Terry Crews on Fatherhood, Manning Up & Ralph Waldo Emerson? (INTERVIEW)

The 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine' star and Old Spice He-Man opens up about being a dad, his new memoir 'Manhood,' and what he (and maybe every other man) wants for Father's Day...
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Terry Crews Photo

Everyone knows Terry Crews as the pec-pumping Old Spice guy and accomplished nip-syncer (see his Jimmy Fallon duet), but as his new memoir Manhood reveals there are many more dimensions to this former NFL player-alpha dude star. 

As a kid growing up in Flint, Michigan, Crews loved the movies but was never allowed to go because of his strict Christian upbringing. He did get to watch TV though, and binged on Sanford & Son, The Love Boat (Isaac the bartender, one of the few black characters on TV at the time, was a favorite) and Carol Burnett, one of his comedy heroes. But it wasn’t until his aunt got permission to take him and his brother to see Star Wars that he had his show biz epiphany: He had to get to Hollywood and make movies.

His talents were his ticket out of Flint: He received art and football scholarships to Western Michigan University and eventually made it to the NFL. And when his NFL career ended, he muscled his way into show business, literally, playing T-Money, a pumped up “warrior” in a cage of fire who faced off against contestants in the TV game show Battle Dome.

Terry Crews Photo

From there, Crews racked up comedy cred in movies like White Chicks, TV’s Everybody Hates Chris, and Arrested Development. And now he’s on fire again (minus the cage) with roles in the Adam Sandler-Drew Barrymore comedy Blended, the Golden Globe-winning TV series Brooklyn Nine-Nine with Andy Samberg, and he's taking over as the new host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Add Rebecca, his wife of almost 25 years and their five kids and Crews is living his childhood dream. We caught up with the star who talked about the highs (being a good dad), the lows (confessing he had a porn addiction) and what it really means to man up. . .

Your memoir Manhood deals with what it means to be a man and a good father. Do you believe the two go hand-in-hand?

I think manhood is taking responsibility for everything in your life, both good and bad. I have had periods in my life of astounding immaturity. I was an idiot. I did the dumbest things of all time, and I’m very ashamed of a lot of things I did. But once I began to take responsibility for my life, the good and the bad, things started to turn around. When you stop complaining and when you stop making excuses, that’s when you become a man. This translates to fatherhood. A real father never gives his kids excuses, and he never complains about his kids. He always takes responsibility for his kids.

You write about your complicated relationship with your own father who was an alcoholic. What did you learn from him?

I learned how not to blame him. I learned that I didn’t come from my dad. I came through my dad. That perspective changed everything for me. Then I could pick and choose the traits I wanted from him. My kids are not me. When you say they’re just like me, you’re putting all your crap on your kids. But that kid has his own dreams and his own goals. I made all of these mistakes with my first two kids. I say to them now, ’Do you want checks? Do you want money orders? I have cash. What do you want?’ I have to make up for this somehow (laughs).

So, after five kids, it sounds like you’ve learned some parenting lessons along the way?

My younger kids live a totally different life than the first two did. I was in my mondo NFL alpha male guy life with my first kids, and now with my 11- and 8-year old, the whole family is looking at them like, ’You guys are living the life!’ I am a whole different dude now.

How did you make the change from the alpha NFL dude to the sensitive dad you are now?

There’s this Ralph Waldo Emerson quote: “When a man is pushed, tormented, defeated, he has a chance to learn something.” I have experienced it – when you’re best thinking has gotten you in trouble and you realize you have to change. It’s not anybody else’s fault. I have to change because nothing is working. You can blame other people, but as soon as you realize it is you, you can change. That’s when I went from the alpha guy to me now.

And is that when you confessed to your wife about your porn addiction?

I had hit rock bottom. And my wife said you’re out, you’re done, you can’t come back home. And I knew that it was a big problem that I had to deal with. It wasn’t getting better, it was getting worse. You have to change your mindset and that will change your beliefs and that will change your actions. I had the wrong mindset. I thought this little porno addiction was just a stress reliever. Then I saw what it really was and realized I didn’t want it in my life.

Terry Crews Photo

Terry Crews and his family at the Los Angeles premiere of "Blended" in May. The family had their own reality show "The Family Crews" on BET. (Photo: David Livingston/Getty Images)

What have you learned from your children?

I’ve learned how to be childlike. Childlike is awesome. You have eyes full of wonder. You’re creative. There are no rules for you. You can put wings on and fly and act as though you’re going to take off. That’s what I learned from my kids. Childish is no good. That’s immaturity. But for me being childlike is wonderful. There are no obstacles. My kids are learning they can be anything right now, and that’s what I’m learning, too.

What are they most proud of about their dad?

I think when we went to Africa and gave out clothing to kids and visited schools. My kids cried because they saw so many people living a hard life. They looked at me and saw me getting hugs from the kids and they said we’re happy to be here and we know we’re blessed. I think that’s what they get from me. They get to do things that a lot of people in the world don’t get to do. And they know we’re not entitled to this. We’re blessed. I think that’s what they’re getting from me. I don’t know. I guess we’ll find out…

Do they have a favorite character that you’ve played? What do they think about your Old Spice commercials?

Well, I love every one of my characters. I call them my little misfit family. But my kids are embarrassed. When they saw me in Blended, they were like, ’Oh, my God, I’m embarrassed! It’s weird.’ And I say, 'That’s good because it means I’m doing it right. If you weren’t embarrassed it wouldn’t be funny.' The world loves those Old Spice commercials and I tell my kids, 'I know you’re embarrassed, but don’t you think it’s funny?' And they’re like, 'Yeah, I guess it’s funny.' My family also loves Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I say that’s what Dad gives to the world. That’s my job.

Terry Crews Photo

Terry Crews and Andy Samberg in an episode of the Golden Globe-winning cop comedy 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine.' (Photo: FOX via Getty Images)

What is your proudest parenting moment?

It's hard to pick just one thing, but there was a moment that really hit me. I was taking my 16-year-old to get a smoothie and she said, 'Dad, did you ever go to a party and people were doing drugs and stuff?' I said, 'I never did that when I was a kid because I didn’t like it.' And she said, 'I don’t like it either.' My heart just filled because she was speaking from her heart. She was being real and saying 'that’s not me.' I was so proud of her for telling me that and the fact that she could talk to me and not feel ashamed.

It seems like your getting the dad thing down. What's your best advice for other fathers?

Teach your kids how to take responsibility for themselves. If they do something they shouldn’t, make them own up. Show them how to own up. Show them how to win and how to lose. It’s not really win or lose, it’s win or learn. I remember my son being devastated he couldn’t do something. He was hurt and frustrated. I said there is no one who is smarter than you. There are only people who have practiced and with a great attitude became good at what they do. That’s the secret. I watched his face and he was like ‘Wow!’ When you see them get it, it’s like gold.

Last question: How are you going to celebrate Father’s Day?

All fathers have one gift they all want and that is to be left alone. It’s kind of weird. It sounds brutal, but it is a wonderful gift. Every man wants one day where he can do what he wants. Most fathers have to spend their lives figuring out what everybody else wants and you go along with it. What movie do you want to see? Frozen? Again? Okay. So the best gift is: 'Dad, do whatever you want. If you want to burn a 16-ounce steak. . .if you want to watch the NBA finals, we’re gonna leave you alone.' That’s an awesome gift. And then at the end of the night – sex. The perfect Father’s Day of all time!

Are you a Terry Crews fan? What are your favorite roles he's played?