Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan says he wasn’t trying to make parenting history last fall when he accepted the job of House Speaker on one condition: weekends off at home with his wife and their three kids.
“I was just being me,” Ryan, 46, tells PEOPLE in a special interview on fatherhood for this week’s issue. “I lost my dad when I was young so I’ve just always been extra-sensitive to the topic.”
Knowing that the powerful House Speaker is expected to travel every weekend to his colleagues’ congressional districts, Ryan, who was just 16 when his own dad died of a heart attack, says he told Republican party leaders in November, “You can’t take away my family.”
So Ryan is home in Janesville, Wisconsin, every week for a three-day weekend jammed with the track meets and volleyball and basketball games of his “Irish triplets” — Liza, 14; Charlie, 13 and Sam, 11 — with wife Janna. And while Ryan says his kids are not yet at the teenage stage of being embarrassed by their dad, he acknowledges that his being home is not without a few little downsides.
“They get nervous when I focus on their athletics. It pushes them, but they also get a little nervous,” Ryan says. “I’m not one of those yell-from-the-stands type of dads, but we’ll always talk after the game. Like a talking-to.”
Ryan House Rules
And then there’s his no-sweets, no-processed-foods edict. “I’m probably pretty overbearing about that. I’m not a sugar guy and my general rule for diet at home is, ‘If it wasn’t a food 100 years ago, we don’t buy it or eat it.'”
That goes for candy. (“They like to buy these sour worms, which I think are just disgusting.”) And ice cream — except when he needs to incentivize performance.
“I was trying to get them all to be a little more aggressive in basketball. So if they scored, they’d go to Dairy Queen and get a shake. Now they’re actually starting to score more frequently, so I took that deal off the table.”
But in the Ryan household, Dad is good for all the Marvel superhero movies (“Janna kinda sits them out; they’re a dad thing”) and smoked meats. A whole week’s worth of smoked meat, in fact.
“I have a smoker so I’m really into that. I do a lot of meal prepping on Sundays” before returning to Washington, D.C., Ryan says. And with that, he reinforces the Fathers’ Day gadget-gift-buying instincts of kids everywhere, by gushing over his remote-controlled pellet smoker: “I could be at Ace Hardware, you know, getting paint, and I can change the temperature of my meat with the app on my phone!”
One thing Ryan insists his kids are not gushing over is the prospect of their dad, who was the GOP’s 2012 vice presidential nominee, someday running for the White House where they could have sleepovers with their friends in the Lincoln Bedroom.
“They thought 2012 was pretty exciting,” Ryan says. “But the sleepovers they care about are the ones in Janesville, Wisconsin.”
And while his job does require some weekend phone calls to take care of business, Ryan says he doesn’t want to talk politics with his kids. (Or with PEOPLE. One condition of the Speaker getting on the phone for the magazine’s special Fathers’ Day gallery was that he not be asked about his party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, whom Ryan has famously declined so far to endorse.)
“We don’t talk politics at home very often. To me, I want to get away from it when I’m home on the weekends,” Ryan says. Of his kids, the congressman says, “I miss things during the week, so the hardest question they ask is ‘Are you going to be home?’ when I know that I’m not. That’s the hardest one.”
At a closing joking reference to Trump, Ryan says with a chuckle, “I’m hanging up now!” And then does.
For more from Paul Ryan, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
— Sandra Sobieraj Westfall