It's not even June and there’s already a perfect Father's Day story melting our hearts on the internet.
On Tuesday, PepsiCo data analyst Chris Hart, a Rockwall native who now lives in Carrollton, found a YouTube account called “Dad, How Do I?” that moved him so much that he took to Facebook to make a heartfelt appreciation post.
“This YouTuber’s dad walked out on his family when he was 12 years old,” Hart wrote on his page. “Now that he’s a father of his own two adult children, he’s created a YouTube channel called 'Dad, how do I?' where he posts videos of common tasks you might ask your dad for help with, so that children without fathers can use his videos as a resource.”
The YouTube channel belongs to Rob Kenney, a Chicago father who decided to use his time in quarantine to upload useful videos with instructions on how to tackle simple household woes as well as basic DIY tasks. They include "dadvice" on “how to fix most running toilets” and “how to iron a dress shirt.”
The videos are short and simple. Kenney has an everyman charm — unlike a fame-seeking influencer, he’s a helpful, paternal neighbor. In a few days, he’s become the internet’s substitute father.
The lessons in Kenney’s videos, which teach people basic life skills like how to iron a dress shirt or how to check your car’s oil, recall the plot of My Life, a 1993 tearjerker where Michael Keaton plays a terminally ill man who makes videos to leave behind for his unborn son. The videos range from general life advice to the practical, like how to shake hands with confidence and how to shave your face, just like a video Kenney posted in April.
“I don’t know this man, but he got an instant subscribe from me,” Hart continued on his post. “What an amazing, selfless thing to do for someone else. It’s stories like these that give me hope for humanity.”
The sincerity in Hart’s recommendation resonated with his friends, and his post has now been shared more than 600,000 times.
Hart made this post at 7:26 a.m. By 7:38 p.m., Kenney’s views had multiplied to 10 times the number of followers. A few hours later, his story made several headlines in national outlets. Kenney now has 1.6 million subscribers.
Kenney told WICU that he runs the channel with his daughter, who frequently calls him with "adulting" questions.
“[Kenney's account] was something that kind of resonated with me that I know it will have a lot of impact on people who didn’t have that kind of figure in their lives.” – Chris Hart
"Obviously there's a lot more to being a dad than being able to screw in a light bulb or whatever," he said. "We talk about all kinds of things — finances, and what do you do with this, and what do you do with that."
The comments on his videos make for a rare, sunny space in the internet, a forum of support for those who have lost or have estranged relationships with their fathers.
Hart tells the Observer that he learned about Kenney “super early in the morning” while browsing through Reddit. Someone had just uploaded a screenshot of Kenney’s videos, which had a decent number of followers, 40,000.
“I just thought it was a super great message and super wholesome so I screen-shot it and posted,” Hart says. “I’m just excited that it got so popular because I think what he’s doing in his message is super awesome.”
Hart says that his Facebook page is now “unusable” as a medium to communicate with friends as it’s flooded with notifications about shares, comments and friend requests.
“It was crazy how quickly it took off — within an hour of posting it, it had 300 shares and it was just an exponential growth,” he says. “It’s like the wildest experience I’ve ever seen as far as how quickly it went viral."
At the time, Hart only had 1,100 friends on his page, so he didn't assume it would reach such a wide audience.
“I thought two or three people, 10 max, would like it. ... I had no idea,” he says. “I think the highest share count I had before this was 50, I think, and I was shocked when that happened, too.”
Hart says that while his own parents are divorced, he had a present father. But he's had partners and friends without father figures.
“I’ve seen the emotional impact that it’s caused in their lives, and it’s kind of stuck with me,” Hart says. “[Kenney's account] was something that kind of resonated with me that I know it will have a lot of impact on people who didn’t have that kind of figure in their lives.”
Hart says that a friend of his who works as a social media and marketing professional reached out to him a few hours after his post went viral. Kenney’s subscribers had then reached 200,000 and even then, the friend told him, Kenney likely wouldn't have to work anymore based only on his potential income through YouTube views.
“Not that he will," Hart says of Kenney. "But he has the option of not working and creating this content full time if he wants… which I thought was pretty cool.”
Hart says he messaged Kenney and they had a brief exchange on Facebook. Kenney wrote that he and his daughter had been “real emotional all day and in shock,” Hart says.
Kenney was also bombarded with messages of people sharing their stories, as well as reporters, Hart says.
“I’m sure he had a busy afternoon.”
In his latest video, titled “THANK YOU,” posted on Wednesday, Kenney told his followers: “I just have such a heartfelt thank you.” He finished the video by telling a dad joke, after admitting that even he finds them “awkward.” And it was.
“Did you hear the joke about the butter?” Kenney began before interrupting himself. "I just blew it… did you hear the rumor about the butter?”