Tom Arnold on parenting, childhood sexual abuse and addiction
Actor, comedian and father Tom Arnold sat down with Giddy’s Marisa Sullivan to discuss raising children as an older single father, how he healed from childhood sexual abuse, and his recovery from a battle with addiction.
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A Conversation with Tom Arnold
Comedian and actor Tom Arnold got real with Giddy's Marisa Sullivan in a heartfelt interview about his kids and how he has navigated conversations with them about love—and the birds and bees.
Arnold is a single dad to son Jax, 8, and daughter Quinn, 5. He had his children with ex-wife Ashley Groussman, to whom he was married for more than a decade until their divorce was finalized in 2020.
The actor, who just wrapped the Machine Gun Kelly-directed film "Good Mourning With a U," also discussed the impact his own childhood sexual abuse has on his parenting style, how he recovered from addiciton, and his journey to co-parenting after a tumultuous divorce.
I love how protective you are of your children. Jax is 8 and Quinn, your girl, is 5. Have you been this hands-on since day one?
My son was born when I was 54. My friends would say to me, "Let your wife [at the time] do everything, and then when he's 7, he'll be fun for you." I'm 54, I don't know where I'll be when he's 7, I'm going to change every diaper.
And then when my daughter was born, I really focused on not just the diaper, the feeding, the nights, the whatever, but also making sure she got as much attention as my son had gotten.
Your kids are just not having it. They do not want their dad to date. You put your kids first—how do you keep those needs at bay?
Well, because I'm a 62-year-old single father with an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old. That alone takes you out of a lot of dating scenarios.
I'm not in shape for it, either. I put on a lot of weight during the pandemic. ...I'm working out and it's harder to lose weight.
You know, there will be a day, I assume, when it is the right time to date. But I have to find women, probably, who have kids. I do talk to some of the moms at school drop-offs and stuff. And before the pandemic, I felt like I was getting somewhere. I had lunch with a mom, and we talked about how bad our divorces were.
But it's such a big thing. And part of it is me, because I would rather be here and would rather be doing what we're doing, and we all go to sleep at the same time.
What age do you think is appropriate to start talking to your kids about sex? Have you thought about the approach you would take?
If they ask me a question like, "How did this happen?" I will answer it honestly. I try to be as honest about how things work as possible. We've even talked about in vitro and how they were both made in a test tube.
Before their mother moved out of the house in 2018, we tried to make it work and live in the same house for a while. It was an unpleasant thing, and I could tell it was unpleasant for the kids.
I realize because of Disney characters, there's always a prince and a princess. So my daughter asked, "Daddy, how did I get here?" So I spent a weekend after their mom moved out and showed her her birth, because I have so many pictures and videos.
I said, "This is where you came from. You were in your mom's belly, but you started with me." I make that very clear. So it's important to me to let her know, "You came here because of love. Your mom lived over there and I lived over here, and we always dreamed about you and your brother—and that is the thing we had in common."
You can't hate someone that you have kids with, because you look at your kids and they are a part of that person. So I have that kind of love for her.
You seem like you're their hero.
Well, I try to act as if I am. Their whole life they have been aware that there is something about their dad that when we go out in public together, people will tend to say extraordinarily nice things or even get emotional. They say, "When you talked about this in public, I really connected with it."
Out of all the things you talk about publicly, what gets the most reaction?
Survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I dealt with it and put it away and said, "I'm done."
But when my son was born, something was different. I was having trouble sleeping as he was getting older and older. Then it struck me one day: That's what I looked like when this happened to me.
Because in the back of your mind, if something abusive happens to you, you say, "Maybe I was a bad kid, maybe I was ugly, maybe I was this, maybe I was that." But then you see your child, who is perfect, and you remember, "I was just like him, and these people did these awful things to me."
Then I really had some issues. I started taking benzos and eventually went back to rehab to deal with that. I'm a recovering addict and alcoholic. You'll hear from a lot of people who are either struggling or doing well, and they want to give me a fist bump because they're in the club with me. That means a lot to me, especially when I don't have time to go to a lot of meetings. I always consider an interaction between myself and another alcoholic to be a meeting, because technically, it is.
So I have a lot of experience with recovery, and that's helpful when I'm able to say to somebody, "I know you think you've done terrible things. I know you think you're terminally unique. But I can promise you that I have done the same and I can promise you that when you get on the other side of that, there is a great life."
Certainly with me, every dream I've ever had has come true—besides show business, being a father: waking up and the kids are there, usually in my bed.
My top 20 problems are not real problems.