I am so proud of being “Jr.” I’ve always loved the idea of having the same name as my dad. In fact, I remember promising him that there would one day be a third and fourth Carlos Watson, my son and then my son’s son. I haven’t taken the next step yet, as my mom and dad constantly remind me. But I’ll get there (hopefully, Mom). And once I do, I’ll be a better father because I know how important it’s been, and how lucky I’ve been, to have my dad in my life.
We haven’t always been a perfect pair. I can’t remember how many times I nearly lost my mind waiting for hours in the car as he made yet another impromptu visit to the hardware store on the way home from school. My dad’s messiness, his occasionally overly critical nature, even our limited economic circumstances sometimes rubbed me the wrong way. But I always knew I was fortunate. Not just because we shared a love of politics and good stories, and not just because he’d sneak me out for a double feature on the weekends, or because we could both ooh and ahh at Dr. J for hours. I loved my dad because he loved me. I knew from the start that even in the most dire situation he would stand by me.
For a young man growing up in Miami, and for young men everywher, there’s a comfort in knowing your dad, or someone else playing that role, has your back. I’ve seen that firsthand as a mentor to lots of kids who grew up without fathers. I could tell it by the way they enjoyed talking to me, asking me questions, watching me work. I could tell it by the way they would bring their friends along every time I arranged to take one of them out for a talk, to dinner, to play hoops or whatever. It’s the same need my mom identified when she used to pick me up outside of my elementary school after I had been kicked out for the umpteenth time. Knowing that I was embarrassed, dejected and confused, she would often say, “Come here boy, you need a hug.” So many of us do, especially from a father, or whoever else might be playing the role.
More than 10 million women are raising kids alone in this country. And I admire the steps President Obama and Senator Evan Bayh have taken to address poor fathering head on. The issue doesn’t have the inside-the-Beltway feel of infrastructure spending, abortion, or tax cuts. But I have seen firsthand how the lack of a father (or an effective father) can damage and even destroy personal prospects. Kids not only lose out on the economic support, they lose an crucial person to ask advice of, to get disciplined by and, in the end, to just be there for them. The confidence that comes from those relationships can free kids up to do incredible things.
Fathering has changed in a lot of positive ways since those days of sneaking to see movies with my dad back in Miami. More fathers that I know are at least conscious of being involved in their kids’ lives, even if they don’t always follow through. And more look upon it as a pleasure as well as a responsibility. But many are not there, or there in mediocre ways. And so the Bayh-Obama bill, which will hopefully become law, offers a great opportunity to put more children and future adults on the right path.
If you are a father reading this, think of three things that you can do to be a better father. And if you are a child with a good father, be sure to take the time to both say thanks and show thanks. That’s how I plan to spend my weekend, even if it means a trip or two to the hardware store.
Learn more about MSNBC anchor Carlos Watson.