Baltimore Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson is fielding a lot these days — with five kids (ages 1-8), a parenting book for dads just published and a professional football career still underway at age 36. We caught up with Watson earlier this summer to find out how he juggles it all, why he wrote the book and the hardest thing about being a dad and football player.
Q. How have you balanced five kids and a football career?
It’s the same as in any career. When you are home, you have got to be home, 100 percent, not just with your body but with your emotions — connecting with your kids. You need to be able to separate home life and work life.
You also need to make decisions that benefit the family. You need to consider the time you spend away and try to keep it to a minimum. The thing about football is the time is totally consumed during the seasons, but off-season you have a lot more time and a lot fewer obligations. … I don’t see much of my kids during the season. It’s tough. When training camp comes, it’s a tough adjustment for the family. The kids start acting crazy. Everyone knows that Daddy is about to be gone.
Q. You recently wrote a book for new dads, “The New Dad’s Playbook: Gearing Up for the Biggest Game of Your Life.” What inspired you to write the book?
It was my wife’s idea. After our second or third kid she said, “You need to write a book for new dads.”
We [dads] don’t know what we are getting into with the pregnancy, registry, baby showers … What it’s really about is supporting the mother and being the best support system we can be. I am empowering men. They can be the dads they want to be even if they didn’t have dads. I am encouraging them to lead their families and support their wives.
Q. What’s the biggest take-away of the book?
No. 1 is to tell them they have what it takes. No. 2 is to tell them the child is not going to have a clue that they are making mistakes. It’s OK. Don’t give up. Stay the course. Fatherhood is vitally important, not only to your family, but to the country, to civilization.
Q. What have you found to be the most challenging part about being a dad?
The time. There never seems to be enough time but really, there is. One thing I learned early on was to leave work at work. You need to detach and engage. … You can’t get the time back. I’ve never heard someone say they wish they had spent less time with their kids.
Even being gone day to day, it’s the little things you miss. One day your baby can’t crawl up the stairs and you come home and they can. One day they are calling you dada and then you come home and there’s a y on the end and you think, “How’d that happen?”
Q. What’s the most satisfying part about being a dad?
When you see your kids doing something you taught them, like caring for other people. When your child sees a homeless person and wants to help them, or you see them shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye. For my daughter’s birthday she wanted to put together baskets of goodies for kids in the hospital. She’s 6 years old and she wanted that for her birthday.
Q. What do your kids think about the fact that you play professional football? Do they watch your games?
That’s all they know. I’m just Daddy. Daddy goes to work and works hard. Sometimes they come to the games. Some teams have an arrangement for the kids. New Orleans had a big area for the kids and they would go, but it was really about the fun, not about watching the game. It’s just their life right now, for however much longer I play.
When someone stops and asks for my autograph — which happens in some places more than others (Baltimore, not as much) — my daughter will ask, “Why do people want you to write on a piece of paper?” and I’ll say, “I don’t know.” (Watson has played on few teams during the past several years.)
Q. Do any of your kids play football? Do you want them to or not? Why or why not?
They don’t. If they want to, they can, but later. My daughter does ballet and plays soccer. The boys don’t do anything yet. They will play a variety of sports but probably not contact football until middle school or high school. We just want them to develop a little more before we start doing the contact. We want them to play a variety of sports so they can be well-rounded.
Q. You have suffered your fair share of injuries over your career, including the torn Achilles tendon last year. Did being out for the season change you at all as a person or a dad?
Yes. Last year I spent the most time with the baby than I had with any of the others. I was home. I’d keep her by myself, and we definitely bonded more than I had with the others.
We definitely grew closer as a family. The kids prayed for me every day. They saw me go through adversity and fight through. There’s going to be adversity in life. They learned that.
Q. What’s the hardest part about what you do?
The moving. Before we came here, we were in New Orleans for three years, Cleveland for three years before that, and Boston for six. Moving to a new city is hard. The kids were sad, we all were. But the hardest thing for my wife is starting relationships over. It’s hard leaving the people you’ve grown close to. But there are always new opportunities.
Family photos by Grace Photography
Field photo by Baltimore Ravens photographer Phil Hoffmann