If you’re a fan of HGTV – and let’s be honest, it’s nearly impossible to escape the pull of their shows – than you no doubt are familiar with “The Cousins.” John Colaneri and his real-life cousin Anthony Carrino are best known for their HGTV “Cousins” series including, Kitchen Cousins, Cousins on Call, and Cousins Undercover.
With their Jersey accents, fitted tee’s, and genuine personalities, these nice guys sweep in and save homeowners from dilapidated kitchens, distressed homes, and offer help to those needing a bit of a boost. Giving complete strangers a glimmering new home and often a new look at life. They’ve even been featured on Ellen helping surprise a family affected by Superstorm Sandy.
The excitement about their jobs on three TV shows, a private construction company, and social media fan base is palpable and contagious. The only thing that could possibly get John more excited, was becoming a father.
Shopping at the grocery store one day last week, my phone rang with an unknown phone number flashing on the screen. Pushing the shopping cart down the aisle one handed, I picked up.
“Hello? This is Chad.”
“Hey, Chad. It’s John Colaneri, how are you?”
Sounding exactly as you hear him on TV, John was calling to schedule our interview. I had emailed his company asking for a publicist or media contact for him and instead I got a direct reply from John and shortly after, a phone call. That says just about everything you need to know about John and his new role as dad. No middle person, no handler, nothing but genuine kindness and a giddy eagerness to spill about his new life as a dad.
A short time later, we again chatted over the phone. We talked about his new daughter Lilyan, fatherhood, the lack of sleep, and yes, enjoying the dirty diapers. Hearing him describe his newest starring role, it’s clear he’s smitten with his new daughter and title of Dad.
“It’s an amazing feeling to hold your own child, and know you and your wife created that person. It truly is a miracle,” Colaneri said.
Staying busy is not a problem for Colaneri who is about to set out for some serious early year travel, working on yet another new show that will be debuting on HGTV late spring/early summer. While he admits time away from his family and daughter will not be easy, the excitement in his voice as he describes the show makes it clear after some time away, he’s excited to get back to filming and helping others. “I made sure I took time off,” he said. “Even with my shooting schedule, I made sure I blocked off this time, so I wasn’t traveling, I was home.”
Now more than a month in, John shares his mistakes, his love for his wife, why he’s different than his father, and what he looks forward to the most as a parent. Through it all John says life has never been better.
“I want to be able to sit down with my daughter when she gets into those difficult teenage years and wants to go out and doesn’t want to hang with dad anymore,” he said. “I want to tell her and show her I was there and I did all these things and just have the memories of those great moments.”
Continue reading below for our full interview with John.
How is fatherhood settling in?
It’s an unbelievable experience that really shows you a lot about yourself. You always think about how it’s going to be when you have your own children. What you’re going to do, how you’re going to raise them, how you’re going to treat them, and for it to finally happen it’s an experience that’s kind of indescribable. As a parent and as an adult, those things you always thought you’d do, now you can actually start implementing them and putting them into the works. For me, it’s given me a lot of introspective into myself and how I look at myself. It’s an amazing feeling to hold your own child, and know you and your wife created that person. It truly is a miracle.
What’s been the biggest surprise for you as a new father?
The biggest surprise for me – I know everyone said it to us a thousand times – “get your sleep while you can.” Well, I don’t think anything prepares you for how many sleepless nights you’re going to have at the beginning. It’s one of those things, you expect you know what’s coming, but it’s kind of a hard thing to plan for. I think the best advice for anyone getting ready for it, if you can make time and take off of work to help your wife and spend these very crucial moments and times at the beginning when the baby’s so small, I would definitely suggest every father do it. It is so special to be able to be with your daughter (or son) when she’s this young of age.
Were you able to take some time off?
I did. I made sure I took time off. Even with my shooting schedule, I made sure I blocked off this time, so I wasn’t traveling, I was home. I took some time off from our private construction company because my wife being a first time mom, I wanted to be there for her. It’s a lot and I think having both of us able to take care of our daughter at the same time and help each other and learn a lot in this first month was really beneficial. And it was quality time with our daughter. That’s the biggest thing, when they’re this young you want to have that emotional and physical connection so they know they have these loving and caring parents there for them.
Preparing for our son we took the classes and practiced many of the skills, though it’s quite different with an actual baby. What are the realities of being a dad versus your expectations leading up to parenthood?
The swaddling, changing diapers, giving a bath, is very easy when there’s not a crying baby there. (Laughs) When it’s not a doll, you have pee squirting you in the face as you’re trying to change a diaper. You can prepare but when you actually do the act with your baby in front of you it definitely is a lot more difficult. You’re not going to know everything. I’m one person who always tries to know what’s going to happen, I try to load up on info and go into information overload. But the thing is, once you start practicing it on a daily basis, that’s when you really start to become good at those things like swaddling, changing, burping, feeding, doing all those things. The first couple of times I wasn’t doing it right, and it took me a couple of times to get the technique down, to get it done right, to get it done in a way where my daughter was comfortable. Because every baby’s different, some are okay with certain things, some aren’t. So that was one thing for me, to find out what was the technique that works for me and a technique that works for my daughter. There’s a lot of ways of doing things but it’s not always going to be the way that works for you or your baby.
How much of a hands on father are you when it comes to diapering, midnight feedings, and all the fun stuff?
