Spotlight Interview with Benjamin Watson on race, parenting, and his book “The New Dad’s Playbook”May 24, 2017
Our guest, Benjamin Watson was drafted in the first round of the 2004 NFL draft by the Superbowl-winning New England Patriots. He’s now the tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. In 2014 he was named one of CNN’s Most Extraordinary People of the Year. He’s also a husband, father, and Christ-follower as well as the author of a couple of books. His first book was Under Our Skin: Getting Real about Race and if you have not read it yet and you are a Christian interested in engaging in racial reconciliation today it’s a must read and then his latest is The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life. You can find out information about the book at newdadsplaybook.com. You can check out what Benjamin is thinking about and talking about at thebenjaminwatson.com and you can follow him on Twitter @benjaminswatson.
Listen to our interview here:
Carmen: Well I am well and I want to have a conversation about the book, but can we start with a conversation about your Facebook post from two days ago?
Ben: Yes, we can.
Carmen: I know that’s a little bit of a surprise but I’m going to read a portion of it to my listeners. So Benjamin Watson on Facebook shares this, and I think that if you want to know the heart of the dad, and if you want to know the heart of the brokenness of our culture in terms of racial division and the reality that persists, this is going to give you some insight. So Benjamin wrote on the 17th of May,
“I shed tears tonight because I realized that although I was only a fear yards away I could not protect my baby girl from the words of those who see her as an outsider at an age of seven, already begun to let her know. I shed tears tonight because I remember the same sad feeling she described to me when I was a youth as the implication of skin tone abruptly and unashamedly came into focus. The words that cut her cut me. Some wounds never heal completely. I shed tears tonight because I know the struggle for her has just started and her journey at times will be lonely and unkind. As her daddy, her prince, my charge is to slay the dragons in her path, yet my reach is limited, and I fear the day their fire destroys her leaving me, us, to rebuild her and smooth over the scars. I shed tears tonight because when the differences of her skin was attacked for the first time her quiet spirit responded in strength and truth, “God made us all different,” she replied. This makes me so proud. As much as I cry tonight I cannot prevent these types of storms from coming, but through our love and instruction, I can continually affirm her identity in Him so that when they blow the pain will never be enough to totally uproot her. I shed tears tonight because it’s just kids playing soccer. Why does this always have to happen to us? Lord protect her young heart and fill it evermore with you.”
If you had only ever written six paragraphs in your whole life these would be the six paragraphs that I think will be the most important to have ever written.
Ben: Yeah. Thanks for reading that. That was one of those things that I’ll just start by saying that as parents we all want the best for our children and we want to protect our children from any sort of hurt, whether it be intentional or unintentional. Specifically, as parents who are black, our experiences are sometimes unique and we know some of the hurts that we had growing up sometimes feeling ostracized or feeling different because of our surroundings. Again, sometimes even growing up sometimes kids will say things that may have been unintentionally malicious, but just let you know that your skin is different and you are different than me and us, and that’s kind of what happened the other day. We always fear as parents, many of us in the black community you may have heard about the talk that we have with our kids but we always have a fear, many of us, that our kids are going to one day and tell us, “Hey somebody told me that I was different,” and it may be one word, it may be a few different words, and it hurts you as a parent because you know that the beginning has just started and there are going to be many other times when their skin color in certain settings is going to be maybe a problem or maybe just something that’s noted and it’s going to make them feel sad.
And my daughter’s words she said, “I felt sad.” But I was very proud of her because of her response. The one thing that we try to do in our household is we try to instill in our children an identity that is rooted in who God made them, an identity that is proud of their heritage, but their physical heritage comes second to their spiritual heritage. As much as a parent it hurts because you relive some of those things with your kids, I’m also proud that she was able to respond in that way.
Carmen: Yeah. I really don’t even know how to appropriately respond because every line of what you wrote is so vulnerable and it speaks so much to who you are, and the kind of parents that you all are, and the kind of child that you’re raising and there couldn’t be a better blueprint than what you have articulated here. So I guess my initial question on this would be how can we begin to change this reality, because she’s seven and I’m one of those people who is holding out hope that generationally this is getting better, and maybe it is incrementally, but how can we accelerate bridging this divide or bringing actual reconciliation between races in this country?
