Hasan Minhaj on the Greatest Surprises of Fatherhood & Parenting During a Pandemic
The host of Netflix's Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj opened up about working on the new Apple TV+ documentary feature film Dads, fatherhood, and how he plans to raise his two kids to fight to make the world a better place.
Hasan Minhaj might be known for his acerbic perspective on the news, but viewers of the new documentary Dads will get to see a different side of the comedian. The film, which recently premiered via a partnership between Dove Men+Care and Imagine Entertainment and is streaming on Apple TV+, celebrates how fatherhood is the ultimate expression of a man's care. Minhaj was drawn to the project for exactly that reason.
"Bryce Dallas Howard, who directed and produced and made the film reached out to me," says Minhaj. "She basically said, 'There are so many lesson, books, and an entire industry around what it means to be a mother, but there isn't that for being a dad. And I want to do something that highlights the role that dads have, how it impacts your life, and what it means to be a dad.' And even with my friends, fatherhood is something that we don't really talk about. But it's such an intense and important change in your life."
We caught up with Minhaj about the film, welcoming his son during a global pandemic, bonding with his 2-year-old daughter, and his hopes for raising children who will bring kindness into the world and fight for the greater good.
The Most Memorable Part of Shooting Dads
The first day of shooting Dads, Minhaj recalls Howard asking him a question that stuck with him. "She asked, 'Hey, how do you juggle being a dad and having your career?'" he says. "And it took me like two minutes to answer that because nobody's ever asked me that before. Like, not even loved ones or family members ever asked me that."
The question was more relevant than ever because he and his wife Beena were in the midst of sleep training their daughter who was 1 at the time. "I was just going through it," he says. "And I hadn't slept. I was like, 'Thank you for asking me that. It’s impossible right now.'"
Minhaj also appreciated that by making Dads, Howard and Dove Men+Care aimed to break stereotypes about fatherhood and show how it has evolved over the past few decades. "I'm a child of immigrants. The unspoken rule was it was my dad's job to just establish roots here, survive, and provide an income for our family. And if I got to see him, I got to see him. And if I didn't, I didn't. I wanted things to be different," says Minhaj.
What Parenting in a Pandemic Looks Like for Hasan
Minhaj might be unlike other parents in that his "remote work" involves producing a popular Netflix show, but otherwise, his family life might sound quite familiar, as he's facing a similar mix of strange and wonderful moments with his kids.
"We have a newborn who's 4 months old, so much of being a dad for me right now is just surviving," he explains. "And we have a 2-year-old who I handle for most of the day. We have a very, very close bond and connection. And especially during the pandemic, getting through each day is my number one mission. Just getting her from activities, to naps, to meals, to diaper changes, now potty training, and into bed by 7:30 p.m. That is my mission. So all the days blur together, and I never get a chance to step back and think about why I'm even doing this or what the significance of it is."
The experience of parenting during the pandemic has also led Minhaj to think deeper about another question Howard asked him, which was "What does fatherhood mean to you?" "I remember the perception that I had of fatherhood was like, The Lion King, where Mufasa was supposed to impose this wisdom upon Simba, which is such an Indian dad thing," he says. "It's like, 'I'm here to program you.' He’s like, 'Simba, remember who you are.' I'm like, 'Dude, just let him live!' But I realized that what Bryce was asking me is that if I thought it was just a one way street where I'm supposed to download information into the mind of my child. But actually, what I realized is that it's a two-way street."
Though he jokes that "most of the day is sheer horror," there was a particularly poignant moment in which he noticed the amazing reciprocity of parenthood. "We were reading a book, and the character in the book snuggled with mommy," says Minhaj. "My daughter was like, 'Let's snuggle.' Then, she looks up at me, and she started rubbing her nose against my nose. Just like the characters were in the book. And I literally felt my heart explode. In that single moment, I was so just happy. It's the happiest I've ever been in my life. I just felt like, 'I'm not here to teach you anything. I'm so lucky to just get to watch you grow up and learn and snuggle with you right now.'"
The Heartwarming Lesson He's Teaching His Kids
Even though his children are still so young, Minhaj says he is conscious of leading by example. "My wife finished a meeting the other day, and it was really stressful," he notes. "She had to turn in this really important report, and the Zoom call ended, and she closed her laptop and I brought both the kids in, and I was just like, 'Let's hug Mommy; let's kiss Mommy; we're proud of Mommy!' We like showing them to lead with respect and with empathy and with kindness."
He also aims to model love. "In Hindi, there's this word called 'meri jaan'—like 'my heart,' or 'my love.' It's a term of endearment," explains Minhaj. "One of the things that I wanted to show my kids is to speak to people with love."
When addressing his wife, Minhaj will say "meri jaan," and his daughter has picked it up. One day, in the midst of potty training, his daughter was running around the house without a diaper. "And then she was calling to my wife. She was like, 'Meri jaan! Potty! Meri jaan! Potty!' It made me laugh so hard. It was like, 'My love! My love, I have to potty!'" says Minhaj.
But it was bigger than just that moment to Minhaj. "'Meri jaan' is a very poetic, soft way of speaking to other people," he says. "And on the news, every two days, I'm watching people just flip out at each other at Costco. I think we need some of that 'meri jaan' energy at Costco. Like 'meri jaan, my love, please wear a mask.' You're coming from a place of love and respect. That's just not happening right now. And so, if I can have my kids carry that 'meri jaan' energy into Costco and Trader Joe's, hopefully that's the first step to a better world."
It's a first step in teaching his kids how to bridge the divide between the real and the ideal world. "How do we read to our daughter and teach her what the world should be?" he asks. "And then, when she goes into the world and sees what it is, how does she fight to make it what it should be?" It won't be easy, but he says he's up for the challenge.
- RELATED: 6 Ways to Teach Kids to Be Kind
What Hasan Hopes Viewers Take Away From Dads
Because it features fathers from all over the world, Dads has a universal message in Minhaj's opinion. "There's such a really beautiful element of intimacy in showing the different dads from around the world and the way in which we all parent differently," he explains. "The biggest thing that I hope people take away from the film is that dads matter. You are celebrated and loved. Because there are a lot of times you feel like you're not. And you do have agency. You're not just a character on the sidelines of the story of your family and children. You do have an active role in all of this. I certainly hope by the time my kids get older, I'm able to say I had an active role in all of those little nooks and crannies of life."
Watch Hasan Minhaj, along with Will Smith, Neil Patrick Harris, and more in Dads, and click here to learn more about how Dove Men+Care supports dads everywhere, all year-round.