Josh Ritter is a singer-songwriter currently touring the United States and Europe with his Royal City Band. He’s released 10 albums, collaborated with Bob Weir and been covered by both Bob Dylan and Joan Baez (he also toured with the legendary songstress). His songs have also been used in film and TV, including the trailer for Natalie Portman’s film The Others and in the finale of the second season of Showtime’s Billions.
Aside from a prolific musical career, Josh is a best-selling author, including 2021’s The Great Glorious Goddamn of It All and 2011’s Bright’s Passage; Stephen King has referred to him as a “gifted novelist”.
Josh lives in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with partner Haley Tanner and their two daughters. In this week’s Meet a Dad interview, he talks about parenting Beatrix (10) and Moxie (who is “5 and three quarters”), advice for anyone considering adopting (he and Haley adopted Moxie in 2018), touring with kids and more.
Why did you choose Brooklyn to base yourself and your family?
I’m from a very rural area of Idaho, and so I initially held all of the reservations many people have of New York. But as a musician, my life brought me here over and over again, and eventually I fell in love with someone and moved here. When that relationship ended, I found my love for the city endured. It’s so many things that I never experienced growing up.
Love your daughters’ beautiful and unique names—where did they come from?
We named Beatrix Wendylove after Beatrice in the Divine Comedy. Her name means blessed traveler and that’s what we hoped for her—to move through life as if blessed, always.
Moxie Goodluck was the collection of attributes we admired immediately in our plucky second kid. We knew that she would need grit and resolve and good humor. She has shown all those things in spades, as well.
You adopted Moxie in 2018—was adoption something you always planned to do?
Haley and I talked about adoption on our very first date, over three very dirty martinis. Adoption had been in her mind as a path she’d wanted to take since she herself was very young. I hadn’t considered it, but the way Haley talked about it—the leap and wonder of it—sounded like a swashbuckling adventure. And I like adventure!
What advice would you give anyone considering adoption?
Whenever you get the opportunity to make your life bigger, take it. Adoption means the opportunity to let so much new love and family and joy and pain into your life. On the grand scale of human heart-rending, it’s way up there, in the best possible way. I’m so very, very happy that I chose a bigger, scarier, life. It is also a profoundly richer one than I otherwise might have allowed myself.
What a wonderful way to look at life and parenting! What is your favorite part of being a father? And most challenging?
As a guitar player, I go and get acrylic nails put on before I leave for tour, and it’s pretty regularly that the girls come with me, too. They sit and chat and pick out their nail polishes and talk to me about all kinds of stuff, and it just makes me happy. I don’t know that there is a best thing. There is a harmonious quality to our manicure ritual, though, that I find very comforting.
The most challenging part is realizing over and over again that I know very little about being a little girl. I feel tremendous empathy for each of them in their lives and confusions. That feeling of empathy can be confused for pain, but it’s only the warning that I need to watch and learn a little bit before I speak or try to help in my clumsy dad way.
Love that. As a touring musician, does your family travel with you?
Bea and Haley travelled with me almost everywhere for the first six years of Bea’s life, until the school district called and said she really had to spend more time in kindergarten! They’ll be joining me in Europe on this run, which makes me so happy. There’s a spot on European tour buses that I call the crow’s nest, on the second level, right above the driver. I just want my daughters to have the experience that they are flying down some far-flung road, on the way to new adventures. It’s all that I’ve been able to picture, that dream. I can’t wait for it.
Recently, as I’ve had to be away while the kids actually go to school, I’ve taken to calling all the time. Bea has a phone now and can talk to me whenever. Moxie likes to hear from me, particularly if what I’m saying relates to candy.
Ha, that tracks! You’re also an accomplished novelist. How are you encouraging a love of music and reading/writing in your daughters?
All that I want to offer my daughters is the knowledge of the grounds on which they might stand. I don’t push music or writing or anything like that, but I do make it accessible. Music was forced on me at first and the sensation was…unpleasant. I want them to be able to reach for the tools that will allow them to be resilient members of society. Perhaps Moxie will find her resilience in calculating dark-matter energy equations. That would be great! I can only offer the idea that there are wonderful things in this life that can help to square the sometimes awful deal we are dealt with by being born human.
Speaking of charting your own course….your parents were both neuroscientists. How did they encourage you to make your own way in the world?
They understood, and taught me through example, that science isn’t Joy, music isn’t Joy, some religious upbringing isn’t Joy, but each of these were lenses that could be brought to bear in focusing Joy. As such, they realized that writing songs brought me to Joy. They always encouraged me to seek out Joy
Anything else you’d like to share?
Way to go, moms!!! Oftentimes I think that being a mother involves swimming very close to the waterfall. You are on the extreme, loud, scary, edge at all times. I would never be able to put myself where you routinely live, and I can only offer profound respect.