Self-Declared 'Mediocre Dad' Jim Gaffigan Shares How Life Changed When His Wife Got Sick
The comedian opens up about being the main caregiver for his spouse and five kids.
Jim Gaffigan never really saw himself becoming a dad. Or a husband for that matter. He was once just a comedian living alone. But fast-forward to today and he’s been married to his wife Jeannie for 15 years. And they have five kids: Marre, 14, Jack, 12, Katie, 9, Michael, 7, and Patrick, 5. “It defines everything about me, and I’m happy for it,” says the comedian, who recently released a new comedy special, Noble Ape. “I would say that I’m a mediocre dad, but someone who tries.”
The real superhero of the family? Gaffigan would say that’s definitely Jeannie, who learned she had a tumor the size of an apple on her brain stem last year. After surviving a 9-hour surgery, Jim says her recovery is currently at about 80 percent. “Which is, like, my energy level at 110 percent,” he explains. “She’s such a tank—and I mean that as a compliment! When she went into the surgery, the surgeon looked at the x-ray and then looked at her and wondered how she was even walking around. That’s the level of her stamina.”
Between Jeannie’s hospital stay and recovery, Gaffigan became the main caregiver of her plus their five kids, who live in New York City (until recently, all seven of them squeezed into a two-bedroom apartment). But big families are kind of a trend—Gaffigan's the youngest of six, Jeannie’s the oldest of nine. “I kept thinking, ‘Thank God there’s so many!’ We needed that help,” he says. “Some are in Wisconsin, a lot are in New York—they’re everywhere! They’re like mosquitoes!”
This abundance of care is why he and Jeannie joined up with Tylenol and the #HowWeCare campaign, a program that provides caregivers with support for daily tasks like cleaning and transportation to doctor’s appointments. “The trips to and from the hospital are pretty taxing financially and emotionally,” he explains. “While we did it for six months, many people deal with health issues for years or even decades.” When friends and family can’t be there physically, this lets them give through organizations like Uber or Handy. Because, as Gaffigan pointed out, as nice as flowers look, they’re just another thing to take care of.
“There’s definitely a closeness that develops when you almost lose someone,” he went on to say. “We now have much more of a ‘cease the moment’ mentality.” Which is exactly why they packed up all five kids for a three-week, four-country vacation earlier this summer when work took Gaffigan across the pond. “Living with five children is unnecessarily cruel, but traveling with five is especially difficult,” he laughs. “We went to the Anne Frank house, and they wondered why they had to be quiet there. We were able to explain why to them and then they forget and are like, ‘Do they have wifi in here?’ And we’re like, ‘It’s the Anne Frank house! Can you not ask if they have wifi?!’”
Humor, while it has its stake, doesn’t exactly define his and Jeannie’s take on parenting (she’s a comedy writer herself, often for his shows). “She’s very much into attachment parenting, which means the kids sleep in our bed for the rest of their lives apparently,” Gaffigan jokes. “I’m far stricter than I thought I would be. I mean, there has to be a level of discipline, because they’re animals. Adorable animals.”
He and Jeannie are all for instilling humor and creativity into their kids’ lives, but that’s not to say they’d ever wish a career of comedy on any of them. “The entertainment industry is so brutal, but it’s also been very good and creatively fulfilling to me,” he says. “And I wouldn’t want to discourage them from pursuing a creative life. I want them to be whatever they want.”
Gaffigan says he learns something new from his kids everyday—and good thing, as their antics often take hold as the center of his stand-up routines. “They make me laugh so much—they’re perspective, point of view, confusion, what they’re upset about,” he explains. “They’re like, ‘The injustice that I don’t get to use my iPad!” And I’m like, ‘No, that’s not injustice! There are people that are denied human rights—this is not a human right. This is an iPad.’”
And while he says each one of them is completely different, Gaffigan only has one wish: “I figure with five kids, all I need is one in five to accept me. I only need one to like me in the end!” True, Gaffigan, true.