When award-winning filmmaker and cinema-tographer, Mikki Willis, posted a video of himself and his sons on Facebook, he had no idea that he was about to become a global sensation. Mikki’s video, with the message “How would you feel if your son chose this?” went viral, shared by millions around the world. Since Mikki, who founded Elevate Family, shares the same parenting philosophies as all of us at IP Magazine, we asked our publisher, Judy Julin, to interview him. An abridged version of this interview appeared in the premiere issue of Inspired Parenting Magazine. Here is the full version.
Judy Julin: Hey Mikki, how are ya?
Mikki Willis: Doing amazing.
JJ: What a difference a couple of days can make, eh? My colleagues and I from Inspired Parenting were just out there last week with you and your family in beautiful Ojai, CA. I speak with you now, and things are a little different.
MW: Yea, Things got a little crazy here for a while. It was totally unexpected, and we’ve been in this whirlwind of media activities. One of my videos with me and my son, Azai, ended up going viral all around the world.
JJ: I read online that, “a California dad is being called the Father of the Year” after a Facebook post went viral. That’s quite a moniker you’ve received. I’ve known you as a friend, enjoying your Facebook posts of your son’s growing up and now…
MW: I am super moved by it, yet have mixed feelings about the label that the media has granted me. The reason is this; I know that there are countless awesome fathers around the world, and I am hesitant to want to accept anything that has me acknowledged above anyone else. It’s a little bittersweet. We have the tendency in our language to feed into the whole competition aspect of being the best, particularly here in America. It’s time to honor all fathers.
JJ: I totally get what you’re saying Mikki. I, too have mixed feelings about competition in our world. What I read from that title is that you’re allowing a light to be shone on fatherhood – conscious, involved fatherhood. Some people may take it in a competitive manner. I think that most people who were benefitting from the video you put out are saying, “Thank you for opening up this discussion, Mikki.” Father of Year? That’s a great way and a great platform to share more of your wonderful message. I don’t feel it will ever overshadow the importance of what fatherhood or parenting means to you.
MW: Thank you. You just helped me to get clearer about what I’m attempting to articulate here. People who get it and appreciate it, which seem to be the majority, is a wonderful thing. What I’ve noticed, though, is that it polarizes people who maybe feel like they are not the father of the year. There’s something within that whole “beauty pageant, MVP” idea, naming someone as the flavor of the moment, that really appeals to some people and really polarizes other people. I am in this inquiry right now of -how can we acknowledge someone in a way that makes everyone aspire to step up, instead of having what I am experiencing now, which is some negative feedback from people who are challenged by that title and will become blind to the good that’s in that little video and just want to tear me down. I don’t particularly take it personally, because it’s not really about me, of that I’m certain. Is there another way to acknowledge the good traits of a single human being such that the collective can see that and not be challenged by it, not feel that someone is saying, “oh you’re the best.” Because right away that competitive nature starts to flare up. People then start to look at, “well you’re not the best.” If you see some of the actors that try to portray themselves, for example, Tom Cruise, who for the most part has lead a rather wholesome life, throughout his whole career. Though, if at any turn, he does anything slightly whacky or because of his connection with Scientology, everybody is wanting to find the dirt on Tom Cruise. But then if you look at celebrities who have been very transparent with all of their flaws and have not tried to state any supreme title, because they remain human, they are more reachable by the masses. Everytime I hear another media outlet refer to me as “father of the year”, I think ‘thank you’ and, also, something feels very strange about that.
JJ: What you’re talking about in a macro way, is exactly what I want to be talking about in this interview with you, and that is the intent behind what you’re doing and your authentic nature. If we go back to being a father, your intention with your boys and with Nadia as a husband, your authentic, transparent nature is all that you/we have to offer. And that “presence” that you give your boys, you gave that same presence in the video and the people watching it, what they take from it at any given consciousness level, is all right for them. The only thing that’s important is what emanates from you. It’s about being heart-centered and authentic. Even with your sons, I am sure there are times that you make decisions that might not be always right and correct in your eyes. In the moment you are being and doing the best you can with the intention of being a conscious, loving, present father. What more are we asked to do?
MW: Yea, Well said.
JJ: Let’s talk a little about how your ideas on “free-style” parenting and where they got their start.
MW: I have had a couple of critics who want to throw the baby out with the bath water, saying in response to my ideas that you can’t just let a child run free and expect that they’re not gonna’ run out into the middle of traffic. I think they are misconstruing the point and are way off with respect to how much we can trust children if a child understands what the consequences are. I am amazed at how quickly my four-year-old course corrects himself if I take the time to explain to him what the potential outcome is. I’ll give you an example.
We were having a real struggle with Azai brushing his teeth. It was becoming a nightly thing that both my wife and I resisted. He just didn’t understand why we needed to put this uncomfortable instrument in his mouth with yucky tasting stuff. There was no value in it for him. From a toddler’s point of view, and even an adult’s point of view, all we’re really seeking is the most pleasure in every circumstance. And for him, that wasn’t pleasurable. He wants fun. He wants excitement. He wants stuff that tastes good. We would tell him every night, “You are going to get cavities.” That means nothing to a four-year-old. Using the power of technology and media, we googled cavities. We looked at a bunch of images of cavities. He was very intrigued and wanted to see more saying, “Eww, what is that?” I would say, “Yeah, that little boy in the picture, probably ate a lot of sugar and didn’t brush his teeth. That’s really bad; black teeth. He then said, “Daddy, I don’t want cavities.” I said, “Okay, then, it’s your choice at this point. You get to decide because this is what happens when you don’t brush your teeth. I want you to decide.” That was almost a year ago. He has not missed a single night of brushing his teeth, by his choice. He brushes his teeth by himself. If for some reason we forget, he will remember.
This has happened several times. Once when I was reading a book to him, right before he was going to sleep he said, “Daddy, I forgot to brush my teeth!” He got up and ran to the bathroom.
That’s one example of several ways my wife and I have shown him the results of his choices. It’s the same with media. We held this concept that our kids were not going to watch any TV or media. When you have two kids, especially two boys, all that goes out the window. We realized that there are moments when nothing is going to entertain them. They will sit down and be quiet for an hour if you have something for them to watch. And then it becomes, Well, what do they watch? You have to be very careful about what you let them watch. Of course, there came a point when some of his friends were wearing Ninja Turtle shirts, and he was hearing about Ninja Turtles and wanted to watch the Ninja Turtles. I watched some with him. There were some martial arts and some violence. And I thought, “I don’t know if this is good for him to watch”. That night he had a bad dream. I asked him what happened, and he told me what the dream was about. I could hear right away that it was connected to the violence he had just watched. This was the first time this new little mind had experienced people punching each other, so he had a dream about it. It was a chance for me to learn how he was being imprinted in that moment by the violence. I was able to share with him that’s what happens when you watch that kind of stuff.
Azai said: “I don’t want to have bad dreams any more, Daddy.”
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