When I was talking with Jesse Itzler, he told me that he always needs to be doing something. Knowing all the many projects that he has started up or helped in one way or another I can believe it. He loves living life “out of the box.” Jesse has cofounded Marquis Jet, the world’s largest prepaid private jet card company in 2001, which he and his partner sold to Berkshire Hathaway/NetJets. He then helped pioneer the coconut water craze with Zico coconut water, which he and his partners sold to The Coca-Cola Company in 2013.
Itzler is a former rapper on MTV and he has produced both the NBA’s Emmy Award-winning I Love This Game music campaign and the popular New York Knicks anthem Go NY Go. When he is not running ultra-marathons or being a dad to his four kids, Jesse can be found at the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks games, where he is an owner of the team. He is married to Spanx founder Sara Blakely and the couple and their four children live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Art Eddy: You are an entrepreneur, author, and former rapper. It seems that your life is always on the go. I think you are showing your kids a lifestyle of looking to get into everything and exploring new things. You are right in the middle of it, but do you see that foundation you are showcasing in front of your kids?
Jesse Itzler: They see it real time every day. I get bored easily. I love adventure. My kids don’t have a choice in the respect that they see my try to tackle new challenges or enter a new race or start something new. That is a big part of my DNA. They get that exposure.
AE: Your book Living with a SEAL is a New York Times Best Seller. Besides getting into great shape and being transformed mentally and physically by the Navy SEAL did you look at fatherhood differently after working with the Navy SEAL?
JI: I did. One of the great takeaways and it was unexpected was how it changed my relationship with my kids and how it changed my approach to parenting. It forced me to become incredibly present. The Navy SEAL that came to live with me put me in a series of really intense things in our 30 day journey. They required me to be really present.
They were also really hard. When you are forced to do things that are really hard and that are really uncomfortable it often translates into all the buckets of your life. At the time I had one child and now I have four. If my son was crying because his toy was being used or he was just having a meltdown or whatever, maybe pre-SEAL I would be anxious or say stop crying or lose it a little bit.
Now I am like wait a second. This SEAL had me jump in a frozen lake. How does a two year old who is disappointed that he doesn’t have his toy going to get under my skin. So it gave me a real thick layer of skin as a parent. It allowed me to handle and diffuse situations with a lot more presence and patience.
AE: What was the first few thoughts that popped into your mind when you found out that you were going to be a father for the first time?
JI: I Googled it. (Both laugh.) I had to get my arms around what the nine or ten months of pregnancy was going to look like. That was the first thing that I did, literally. I was super excited. I come from a close family, four children with parents that are still together. They have been married sixty-five plus years. Growing a family was very important to me.
I did it later in life. I got married at 40. I had my first child at 41. I watched so many of my other friends become parents. I was really, really excited. That same enthusiasm was there for kid four as it was for child one when I heard the news.
AE: Your wife, Sara Blakely is an entrepreneur as well. You guys are always busy. When reading on what to expect with my wife and her pregnancy I saw that women tend to “nest” right around the time the baby will be coming. Since both of you guys are very active I am guessing you helped her with the nesting process. Is that correct?
JI: Like you mentioned my wife is an entrepreneur. She has her own business. So I think her nesting was multiplied. She had nesting 4x. A week before my first child was born my wife decided we needed a water element in our house. We built a stream, a running water fish pond in our backyard as well as a deck. She felt we needed a screened in porch. So we built a deck with a screened in porch with running water.
She decided that she wanted to write a book. She wrote a book called The Belly Art Project, which she painted her belly in multiple objects three days before my son was born. So in that week I had no choice. She needed eight arms. I only have two arms. I got sucked into the nesting.
AE: How do you balance work and family?
JI: It starts with me. I make sure that I take a couple hours during the day for myself. I call it the three hour rule. Throughout the course of the day I allocate three hours where I can do things that I like or want to do. That could be go for a run or sit on the couch and do nothing. I don’t want to have any resentment toward me and my family or my wife or work for taking away the things that I love to do.
That is the starting point for me. I actually make sure that I do stuff during the day that I enjoy. I don’t feel guilty when I am not doing something with my family. When I am with my family I am not having any sort of resentment of the fact that they have taken away time from the things that I like to do. So it starts with me.
The balance is always a work in progress. We want to make sure that we have meal time together. We are at all the events and we are supportive. The bedtime routine is something we invest a lot in. Sometimes we switch off and sometimes we do it together.
My day starts off really early. It starts around five o’clock usually when one of my four kids gets up. That process during school is getting them ready for school, dropping them off and then coming home and starting my day. We have a system that works for us on what Sara’s role is and what my role is and where we come together as a family. We are constantly evaluating it and seeing what is working and what is not working.
AE: What are some of the core values you look to instill into your kids as they grow up?
JI: We want them to be doers. We want them to not be scared of trying something because they are scared of failing. We try to encourage them to participate in as much things as they can. We want them to be good brothers and sister. Just be good family members and be good to their friends. Really they are so young we are trying to get my two twin boys not to pee in the basil. (Both laugh.)
At this point we are going through the potty training phase. The values are the basic values, but as they get older…
AE: They will expand to bigger things.
JI: Right. (Laughs.) Right now it is all about the alphabet and potty training.
AE: I know you mentioned the three hour rule, which I think is great advice for any parent. What is another piece of advice you have for new dads?
JI: I think the three hour rule is super important. I think any piece of advice would center on time. A lot of my friends when they first became dads said to me that you have no time. That is not true. Maybe you don’t have enough time if you want to watch sitcoms and binge on Netflix. Time is just different. How you spend your time is just different.
You have to continue to do the things you like to do. You can’t give all of that up in my opinion. The things you want to get rid of and eliminate are the things that aren’t as important. So the one important piece of advice that I would give would be to get very comfortable with the word no. Pre-dad I was saying yes to everything. You want to go to lunch? Sure let’s go to lunch. You wanna play golf? Yes. After four kids saying no is okay. Just be a little more selective on what you say yes to and what you choose to say no to.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: Do you guys have a favorite family movie that you all love to watch together?
JI: Home Alone.
AE: Do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing to or dance to as a family?
JI: Right now I would probably say It is a Small World because we are in a big Mickey phase. I have three children under the age of three. That is getting a lot of traction right now.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
JI: We are a water family. So anything that is around the ocean, pool or lake is good for us. We actually have a vacation planned in the Bahamas. So we like anything with sand and water and a playground.
AE: You are a former rapper and I love the photos of you hanging out with some of the legends in the Rap game. What was the first Rap album that you purchased?
JI: Wow that is a really good question. The first Rap album was probably a cassette and it was probably RUN-DMC’s first album. The first record that I ever got was Turn the Beat Around. I saved my allowance to get it.
AE: You are a runner and I know that you are into sneakers. I am a sneakerhead, so I have to ask you what are your favorite pair of kicks?
JI: I am 6’1” around 198 right now. For years I was a New Balance guy. I ran about thirty plus marathons in New Balance. I recently switched over to Hoka. I like Hokas because I am a big, clunky runner. That is on the running side, but on the casual side I am a diehard fan of adidas Superstars.