To the world, James van der Beek will forever be Dawson Leery from the creek. To his six kids with wife Kimberly, however, he’s just dad.
“They wanted to watch Jenna Ortega on Saturday Night Live, and they were really impressed with the job that she did, because she was great, so I said, ‘You want to see something cool?’ and I pulled up my episode,” he tells Yahoo Life. “All my son could say was that I looked like a nerd.”
Van der Beek may not win points from his kids with Saturday Night Live, but the actor does score them for his ability to always engage with their interests. That includes manicures. Back in May of 2022, the Don’t Trust the B in Apartment 23 star went viral for a photo of his daughter painting his nails.
“A general rule of thumb is if your kids have an interest, invest in it now,” he says. “Go with it, roll with it. I have four daughters, and my four-year-old was very excited to come up to me and ask to paint my nails, and in just the cutest voice. It was a real pleasure to be able to say yes, absolutely, to watch her get excited. To me, having a girl is just the perfect permission to really indulge in your feminine side and be open to that whole aspect of life.”
He’s not stopping at nail art, either.
“She also puts face masks on me,” he says. “I’ve got one daughter who likes to comb my hair into what she calls ‘Snape hair’ — so it looks like Severus Snape from Harry Potter.”
It’s important to Van der Beek to play with his kids — so much so that he teamed up with Quaker Chewy for their Take Your Child to Play campaign, which is asking parents to pledge to participate in one hour of uninterrupted play with their kids. “If you don't schedule time to play with the kids, the odds of that happening kind of dwindle,” he notes. “For us, play is just so important. It seems simple, but it's good for kids physically, emotionally. It's good for our relationship.”
Playtime can sometimes include hanging out at their new home in Texas, where they moved from Los Angeles, Calif. in 2020 following major life events including two pregnancy losses and the death of Van der Beek’s mother.
“We happened into a really beautiful situation in Texas where we have a bunch of acres and a river. The kids can go out the front door and climb trees and make forts out of sticks,” he says. “They're keeping their eyes peeled for all the different wildlife on the land and so I feel like for us, it teaches them responsibility and some critical thinking and decision making skills and also just keeps them on a rhythm. I mean, we know what phase the moon is in because we can actually see it in our backyard. And so we're just really grateful that we were able to pull it off and try to find a way out there.”
When they’re not in Texas, Van der Beek loads up his kids into an RV. Last summer, they took a multi-state road trip, with the final stop being a family visit in Washington. His advice for parents is to travel early and often with kids.
“You're all in it together, and it's a real bonding experience,” he says. “You're out of the normal rhythm, out of your house and routine and things are shaken up — but you're also out of any ruts that you might be stuck in. Everybody has to pull together in order to get through airport security or get out the door on time. And I love the way kids are going to step up and step into responsibilities, like for their own shoes or making sure they have their jacket."
There's a benefit for parents, too — it's "a really great time to just put down the phone."
"You have an excuse to just not be available for anything other than focusing on the kids," he shares.
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