because of the pandemic. Our big tradition was a house full of friends and family and my kids calling everyone 'uncle' and 'auntie' and everyone getting to catch up. And it's not going to happen again this year, which is just insane. So it certainly isn't going to be the best Christmas that that we've ever had, but still I'm grateful to be on the right side of the dirt. I'm grateful that my family and I still get to be together, but I'm looking forward to the day where we can have everybody over again. It's starting to wear me down."

Still, there are silver linings. While he's not doing much entertaining himself, the cookbook author and longtime French onion dip enthusiast is pumped to make the holidays a little smoother for hosts through the One Heluva Good! Holiday Sweepstakes; running through Dec. 10, it'll will see three winners score special kits packed with recipes, festive decorations and dips to keep gatherings fuss-free. And though he describes himself as a strict dad who thrives on rules, he's not so much of a stickler when it comes to gift-giving. 

"There's no 'you only get five gifts and that's it,'" Prinze says. "You get your kids with what you can afford to get them, and I think every parent does that. And you hope that you raise them well enough that they appreciate and respect what they got. And then you go through that moment where you remind them, 'Hey, you're not respecting and appreciating all the stuff you got.' It's how kids learn."

Ahead, the star opens up about being big on rules, showing his daughter She's All That and learning from his mom. 

What's your parenting style? I imagine you being a fun, goofy dad, but are you secretly strict?

I'm really strict. My mom used to whip my ass. I don't touch my kids, but I get why parents do, and if you do, I ain't even mad at you. My mom whipped me just in case — and you can ask her, I was a really good kid. So I am strict. I don't believe in any of that best friend/ parent crap — sorry for calling it crap if you believe in it. But those kids don't act right, and my kids do. And every parent calls and says how well-behaved my children were. And when their kids go home from our house, they all say, "How did you get my kids to eat all that food?" And I say, "They eat. That's the rule, man [laughs]." 

When I was a kid, I didn't eat my dinner one time — one time. My mom said, "All right, baby, then go to bed." I went to bed. Of course I woke up at like 9:30 at night. I was hungry, so I go into the kitchen and it's dark. I go to open the refrigerator, and all of a sudden, I just see the tip of a cigarette smolder. And I hear my mom's voice in the darkness, like Michael Corleone. She says, "What are you doing?" And I jumped and said, "Oh, I was hungry. I'm getting some of these." She goes, "No, you didn't want to eat. You need to go back to bed." And I went back to bed and I got up early for breakfast. You know what my breakfast was? That dinner that I didn't eat the night before — and it wasn't even refrigerated. It was right where it was when I left the table. And I assure you, I never missed a meal again [laughs].

My mom did not play, and I don't play. My kids eat every vegetable there is except mushrooms; my daughter's not big on those, but she still tried them 30 times. She just knows she doesn't like it. But yeah, I'm super-strict. I try to give them everything that they need and I try to give them a lot of the stuff they want, but I'm really strict and if they don't follow the rules, they lose the stuff that they want. 

What's your top rule?

That's so impossible [to say]; like, we have so many rules. My kids even complain about them. My daughter — she's 12 — is like, "Yeah, we have more rules than any of my friends." And then my son chimes in, "Than all of your friends put together" — which is not true … My kids have to go to bed earlier than all their friends, they/re not allowed on devices except on weekends, you've got to finish your homework. Basic stuff, but I'm in the minority these days.

I assume your kids has seen Scooby-Doo and the Punky Brewster reboot, but have they seen your classic '90s stuff?

My daughter's seen She's All That. And she was into Star Wars, so she watched the cartoon I did which was called Star Wars Rebels. My son could give a crap about Star Wars. He only likes anime and Dad doesn't do anime, because nobody, I guess, in the anime world likes your boy [laughs]... Maybe they don't know that I would do it. My son loves horror movies. Even though he's 9, he can handle 98 percent of I Know What You Did Last Summer because it's not scary anymore…

I feel like they've seen [Scooby-Doo], but I still haven't seen Scooby; I've seen, like, three of the movies I'm in. But they've seen it, I'm sure. They're not that big into the cartoon. They watched the new one for a little bit. I think it was called Be Cool, Scooby-Doo!, but that wasn't with us and they liked that, I think, more than the movie [starring him and Gellar]. 

You've talked about rules, but what do you guys do for fun?

I don't allow them any fun at all [laughs]. No, my daughter and I surf; she loves loves surfing. And my son loves wrestling around and jiu-jitsu. He trains more in jiu-jitsu than my daughter does; my daughter trains a little. My son just loves to fight and he wants to race cars. He races go-karts and he reads Car and Driver magazine. He loves the engines and just wants to go fast. I'm hoping he ends up wanting to build the engines instead of use the engines, but we'll see. 

What has surprised you about fatherhood?

When you grow up without a dad, you kinda fantasize and plan the type of father you would be … There's good surprises, like the kids surprise you all the time with the things they do that impress you. But I feel like even all the crap I wasn't prepared for — like the baby stuff — no dad is [ready]. 

When my kid was born, I felt useless because I couldn't breastfeed, you know what I mean? The baby needs the mother so much more than the father; even though you can use the bottle, it doesn't feel the same. So you go into your go-to baseline emotion, which is [gruff voice] "I can protect. I'll be the super-protector and everyone's an enemy and everyone's trying to kidnap my kid" — which is just stupid. And then you kind of chill out and you realize, OK, the kid's 3 months old and it actually needs me. Then you kind of start to get your confidence and you can take your training wheels off and start crashing and getting up until you ride a bike again. But for the first three months, and I've spoken to a lot of fathers who feel the same way, it's a scary thing. You don't know what you're supposed to do; you don't know what you're meant to do. So you just become a wolf, or a bear protecting your cubs. And that lasts another three months, and you realize how dumb you are for doing that. And then you just start to relax and get your confidence.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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