House Speaker Paul Ryan Reveals the ‘Hardest Question’ He Gets (and It’s Not About Donald Trump)

06/01/2016 at 11:30 AM ET

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.”

Paul Ryan kids
Jim Wright

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!”

Paul Ryan kids
Jim Wright

Politics-Free Zone

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

FILED UNDER: Exclusive , Kids , News , Parenting

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Showing 37 comments

cds on

I admire the fact that he will say nothing about Trump to the press, because they have a tendency to change word meanings. They are instigators. He is such a serious looking man — at least he smiles around his family.

really on

I love him and his family values…not to mention he’s so stinking CUTE!

Jan on

Hey Ryan, why don’t you do something for your party and endorse Trump. You are hurting the party for which you are elected to.

Anonymous on

Jan there are plenty of people hurting the republican party and Sen Ryan is not one of them. If the republican party wants to believe a guy who never in my wildest dreams would have been considered a republican 5 years ago….well, whatever, but he’s not getting my vote and I know many more who feel the same way (and I am by no means a democrat).

Betty on

He can get weekends off when he already only works 6 months out of the year and but he won’t support any legislation that provides workers any kind of protections from being taken advantage of by greedy employers. GTFOHWTBS.

bonniecomar on

I love that he is the speaker and I pray he continues. I appreciate his family values and I do NOT believe he is hurting the Republican party. I see the speaker as keeping the boat steady and afloat.

Anonymous on

Why isn’t he endorsing Trump? I thought he did that weeks ago…

Wanda on

How nice of him to give himself family time off with pay while denying millions of Americans this same right. Sadly, people like him think nothing of the people they deny.

Sandra Sandven on

The Speaker, is the devil incarnate.

Trump's an ass hole! on

Jan, why should he or ANYBODY support Trump when he’s a trouble-making psycho? He brought that on himself, being an ass-hole; and in no way should you be supporting him, as he dislikes women. Never mind Ryan, take a look at yourself and fix YOU!

Jo on

Paul Ryan is the best!

Jo on

Good person. Great Speaker of the House!

Jo on

Wake up
People. Trump will put his name on anything. Ryan knows policy and how to make this country better. Wake up and respect our leaders that are working hard for all of us. Thank you Paul Ryan!

Jo on

Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are. Paul, you are great!

Jo on

Life isn’t about getting and having, it’s about giving and being. Thank you Paul Ryan all you do. 👌🏼🏀

Jason Reeves on

Soooooo, when will this speaker support his nominee?

We will probably need a replacement in 2 years when nothing gets done.

sf on

Speaker Ryan works late into the night 4 days a week, putting in very long, focused hours. Reserving weekends for family ensures he has life balance and is focused on what matters. He accomplishes more in his 4 long days than the previous speaker did in 7.

Rod on

Jo, by working hard for us, are you referring to cutting social security or providing more tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans? Paul Ryan only works hard for the wealthiest Americans.

Juan Montalvo on

How is it possible that being speaker of the House, Obama and Michele keep spending like there is no tomorrow.?I understand that all money comes from the House. An explanation should come from the Speaker.

Me on

Paul Ryan’s idea of family values is values about his, and only his, family.

As the story states, when he was 16 his father, who was an attorney, died. Paul Ryan collected social security survivor benefits. Those same benefits he wishes to deny you should you befall a similar tragedy.

Typical GOP politics. What’s good for me is good for me and [expletive] on you.

UncleSherwin on

I really appreciate Paul Ryan…but he really should be buying his paint at Sherwin Williams not Ace Hardware! Great people who help you choose colors for your home. And…much better quailty! 🙂

Anonymous on

Paul Ryan is an idiot!

Kevin Wright on

Most evil sob on planet. He wants to remove 70 programs for the poor and dismantle social security. Just imagine the millions of lives he wishes to negatively impact. I do pray God will get this Ayn Rand fan out of our Congress.

He must not read the comments on Facebook to think he’ll ever be President. He is hated.

Amy on

I really like Senator Ryan and think he should run for president someday. He seems genuine and sincere and somebody that could be a great leader. Beautiful family.

Hmm on

Not endorsing the obvious frontrunner because he believes the guy is so far from where the Republican party should be makes me see him in a positive light. So many politicians endorse party members who they clearly have few belief overlap with simply because they’re in the same party. They’re all afraid that if they don’t do what they’re told to, even though they don’t believe in it, they’ll lose votes and won’t get re-elected. That’s why nothing ever gets done, people won’t take the right actions because of fear of angering select vocal voters or select vocal party colleagues. Showing a backbone instead of being strong-armed into endorsing someone who is clearly wrong for the party (the aggressiveness and hate may appeal to a few very far right people but the majority of the party is not in line with his thinking) is great. No prisoner Christie-type memes for him LOL

Vanessa on

Paul is such a good person, so happy for the family.

No! on

Hey, Anonymous and Amy it’s Congressman Ryan, not Senator.
People, he did endorse Trump on June 2. Try to keep up.

No sheep on

Jan, your stupid mentality is the problem… You’re not married to a party, you’re married to do the right thing for the people you represent. This is Dc is a mess, bc no one can meet on the middle, just be a sheep and fall in line with the he party, even if that party elect isn’t right. Whereas I’m not a fan of Ryan’s policies and think he reaches too far as a Christian with his political role, I commend him for taking a stand and having the balls to do so. If both parties members actually used their brains, we wouldn’t have these lousy 3 candidates now.

Whatever on

Be it a soup kitchen or a athletic field,Ryan loves the staged photo op. Who cares about this phony?

Mindy on

They have a lovely family. Good for them.

Susan on

I was never a fan but he’s starting to grow on me. I respect the hard position he’s in with Trump, and even though I’m sad that he endorsed him, there is a lot of respect that he calls him out on his behavior. He seems like one of the ethical ones, or at least I hope…

Anonymous on

Paul Ryan is a G0P=Grotesque Obsolete Puke like many of the other Gopers who support Trump (they are all gutless wonders!!!)

Blister on

Is the question “Why are you such a spineless coward?” Call a Trump a Chump and fight his nomination.

PrinccesssssKate on

It’s great to have a job that facilitates paid time time off. It would be awesome if Paul Ryan was in a position to give every family the same benefit

Charlotte on

Boring

Sam on

Unless that question is why he go SS death benefits for himself but wants to deny others that same safety net, or why he thinks SS is an entitlement when most of us have been paying into it for decades, then I don’t want to hear jack from him.

lynn on

I used to like him but it seems like he has to get permission from Mitt Romney to do anything now. Cannot stand either one of them now because of the way they have stabbed Trump in the back

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