It’s 2 p.m., and all day Mark Steines has been the picture of a dialed-in dad. The co-host of the Hallmark channel’s “Home & Family” has made sure his sons introduced themselves to visitors. He has talked them through a photo shoot. During breaks, he has opened his laptop and queried them about school reading assignments and upcoming field trips.
Now, as we chat, he is making them lunch – though a package of turkey has gone missing – and telling me that things weren’t always this way.
“I remember when we started a family, I said I’m going to be a great dad,” he says. “And I think along the way, working and doing everything that I was doing, I would hand more off to my wife at the time.” When he and wife Leanza Cornett split in 2012, Steines says he asked God, “What do you want me to learn from this?”
“What I’ve learned from this,” he says, “is that I got exactly what I asked for. And that is to be a great dad. So now I’ve had to make this shift from being just the dad who worked and came home, to Epic Dad.” Sons Kai, 13, and Avery, 11, live with Steines full time and Steines juggles his career with family life at home in L.A. and at their second home in Ojai – where he has been known to host as many as a dozen of the boys’ friends for sleepovers, much to the amazement of their parents.
Sometimes, though, their outings are just to the grocery store. “I’ll make them go along, because you remember stuff like that when you’re a kid,” Steines says, joking that these trips keep his pantry well stocked with cookies.
Steines says his own father wasn’t the role model he wanted to emulate, so he’s made his own way, focusing on finding teachable moments for his sons. One came in February during the Super Bowl, when New England Patriots rookie Malcom Butler made a game-saving interception to clinch the team’s victory over the Seattle Seahawks. The lesson was, “This is why you never quit.”
“And as a dad, I won that day,” he says, “because I was able to find what life lessons exist in the fabric of life.”
Other lessons he wants to teach his sons include respect, love, and how to love. And he leads by example. “I don’t yell at my kids because I think if you yell, you raise a yeller,” he says. “They know my voice, and they know when I’m stern about something.”
Technology helps him keep up. The school website connects him with the boys’ schoolwork and he is in regular contact with their teachers. And iCal takes care of the home schedule. “It’s impossible to remember all this stuff,” he says. “Avery has a tutor. We have piano lessons happening. [The dog has] a vet appointment. Oh, I better order him food because he’s almost out. All these little reminders are popping up. It took me two years to really get it down.”
Steines says he wasn’t always this good at parenting because he didn’t have to be this good before. And sometimes he feels like he’s failing miserably. “I want them to eat better,” he says. “I want to be a better cook in the kitchen. I’m considering options for that, because I want them to understand the stuff they put in their body. But I’m trying, you know.”
His advice to fellow single dads – and all dads, really – is to fully embrace the role. “It’s funny, because my friends say to me, ‘Oh my god, my wife is going to this conference in Palm Springs and I’ve got the kids all weekend!’ And I’m like, yeah, what’s the big deal? But they’re dads and they panic because they just live up to the low expectations that women or society put on them. We’re greater than that,” he says. “Let’s rise to the occasion.”
Steines says he knows he’s doing something right, because his sons are amazing. “And I found happiness and joy in being their father,” he says, “and being present in their life every day.”
Christina Elston is editor of L.A. Parent.