Ben: That question is so huge, it’s so large and sometimes I feel that there is progress being made and when I look around from my experience, and my kids, and to my parents, and their parents there’s obviously tremendous strides that have been made. But then when you look at the heart of man and woman you know that the propensity for prejudices, and bias, and racism, and ignorance is still there because of this same issue that we have that has to be dealt with. Even when that issue is dealt with and when the heart starts to change we still have to continually guard ourselves against going back to our flesh. This is something that I think, especially in this country, because of the historical context, we will continually battle against for some time to come. In this specific situation with the kid first understanding that their skin color has a weight to it, there’s one thing to say okay, “My skin is brown, yours is peach”, as my kid’s say, yours is whatever, there’s another you need to say, “Oh because my skin is brown this is what it starts to mean, because their skin is peach or white, this is what it starts to mean.” There’s an implication there, there’s a divide and a lot of that comes from what our kids hear in our homes.
A lot of people say that racism is taught and that people aren’t born racist, well I will push back on that and say that the garden or the soil for racism is there because of our sinful nature. The plants are put into the soil by parents and caregivers, and those that we look up to. So in one sense, the soil is already there, but it has to be hurried along and sometimes that happens even at a very young age when they pick that up from their parents.
So how do we change it? I say number one it’s important for parents to understand that their dining rooms are very important, meaning the times when they sit together with their children, the times when you do different events with your children, the way you speak about people, the way you engage with people who are not like you economically, or ethnically, racially in your family, the way that you react when you hear or see something that is “racially charged.” A lot of those types of things are happening over and over again now with social media. A day doesn’t go by that we see something that has to do with the clan, racism, removing statues, black lives matter, whatever it may be, there’s always something that’s racially charged and how are we reacting to that, what are our faces, what are our gestures, what are we saying because our children are going to pick up on those things.
Then I think that there are times when we need to actually confront and repent of our racist attitudes, and our prejudice, and really see it for what it is as something wrong. A lot of people don’t see anything wrong with it because that’s just the way we are and just the way we were raised.
Carmen: Friends I’m talking with Benjamin Watson. We’re going to talk around a whole range of issues. The book we’re supposed to be talking about that I haven’t quite gotten to yet is the “New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life.” You can check it out at newdadsplaybook.com.
Ben: And I would add more thing to that…
Ben: Specifically, about the experience that my daughter had, certain things about her being pointed out, and it may be an innocent way, but maybe not in an innocent way, but effective none the less. Our hope is that whenever our children are confronted with certain situations that they be an ally. That there be someone else who is in their peer group who can say, “What you said or what you are saying about her, the way you are treating her, however it may be isn’t right.” A lot of times we may call it the bystander approach, whatever it may be, but that happens intentionally as well. So while I’m here parenting my kids my hope is that there’s another parent across the tracks, so to speak, that is parenting their kids so when the two meet and they’re surrounded in a situation may be detrimental to my child in a certain way, kind of like this one was, they’ll be able to advocate for her amongst their peers and that takes a lot of courage. Even as adults the jokes we laugh or the things we say that are common and we don’t think much of it, being able to stand up against your peers is not a very easy thing to do even if it’s the right thing to do.
Carmen: I love that because you’re giving people something tangible to actually do to equip their kids. So one of the visual images that you just set out there for us a couple of minutes ago is the image of a garden and we’ve actually just recently had a conversation here about culture not being something that just sort of exists out there and we interact with, but it’s actually something we’re making every day. And the image that was lifted up was this image of a garden, so what am I tilling into the soil of the culture, because I’m making it every day. What am I planting, what am I weeding out, what am I fostering the growth of, what am I ultimately cultivating in this culture garden that I am a maker of every day. That sort of gets us all the way back to the garden tending that God gave us to do in the Garden of Eden in the very beginning, this is who we are, we’re culture tenders, we’re culture makers.
So am I making a racist culture or am I making a reconciled culture, that’s a good question for me to be asking myself in the mirror, not just every day, but minute by minute in terms of conversations with my own kids in reaction to and response to things we’re seeing in the news, things that we’re hearing in our own community. So thank you for that very powerful, not just image, but then calling me out as a parent to say, “How are you talking with your own children about these things?” Because I do think that’s where it’s got to happen, it’s got to happen with the next generation.