I am 100% hands on, I’ve been doing it all with my wife. One, because do I want to help her? Absolutely, because as I said before, it’s a lot. But two, I want to do this because this is my child. The one thing everyone always tells you is they grow up so fast, so for me this is a very special thing to be involved in. Some dads may say “I don’t want to change diapers, I don’t want to do any of that.” But I say, “why not man? That’s part of fatherhood.” Those are amazing experiences that when your daughter is older you can tell her, “I changed your poopy diaper, you peed all on me or you pooped on me. You threw up all over me.” My dad didn’t do any of that. I’d tell him I was up until one in the morning and my mom would say, “Your father never did any of that.” My dad would say “well, I worked” and I’d say “yeah, I worked too.” It’s a team mentality, it’s not as if my work here is done. I look at it as my wife worked to carry a child for nine months and now during some of the most difficult times I’m gonna say ‘you know what, throw it all on you again,’ I can’t do that. That’s not me.
You raise a great point about our fathers. What do you think is the difference between our fathers’ generation and our generation in being so much more engaged and hands on?
I think a portion of it is definitely social media and technology. We’re able to do so much more from home and share so much more. I think for guys if they didn’t know the right things to do, there weren’t outlets to find out about it like there are today. You can go on to a website, or your blog, and find out these answers. Maybe they were uncomfortable talking to their fathers about it? I think it was an uncomfortable thing that they didn’t want to talk to their fathers about it and didn’t know what to do. But in today’s world, if you’re nervous or scared, or don’t know what to do, you can find out about it. You can go onto social media, you can talk to friends, you can do all these things, and I think dads especially are becoming really proud that they can do that. A stigma in our society has always been the woman does it all. She’s going to clean the poopy diapers, she’s going to burp, she’s going to feed. Well you know what? A guy can do it, we can split it, we can work as a team together, and it can be a great experience for everyone.
You’re very open in sharing photos of your daughter on social media. Did you ever have any reservations about sharing that part of your life with your fans?
You always hear the worst case scenarios, of the crazy people in the world. But the way I look at it is I’ve been on TV now for four years, I proposed to my wife on a television show. Most of my family has been on the show in various episodes. So for me, the TV show is part of my life. I’m very proud of my family and I’m very proud of what I do. I’m very proud of our show, I think it does a lot of good for people and I think the fan base and the fans I have, we don’t have those crazy people. I have people who honestly and genuinely care about my family and my life and only want good things for us. So for me I find it as something fun I get to show people, and if through my experiences it helps a father out, they say, “you know what, I saw John do this or he recommended this” then I’m glad I can help out.
You work with your cousin, and as you mentioned most of your family has appeared on your shows. How does family and extended family play a role in your parenting?
I have friends who don’t have family locally and it’s very difficult for them. Luckily I have my father-in-law and mother-in-law and father and mother who live in the next town over. So for me to get a baby sitter or get someone to come over and help out makes it a lot easier for us. Having family around you, that’s your core. Those are the people who are there to help you in these difficult times. Having a child is very hard, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. A perfect example, me and my wife, we’ve had so much going on we’ve been cooped up for the last month so this weekend my mother-in-law and father-in-law came over and watched the baby and we went out on a date. You should be able to do things like that, you should be able to have a date night to go out with your wife. That’s part of having this great experience with your wife as well.
You’re known – along with your cousin Anthony – as being amazingly nice and genuine and giving back to those who may need a little help or giving people a second chance with their homes. Now being a father, does that give you a new perspective on what it means to help others?
Most of the people we help out are families. You see what they go through, you see their own children and the difficult road they may have had to go down with their own children. To have my child and see her and know I want to give her these opportunities that maybe others don’t have, it’s a very special thing. You see fathers and mothers that care so much about their children and want to provide and do so much. When you have your own, you know exactly how they’re feeling because you truly will do anything for your child. Whatever it is, whatever sacrifice it is, you’ll say, “you know what, I will do it.”
You’ve got three successful shows on TV, you’ve got a private construction practice, you have speaking engagements, and more. How do you balance being a father, a family man, and a career all at the same time?
It is a juggling act. The best advice I’d give to anyone who is busy at work, is one step at a time. You cannot let yourself get overwhelmed. In today’s world everyone wants something at the drop of a hat. That’s just how our world is now with the information age and the internet. For me, I take a deep breath, I’m a person who plans out everything so I know my schedule, I plan it out weeks in advance and I don’t let the task at hand blow up my schedule or overwhelm me. I think too many dads or too many people try to juggle a lot and get very frustrated or overwhelmed with a lot going on. I say take a deep breath, step back, and just say, “it’ll get done.” Maybe not as fast as your boss wanted or your wife wanted but if you say, “I will get this stuff done,” that’s it. Have your checklist, make sure you check off all those items in order, and you’ll get it done.
What’s been the best part about being a dad so far?
Looking into my daughters eyes. I know she doesn’t really see me yet, just a shadow, but I know deep down she knows we’re there for her and how much we love her. So to see her look at me or look at her mom for a couple seconds and stare are you, it’s very overwhelming feeling to know that this is your child. This is someone you’re going to grow up with and have all these amazing life moments that are ahead. The first couple weeks or month are so important and I wanted to be involved in so much because I didn’t want to miss out on any of it. I want to look back and I want to be able to sit down with my daughter when she gets into those difficult teenage years and wants to go out and doesn’t want to hang with dad anymore. I want to tell her and show her I was there and I did all these things and just have the memories of those great moments. For me as a father, I always want to remember these times. I feel they’re very special and something that you’re not going to get back.
John and his cousin Anthony will soon start shooting “America’s Most Desperate Kitchens” to air on HGTV in late spring/early summer. The Cousins will be traveling the country giving lucky homeowners with the worst kitchens a complete makeover. Click the link for more information.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.