As CNN’s Chief National Security Correspondent, Jim Sciutto spends his days poring over all aspects of foreign policy, the military, and the intelligence community. Given how fast today’s political landscape shifts, the position keeps the Washington DC-based journalist extremely busy. So do his other positions: father of three children and husband to fellow journalist Gloria Riviera. But even though his line of work often requires late hours and overseas trips to interview Iranian Foreign Ministers and analyze nuclear agreements, Sciutto works extremely hard to follow the example set by his late father and be as present and grounded as possible for his family. To find out more, we subjected him to The Fatherly Questionnaire. Here’s what he had to say about fatherhood, faith, and making the best grilled cheese possible.
What is Your Name?
I am the Chief National Security Correspondent for CNN.
How old are you?
How old are your children?
Nine, seven, and two.
What are their names?
I have two boys and a little girl. Tristan and Caden are the boys. Our baby girl is Sinclair.
Are they named after anyone in particular?
Sinclair’s name comes from my wife’s middle name, which was also her grandmother’s maiden name. Her middle name is also Elizabeth, which is my mother’s name. So she was named in honor of two great women in her family.
The boys’ middle names are family names. Tristan is Tristan James, so his middle name is my name and Caden’s middle name is Charles which is his grandfather’s name. I also liked how both Tristan and Caden had Gaelic roots.
Do you call them by any nicknames?
I call them all monkeys. It’s a dad thing. They all have silly nicknames, too. We call Tristan “Tee-Tee”; Caden is “Caden-bo-baden” and Sinclair is “Boo.”
What do they call you?
They call me daddy. Although my oldest Tristan is starting to call me dad a bit more.
How often do you see them?
I see them every day unless I’m traveling for work. Both my wife and I are journalists and we have long hours and unpredictable schedules. But I take them to school pretty much every day. I drive them and like to take them right into their classrooms. That gives me a chance to interact with their teachers and their friends. And then weekends are really precious. That’s really the time for the kids: for their sports and activities and little adventures that we concoct.
Please describe yourself as a father in three words.
Loving. Present. Happy.
What are your strengths as a father?
I make sure to tell my kids all the time that I love them all the time. I also try to be as present as possible with them. This comes from the example my father set for me. I lost him quite recently and, when I look back, what I realize the most is that he was present for so many important moments in my life. He was there for every game and every debate and tournament and birthday. I have a very demanding job but I try to emulate the example he set as best I can.
I’d also say I’m good – or getting better – at just enjoying the moments we have together. I’ve learned to relax and enjoy the small moments with my kids because it goes a heck of a lot faster than you imagine.
What is your favorite activity to do with your children?
Tickle monster. That’s what I play with them. It started when my boys were kids little and has continued. For a half hour, I’ll throw them around and tickle them while they jump on me. It’s a little bit of mayhem and I’m usually flat on the floor huffing and puffing at the end because they’re getting bigger and are harder to lift up. But that’s always the favorite. Even Sinclair, who’s still little, gets involved.
What has been the moment you are most proud of as a father?
A few years ago, my wife and I pulled up stakes and moved from Washington to China. We both changed our jobs. We all took a lot of risks. The kids were young, but they were kids and aware. As a family, we learned the language and tried new professional adventures and tried new things and new foods and made new friends. I’m so glad we did it. And I was so proud of my kids for being open to it all.
What heirloom did your father give you that you value?
My dad was in the navy and it was very important to him. That was what got him to pay for his college, what got him out of a small town, what showed him the world, and allowed him to experience so many things. So I have his navy photo right on my desk.
The other big thing is my dad always made these very intricate wooden model ships; when we were kids they were all over the house. My dad and I made one together. It’s really big for a model – about three feet long and a foot across and it has all the sails and the ropes and all that. He loved that boat and I loved it because I made it with him. And, when you think about time and presence? That’s a perfect example of it. You have to spend a lot of time with your son to make something like that. So it’s a nice remembrance of the time he was able to give me.
What is the one heirloom you want to leave your children?
I do not have a lot of watches but I have a plan to give each of my son’s one of my watches because it’s a way to carry someone with you while you’re walking around. So that’s one for now.
What’s the “Dad special” for dinner?
It’s a short, short, short list. I can make three things really well: mac and cheese, pancakes shaped like Mickey Mouse – eyes and everything – and, most importantly, grilled cheese. Even my wife who’s an excellent actual cook says no one can top my grilled cheese sandwiches. The secret is a lot of butter when I’m cooking. You want it crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.
What’s a mistake you made growing up that you do not want your kids to make?
[Pauses] My hesitancy here is that I’ve made a lot of mistakes [laughs]. But what I want my kids to know from a very young age is that they can do whatever they set their minds to. And really know what that means. That confidence is something I did not discover until later on in my life. As I look back, the decisions I made where I was following my heart and my passion were the best I made. So I want my kids to learn that lesson and that confidence early on.
Are you religious and are you raising your kids in that tradition?
My parents – well my mom mostly but my dad participated – raised us very Catholic. I had 12 years of Catholic school, church every Sunday, celebrated all the feast days, was also an altar boy and a choir boy. My wife did not grow up Catholic. She grew up somewhat Mormon. Her mom was a Mormon; her father was not. It was not as big a part of her life as it was mine, but religion was still important.
We’re not as religious as that. But I certainly take my kids to church on the holidays and make them aware of their faith as much as possible. As married couples of different backgrounds, we’re trying to find a different path that reflects both of our backgrounds. We’re still adjusting that. Would this answer satisfy my mother? No.
How do you make sure you let your kids know you love them?
I tell them. I tell them flat-out multiple times a day. More important than telling them, I just try to show them. And I show them with time and I show them with patience.