Ben: Yeah. And for a lot of parents, it’s a scary topic along with sex, and drugs, and everything else. I talk to many parents who are fearful to address certain things, but we’ll address what’s important to us, and our kids understand that. So there are certain things that if it’s important to you, you have to find a way to address it. But a lot of times the things that don’t directly affect us pale in importance to the things that do and that is more of an immature way to look at life in general. We are called to advocate even for those who’s lives really don’t help us in any way, but especially as believers I will say that this is a topic that we have to address in the church of all places.
Carmen: Absolutely and for this is our moment in time. Will you indulge me for a few more minutes, I know we’re supposed to be done, but I’d love to get a couple of questions in about the new book, what’s the idea for the second books, what’s the goal of the book, what’s in the “New Dad’s Playbook?”
Ben: Well the “New Dad’s Playbook” was actually an idea my wife came up with. We have five children, the oldest is eight, the youngest is one. We had four kids in four and a half years and then we waited a couple and had another one, three girls, two boys. After about the second kid my wife said you need to write a handbook for dad’s so that dad’s can enter into pregnancy, labor, afterbirth with a handbook really of the terms they’re going to confront when they go to the first OB appointment, guys who have questions about how to throw a baby shower, how to do a registry, how to put on a diaper, how to swaddle, what type of formula to get unless you’re breastfeeding, what to buy for the diaper genie, what about a rocker, what about a nursery. All these things that guys don’t know about and many women don’t know about until you actually have to have a baby.
So the “New Dad’s Playbook”, the whole point of it is to number one, educate men specifically, but many women read the book as well, about pregnancy, about trimesters, about the risk factors that happen, about all these terms you’re going to hear, but also to encourage them that you have what it takes. You may have had a father, you may have not had a father in your life, this may be your second or third child and you want to support your wife in a new and better way than you did during the first two or you want to be a better father, this is for you. I want to encourage you that what you’re doing, your role in this whole process is very important and can be generational changing for your children, you leave a legacy.
Also, finally, this empowers. Men work best when we have some answers and I’ve had a couple conversations with guys on my team who have read the book and are having babies coming up and you can see on their faces the fact that now that they’re thinking about this they are going to parent, they’re going to love the women that are loving their babies from a place of power instead of fear. Because when I first found out I was having a baby I was excited but I was very fearful as well because it’s a huge undertaking.
Carmen: Well you even get guys thinking about those first formative moments like what are you going to do when you meet that little person for the first time. Can you talk about that?
Ben: Of course. There’s this debate about how involved a man should be and I could remember when we were having our first child and I was guys if they looked when the baby came out, what did they do, did they grab the baby first. I remember even being at practice sometimes and when the defense would be on the field I’d be asking guys about their experience when I was about to become a new dad. When your child first comes out of the womb there is an incredible amount of job and I talk about placing the baby on your chest, doing skin to skin and why that’s important, regulating the baby’s heartbeat, and just the connection that you immediately feel with that baby. There’s really no way to explain is other than if you’ve been through it.
But through the “New Dad’s Playbook” I hope to give men a glimpse into what that will be and also really prepare them for some of the minefields that I walked into even with communication with my wife during pregnancy. There’s a lot of your hormones and emotions on both sides going on and so things can get testy sometimes all the way until you get there, if you’re going to have a natural birth or not, who you ask for, what do you do. But you’re building a nest from conception all the way until the baby comes home, and even if you’re on your second or third you’re building a nest which is your home and it’s important to do that intentionally for the future and for the success of your children.
Carmen: I just love it. Benjamin Watson is his name, the book is the “New Dad’s Playbook,” you can check it out at newdadsplaybook.com. You can find him at thebenjaminwatson.com. You can also watch him on Sunday’s this fall where he plays for the Baltimore Ravens, which, I don’t know you got a good thing going man. It is so fun to talk to you and I love the image of the nest, I love the image of the garden. Thank you for inviting us into your life and into your family. Thank you for helping us have a different set of eyes to see experiences that we may not have had as individuals…God has really given you a gift to articulate things particularly in writing in a way that, you really are opening up the world to people so that they can be in an experience that you’ve already been through but they have not been in yet and that is a real gift. So, thank you for what you’re doing on the field, thank you even more importantly for what you’re doing off the field, and for the advancement of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in this generation. You’re just doing great things and I’m privileged to have you today on the Reconnect. Thank you so much for being with us.
Ben: Thanks for having me. Thank you for all you’re doing as well. Hope to join you again sometime. God bless.
Carmen: Oh you got it.