Fathering Advice From a Music Exec? Tom Sturges' Parking Lot Rules

By: Ben Murphy
June 9, 2008

I'm not sure what you conjure up when you think of a music industry exec, but it's probably not someone you're going to go to for parenting advice. So, when an email came through with the subject line of "Music Exec pens Fathering Book...," I was intrigued.


Tom Sturges is the executive VP of creative affairs at Universal Music and has helped sign some acts that you might have heard of, like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Outkast, Jack Johnson, and 50 Cent. Not bad, eh? But besides the music exec gig, Tom is also an involved father of two sons (ages 10 and 16). Tom's first book Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Children was just released by Ballantine Books and reads as a handbook for fathering – pulled together from Tom's years of experience and notes on what seemed to work and what didn't. It truly is a well-organized book of wisdom on fathering.

Tom's own father (the screenwriter/directing legend Preston Sturges) passed away when he was only 3, so he grew up wanting to become the dad he's never had. Parking Lot Rules is, essentially, a collection of Tom's notes over the years on what's worked and what hasn't.

Parking Lot Rules is a great read and is especially perfect for guys with younger kids who are starting to wrap their heads around what fathering is all about. I expected the book to be an essay on Tom's experience; instead, I was pleasantly surprised to find it a very useful and well-organized handbook on topics ranging from communication and manners to discipline and teamwork. Each snippet of advice and lesson is easy and fun to read and short enough that you can pick the book up and knock off a chapter or two whenever you have the time.


One of my favorite parts of being part of The Father Life is getting to interview many of the individuals we come in contact with – especially authors. It's a rare chance to get into the person and ideas behind a book and really pull out the core lessons that are worth passing along to our readers. Tom was gracious enough to spend some time on the phone with me and what follows are snippets from our discussion. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I valued Tom's insights.

BM: So, how does a music executive decide to write a fathering book?

TS: This book is my reaction to the world around me and my own reactions to what I saw working and not working in raising my own sons... I'm not a childhood expert, I'm a father and I found some things worked great and I made plenty of mistakes, so I want to share what I've learned with other fathers. Becoming a parent is a really crazy thing; there's no training for it really. An analogy I think of is that when you become a dad it's like someone called and told you just became the manager of the Yankees. And you think, "Wow! The Yankees! I have no idea what I'm doing, but this is great!" So you figure out what works and what doesn't and you keep notes. If a certain pitcher works out well, you keep tabs on that; if a certain rotation works poorly, you keep notes on that... that's basically what this book is.

I also wrote the book in a way that it's not just for fathers. It's a meant as a parenting book so that, say, if you thought your spouse was doing something wrong, you could share the book with her in a nice way and discover a better way of parenting together – without being rude or feeling like you had to point out your spouse's mistakes.

BM: One of the hardest things for a father (especially newer fathers) is figuring out how to juggle career and family. Advice?

TS: Well, for starters, if you bring your work home with you – you're such a bore... work at the office. And when you step in the door be 100% DAD. At the beginning of the day you say, "I'll see you at 6 o'clock for soccer," and follow through on that. Be consistent; you make the promise and you stick to it. If you do that, then your kids will understand that there are times you just need to work, but that when you're there with them, you are all theirs.

BM: Ok, so even in our crazy schedules, what are some of the best simple ways to take advantage of the time with your kids?

TS: Well, communication is key. And one of the best times to communicate with your kid is during bath time; especially if it's just you and them. There's no distractions; you can focus on them and just listen and let them talk. It's the number one time, I think, if you want to connect with your kid. The #2 time is in the car. Turn off the radio and the DVD and just talk – you'll find that a bridge of conversation will build up between you and your child. I also recommend coaching. And I'm a non-athlete because my father wasn't around to teach me sports. But just enroll your young child in a sport you know they'll enjoy and get involved in the coaching aspect and enjoy the time together.

BM: You talk about your own father passing away at an early age; how did that shape your own experience as a father?

TS: That's what this book is – because I wanted to be the greatest dad who had ever been – I wanted my kids to talk about me as a legend of a father. So, that's what these rules are – what these notes are; you keep notes on what worked and what didn't. The experience of not having a father has shaped all of me... I wanted to give what I never got...

BM: Talk about your own father's legacy...

TS: I would say that my father, Preston Sturges, was a legendary filmmaker. He was the first writer to direct his own script – that was in 1940 and that was a big deal; nobody did that then. He won an Academy Award for that script and it's in my living room.

He tragically passed away when I was 3, so I have no memory of him. He really had his own life and it was a good life, but by the time I came along and learned about his work, he was overlooked as a historical figure in film. So, we worked hard and got his screenplays published and his films remastered, and I think now he gets the recognition that he should. Let me put it this way, the writer's guild and the director's guild never do anything together, but they do come together regularly to present the Preston Sturges award – so that says something.

BM: What's been the best part about fatherhood for you?

TS: Everything. Every day. Every day is the best part. The new things. Every moment is new and unknown and is really the greatest moment yet. That's actually one of the things that comes through in the book, the idea of "A Moment of Happiness" (chapter 5)... What happens to me is that whenever I'm doing exactly the thing I want to be doing with exactly the person I want to be doing it with, I get a bloom of euphoria... And I think it's important to teach your children to recognize when that happens for them in their own experience.

BM: What's been the hardest part of fatherhood for you?

TS: When my wife and I split up and I went from being the roommate to the visitor. That was a tragic day for me, but that's life. Life is what happens. You deal with it and get better.... So, the hard part was adjusting my fathering and adding the complication that I didn't live with them any more.

BM: Any words of advice for new dads starting out?

TS: Respect your children. It's not a balanced relationship between you and your children and your career and your hobbies, etc. It's practically 100% give and 1% take... the children don't care about the sacrifices you have to make, they expect it. There's no such thing as quality time --- there's T-I-M-E, period.

So, probably more than anything else, start right. Establish great habits at the beginning.

Set aside time for your children. Consistently. So they can rely on that time with you.

Respect your children. And that plays out in the way you treat them day-to-day. One good example of this ‘When you get Upset, Whisper' (chapter 2).

BM: Any other "lessons learned" you want to highlight?

TS: Smile when you see them (chapter 1). It's so simple, but it really sets the tone for your interaction with your kids.

"Yes-not-What" is another one (chapter 2). Your answer is "yes" not "what," and that opens the door for your child's ideas to escape into the world... You want your children – especially your daughters – you want her comfortable hearing her own voice and her own ideas and decisions --- the more comfortable she is at hearing her own voice and her own ideas the more confident she'll be as she grows up. And that's important when she's 14 and driving you nuts and it's puberty and adolescence and boys and gum and bad grades. --- but you've established this connection that she can trust you and talk with you and share with you.

BM: One last question: Let's talk about community... I take it that you're very active in your own community. Why? And how are you passing that along to your sons?

TS: Well, I'm a volunteer teacher, coach, mentor --- I started a choir with a group of low-income, at-risk youth and wrote songs with them. We took this group of kids and started with them in 7th grade and performed these songs we'd written all over Southern California; over 52 times to over 60,000 people... And 100% of those students graduated High School! 97% went on to a 4 year college; 92% graduated from college. And that says something, that's an impact. It's actually being turned into an upcoming film called Witness to a Dream.

But with my own kids, I haven't dragged them into that – I'm leading by example. My children know about it – but I don't force it; they see it and they'll make their own decisions on how they get involved.



Parking Lot Rules on Amazon.com

Ben Murphy is the Founder/CEO of The Father Life.