Disney Junior
Hillary Busis
June 16, 2013 AT 01:00 PM EDT

People aren’t shocked to hear that Sofia the First creator and executive producer Craig Gerber has two young children. They are, however, “constantly surprised” to learn that those kids are sons (3 and 5 years old) rather than daughters — though to Gerber, that shouldn’t matter. Being a father has had an indelible effect on his creative process; read on to see how his experience has shaped Disney Jr.’s hit show. As for how the Gerber clan plans to celebrate this weekend’s holiday? “You’d have to ask my family,” he told EW with a laugh. “It shouldn’t surprise most dads to know that I’ll probably be the last to know what the plans are for Father’s Day.”

As told by: Craig Gerber

Disney Jr. was looking to do a show about a young princess, but they hadn’t figured out the right characters or story yet. So they approached me to see if I had any ideas. Even though I only had one son at the time, I was very interested in creating a show that I could enjoy with my children, and that would also be informative for my son. I just had to figure out a great story that girls — and boys — would enjoy watching.

Looking at my son and what he was going through at school with his friends, I noticed that both boys and girls enjoyed role playing — pretending to be other people or other creatures. I saw girls playing with pretend swords, and I saw boys dressing up like princesses in preschool. And it occurred to me that a fantasy world appeals to kids of all ages, and both genders. The secret for Sofia was to create a show that had a fantastic world with a lot of adventure and fun and friends.

I like shows for kids that have a message as well. I found that those kinds of shows led to conversations with my kids, and I find that kind of television very rewarding as a parent. [With Sofia,] I feel we have an obligation to provide strong, positive messages to the children watching.

One of the first things I set out to do was to create a princess character that defied a lot of the stereotypes people talk about when they talk about princesses. I wanted to make sure that Sofia served as a good role model for young girls. To that end, Sofia is very adventurous, and bold, and courageous, and curious. She has a big heart, and she’s always ready to try new things, and she’s always ready to stand up for what she believes in or what she thinks is right. By the way, I think these are good qualities for both girls and boys to follow. And so there’s a feminist message. There’s also a message for both boys and girls, saying you can do anything you set your mind to if you keep trying and don’t give up — that life is an adventure.

Now I have two boys, and there’s plenty of sibling rivalry themes [on the show] that come out of watching their relationship — whether it’s sharing their toys, or sharing time with their parents. There was an episode about sportsmanship that came out at a timely moment for my son, who is getting very good at winning games around the house and wasn’t shy about letting us know that. There’s an upcoming episode about not being too boastful — there are some adults, by the way, that could learn that lesson too.

The boys do watch the show — they love the show. We watch together every week, even though I’ve already seen each episode a hundred times by the time they watch it. [laughs] It’s really nice as a father to make something that your children are excited about. My five-year-old told me I should do another show about an evil fairy. Not all his pitches are successful, but I do admire him trying.

Having kids gives you a very direct window into how young children behave, what kinds of lessons they might need to know, and also what they can understand. I think that’s probably the biggest benefit of being a father. It’s one thing to intellectually think about what kind of story a child will get. But when you actually have a child, you begin to understand that they really take in everything, and they absorb everything, and they pick up on more than you think they might. So having children myself has helped me tell better stories — because I know that even if they can’t articulate every single beat of that story, they will understand the point.

Read more:

Aaron Sorkin, Ethan Hawke and more write open letters to daughters for Father’s Day

See 10 images from ‘Vader’s Little Princess’ and ‘Darth Vader and Son’

Ellie Kemper brings her special brand of perk to ‘Sofia the First’: VIDEO

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