Our very own Mike Austin recently had a chance to interview Simon van Kempen for our podcast. Simon, along with his wife Alex McCord, have a parenting book coming out later this year. We had to edit the interview to fit in the podcast, but we wanted to make sure you had a chance to read the whole thing. Here’s the complete interview:
TFL: If you’ve not familiar with Simon’s name, maybe you’re familiar with his show. He’s on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City. I almost want to say it starred you, because you were referred to as the sixth housewife.
Simon van Kempen: It’s funny, you know, because this season they brought on a sixth housewife, so I’ve been demoted to the seventh housewife!
TFL: Do you get a stripe for that or any thing?
Simon:I’m not sure, we’ll have to see what the viewers say!
TFL: Simon, and his wife, Alex McCord, have two wonderful children. Tell me, what are some of the challenges that are unique to New York City, besides the obvious things like playing in traffic.
Simon: I grew up in a rural area in Australia, so when Alex and I first talked about having kids… I think when you first think about having children, you imagine your children are going to grow up as you did, and I certainly didn’t grow up in a large city. So for me, one of the biggest changes that we had to make in our life was I insisted that if we staid in New York City, which I wanted to do, that we had to have a house with at least a backyard so we would have an area for the kids to run around in. We’re lucky where we are in Brooklyn – we’re just over the Brooklyn Bridge from Manhattan – we have an amazing amount of birds that come to our back yard and we have an amazing amount of squirrels. Of course, we have to get away from New York for weekends and get them out to smell the country – to smell that life is not just what goes on in the city.
TFL: I suppose it takes a bit more scheduling.
Simon: Certainly Alex and I lead very busy lives; we both work full time. We’re very lucky in our careers. I was certainly older when Francois was born. I was 39, so my career was established. I didn’t have to work from 6 AM to 9 at night anymore. We get lots of time with the boys in the morning before we go to work, and then evenings we’re always home around 6 PM to have dinner with them. But then come weekends. Alex and I have to resist the urge so we’re not too tired to get them out and run around. You know, we’re only about a mile and half from Prospect Park. It’s an amazing park – much more rugged than Central Park is. You can actually lose yourself in it, unlike Central where you can always look up and see a tall building around you. In Prospect Park in Brooklyn you can bury yourself in a ravine and not even have an idea that you’re in a major concentration.
TFL: You two have written a book together on parenting, correct?
Simon: Correct. We’ve written half of it to date.
TFL: What are some the things that a dad in particular would find unique to your book as far as your parenting style?
Simon: Look, whether it’s unique or not, I’m very very involved with the kids. I don’t have a role model. I was Francois’ age when my father died, so I grew up with a single parent. It’s possibly because of that that I am adamant and passionate about being involved with both my boys in their lives. You know I spend a tremendous amount of time with them, and it’s just the perspective that if you blink, you miss it. Our boys are now 3 and 5, and they grow up so rapidly. That’s one of the reasons we did the show – to get a video diary of their lives. Even the viewing audience across the states have seen them in series one, and series one we filmed in the summer of 2007. So now they’re 18 months older!
TFL: Is there any talk of perhaps a spinoff of just your family, perhaps with a parenting show?
Simon: There have been discussions and so on, but I don’t know that we could necessarily hold the sort of audience that we’ve been getting with season one of Real Houswives. that’s why they’ve added a sixth housewife this year, with Kelly Bensimon coming on to add a little bit more spice. These shows, I think, have a natural life. The OC franchise is wrapping up in season four. How much longer they can go on in this franchise? I don’t know. We’ll see. We did season one and we got polar opposite reactions. Some people will love us, some people will hate us. Hopefully Alex and i were a little bit smarter in season two. We didn’t do some of the things they wanted us to do.
Particularly when you do a show like this, you do it and you want it to succeed. And let’s face it, you take anyone’s life and you just show that 24/7, it’s pretty boring. The really smart thing they do with these shows is they film you for hours. In season one we were filmed for probably 5,000 minutes, and if 70 minutes made it to air, we’re talking a very small percentage. If i take 1.3% of anyone’s life it can look interesting. It’s basically like looking at a mushroom under a microscope. A mushroom can look like a beautiful vegetable you, but look under a microscope and you say, “Do I really want to eat that?” It’s taking the extreme parts of anyone’s life and putting it out there.
TFL: How do you deal with having a camera crew all the time and the upheaval in your family life? That must be the hardest thing to pretend that they’re not there.
Simon: Yes, it is. The cameras aren’t here all the time; we invite them in. But we film over a three or four month period. Sometime that can mean us filming six days a week. Now, as I said earlier, Alex and I both work, so we don’t film during the day, which puts most of our filming on in the evenings and at weekends. Certainly, throughout filming season two last summer, Francois was much more aware of the cameras. There was a funny anecdote – we just finished filming a lunch in the Hamptons with some friends. After we were finished filming, Murray said to Francois, “So Francois, how do you like having the cameras around?” This four year old boy just looked at Murray with a glint in his eye and said, “Murray, when the cameras roll, Francois rolls.” It’s like the old cliche – you should never work with children or animals.
TFL: You mentioned you grew up without a father, and I think the stereotype, in America at least, is if you grow up without a father, you’re going to be a terrible father and you’re going to be very ill equipped. As with everything, though, it comes down to choices, doesn’t it? You’ve obviously made the right choices and look at how you’ve turned out.
Simon: It does come down to choices. I remember when my oldest brother, who is six years my senior, had just started high school and we were lliving in a small town of our 6000 people in South Wales. The headmaster said something to my mother that “your son is going to be a juvenlie deliqnent becuase he comes from a sinlge parent household.” Now this was in the middle 70s, and peoples views, thankfully, have changed since then. We were just very lucky that my mother sacrificed a lot to bring up four really wonderful kids, and she did it by giving us love. We weren’t financially wealthy, but we were wealthy as far as our family life. We did as much as any other kids, if not more. Yes, I didn’t have a father figure as much, but i did have a very strong mother – a very strong willed mother. You do make choices with parenthood. Parenthood is not something we delegate or should delegate to other people.
TFL: You mention here consistency, maintaining a unifed parental front. Is that hard with both of you working? How is the communication between the two of you?
Simon: Alex and I have amazing communication. That’s not to say that we haven’t had differences over parenting, but we’re very strong in terms of if one says something to the children that the other one isn’t happy with, the other one keeps their mouth shut until the boys aren’t around and then we discuss it. Look, do we get it right 100% of the time? No. Nobody does, and no one should pretend otherwise, but we’re as unified as you can be.
TFL: Do you have a working title for the book and any projected date?
Simon: The working title is The Urban Parent: Tales From a Real House In New York City, and it’s probably looking at coming out in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Simon van Kempen’s bio: Simon is a successful hotelier and involved Dad. Cast mates and fans of The Real Housewives consistently refer to Simon as the 6th housewife; throughout season one he appeared more than any other spouse, for the simple reason that he and Alex are very close in reality. Shaped at an early age by the loss of his father at the age of 5, Simon vowed that when he had children he would be present and an active partner in their lives and upbringing. After working around the world in the hotel business, Simon came to NYC in 1999 on a three week business trip, met Alex on day three and the rest is history. Of Simon’s many contributions to the parenting book, is his side of an entertaining he said/she said that follows each chapter; a give and take repartee that has become their signature on the show as a couple.
Mike Austin is the host of THE FATHER LIFE podcast and the father of six children, four of which were adopted from Poland. Mike & his wife Lisa are also the owners of a radio production company creating custom radio jingles and commercials for advertisers. If you would like to contact Mike about the “Radio Dad” daily feature or radio commercials / jingles, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.