In April, Rob Kenney, 55, started a YouTube channel called "Dad, How Do I?"
It features basic lessons that are stereotypically passed down from a father to a child, like "how to shave your face" or "how to use a stud finder." The channel grew from zero subscribers to 400,000 in a matter of weeks.
Then, a series of tweets and TikToks about him and his channel went viral last week. Now, he has more than 2 million subscribers.
Kenney said he started the channel to teach life lessons he never learned from his own father, who he said walked out on his family when he was a child. He has received an outpouring of responses supporting his wholesome mission. People have been sharing their own stories of having needed something like this while they were growing up without father figures themselves.
Kenney's life has completely changed in a week, and while he's "overwhelmed," he told BuzzFeed News he wants to try to "help as many people as [he] can."
He now has a full-fledged PR team and a branded Father's Day deal with Lowe's. While he wants to manage his newfound viral fame "properly," he's exploring typical influencer business deals to see how he can boost his channel, spread his message, and potentially "help people financially," he said.
Kenney, who's the father of two adult kids and lives outside of Seattle, said he started making YouTube videos after his 27-year-old daughter would call him with countless "adulting" questions.
"Every day she was calling me and ... I thought, What do other people do when they don’t have that resource? So I joked I would record some quick videos to show people how to do stuff," he said. His daughter then suggested he post them to YouTube, where she then cross-promoted to various Facebook groups she was a part of.
He said he initially got 300 followers from those groups. When people then posted it to bigger Facebook "kindness" groups and Reddit threads, his subscriber count jumped to 10,000.
"I had written '10,000' on a legal pad, that was on May 16," he said, laughing. Because a week later, his subscriber count would jump to almost half a million, and then over 2 million and growing.
Kenney said there was no social media plan and he's still "trying to figure out" many of these platforms. Other than the help of his daughter's promotion, he thinks the massive growth has been almost entirely organic.
And the ways people are sharing his videos are both heartwarming and devastating. Tweets that have been retweeted thousands of times are flooded with deeply emotional responses and stories.
"I knew there was a need — it’s overwhelming," Kenney said of reading everyone's public responses and those sent to him privately. "Last week was tough to process. Not only was I dealing with my life turned upside down, I’m reading emotional story after emotional story."
"I can’t possibly reply to everybody, but one thing that’s developed that’s really cool is it's built a community of people being kind to each other," he said. "We want it to be a safe place where people feel empowered."
People also noticed how wild the channel's growth had been.
As far as the direction of the "Dad, How Do I?" channel and the opportunities he now has, Kenney decided to bring on a professional PR team to help him field tons of requests and outreach.
"My wife and I are trying to figure it out as I go," he said. "I don’t want to mislead anybody. I want to make sure that I handle things properly. I have a lot of people praying for me."
Kenney is open to monetization and brand deals because he believes it could give him more opportunities to give back.
"I wasn’t like, 'Look! I can capitalize off this.' I started this innocently enough, but I also see that there’s a lot of good I can do in the world by monetizing," he said. "I can help a lot more people if I make some money. And I can help give money away, especially if there’s a lot of hurt in the world.”
Last week, Kenney uploaded a video to YouTube simply titled "I'm Proud of You" in which he reads an inspirational Teddy Roosevelt quote to his new young subscribers.
"This man is the person a lot of people needed, but we’re to embarrassed or afraid to ask for it. Thank you," a top commenter wrote.