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Forging a Path to Racial Reconciliation (Part 1 of 2)

Air Date 10/12/2017

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NFL tight end Benjamin Watson discusses the prejudices common to all people as a result of our environment and experiences, and offers his insights on how we can ease racial tension in our society. (Part 1 of 2)

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Episode Transcript

Opening:

Excerpt:

Benjamin Watson: A lot of the things that we see that are - we think are, you know, social justice issues, they’re spiritual problems, ultimately. And so that has to be dealt with.

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Benjamin Watson is tight end for the NFL Baltimore Ravens, and he’s here today on Focus on the Family, taking an honest look at racial tensions in the culture. Your host is Focus president and author, Jim Daly. And I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: John, the fact is there’s a racial divide and a brokenness in this fallen world. And each one of us is responsible for how we contribute to that division. And we’re also responsible for bringing healing, especially the Body of Christ. We should know, relationally, how to do this better than anyone.

And that’s why I’m looking forward to today’s program. It’s going to be a very honest, open discussion about where we’re at in this country on the racial issue. There’s been a lot of racial conflict the last few years, surrounding police-involved shootings, and recently, we’ve seen another example of violence breaking out in St. Louis, with numerous protests and arrests being made. We’ve had some horrific things happen in some of these cases, whether it be on the part of protesters, or police and their departments, or city leaders, and we’ll talk about these things. But, I think, today, we need to look at who we are as believers and what the issues actually are.

John: Mhm. And our guest is a fellow believer. He is a strong man of faith. And he’s just a strong man, physically, as well...

Jim: (Laughter).

John: ...He plays in the NFL, Benjamin Watson. He’s written a book calledUnder Our Skin: Getting Real About Race And Getting Free From The Fears And Frustrations That Divide Us. Stop by focusonthefamily.com to get a copy and uh - and plan to just listen in and lean in for the next several minutes as we share today.

Body:

Jim: Benjamin, welcome back to Focus.

Benjamin: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Jim: Uh, you were with us about a month ago and we were talking about - uh - being a dad who’s raising kids and helping mom be the, you know, the mom she could be. And it was awesome to hear you call out the guys to be that better dad, that better husband. We’re shifting gears today. You’ve also writtenthis book that John talked about,Under Our Skin.I am really intrigued by this. You’re in - uh - the NFL. There’s a lot of discussion in NFL about diversity and the need to empower people, and talk about what’s going on. I know there’s a lot of discussion within the team and - uh - and the Players Association about it. So you’re coming with an amazing perspective there. First of all, why? Why did you feel you, Benjamin Watson, NFL player, needed to write this book?

Benjamin: Uh, that’s a good question. Really, I would say that the book really is an expansion of a Facebook post, of all things, that I wrote after Ferguson, Misssouri, a few years ago. And so you remember the - the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, with the - the - uh - the unrest and - uh - the killing of a black man by a white officer? You remember all of the speculation about if the officer was going to be indicted or not. He ended up not being indicted. And I think that if you look back at that summer of 2000 - I believe I was ‘14 - and also the years around there with, you know, other highly publicized police-citizen altercations, that was kind of the impetus for the book.

I wrote a Facebook post after what happened in Ferguson, talking about being angry, because it seemed like the same things were happening over and over again, about being sad because someone lost - um - a son, about being introspective because a lot of times we jump to conclusions, when we don’t really know what happened. We weren’t there. I talked about being sympathetic to the officer because, hey, if he was well within his rights, what a terrible thing to go through, to have people upset at you and threatening you if you were just doing what anybody would have done in the situation.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: I talked about being fearful, because I know that even though I’m a law-abiding citizen, I’m 6’3”, 250 pounds and I’m dark-skinned. And in this country, that puts you in danger sometimes, with people that don’t know you. I talked about - um - being hopeless, because it seems like we’re never getting anywhere, but also being hopeful, because of the progress that’s been made from generation to generation. And even when I look at my own children and the relationships that they have, when I look at different opportunities that minorities have, it’s remarkably different than how it was when my parents were growing up and when their parents were growing up.

But ultimately, I talked about being encouraged, because as believers and as the Body of Christ, we understand that Galatians 3:28 talks about the fact that, you know, there’s no Jew or Greek, there’s no male or female. And it talks about how Christ tore down the dividing wall. And how as believers - um - that is what our hope is in, not only on this earth, but really, ultimately, in the earth to come, is that we will be in that sort of unity. So the book, really, is an expansion of that Facebook post that I wrote. And so...

Jim: Benjamin, that is a great outline for what we want to discuss today, including going back to your grandfather and knowing, you know, the years that he lived, what he faced and right on down to you today.

But let me go to another social media post that you had more recently after the book came out, because I think it helps all of us - I mean all of us, I don’t care what color your skin is - to feel what you’re talking about. And it is a wonderful place for us to start this conversation. So can you read that post and let all of us just soak in the feeling of what you’re expressing there?

Benjamin: Yeah. My daughter was - um - we took her to a soccer tryout. She’s only 7 and they got soccer tryouts. It’s crazy. I mean, you know, they start these kids so early. And we’re sitting there watching her, and then afterwards had a conversation with her. And this is kind of what happened. I say in this Facebook post, “I shed tears tonight because I realized that although I was only a few 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.”

“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, and us, to rebuild her and smooth over the scars. I shed tears tonight, because when the differences of her skin were 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.”

Jim: That is so powerful. I mean, it just draws me in to your world and your life. And the fact that a dad has to think about those things - I - you’re right - I don’t think, as a white person, I don’t think about those things. And I confess that. It’s not that I-- I mean, it’s just - I go to the mall. I go to Little League with my boys. I don’t have to think about that.

Nobody’s calling my kids something they shouldn’t call them, normally, unless they strike out or, you know, he’s such a poor hitter. But they won’t be attacking me as a person. And I don’t think we understand the depth of that.

Benjamin: Yeah. And the thing is, you know, there’s innocence in kids, but a lot goes back to what they’ve heard from their parents. And it may be a slur, but in this case, it wasn’t even that. In this case, it was pointing out the color of her skin and that she was different than everyone else.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: And so there comes a time, and as a parent, you remember the times when - as a black parent, we always talk about - many people have heard black parents talk about “the talk,” and part of the talk is, you know, to my boys is, OK, you guys are cute and cuddly right now, in a few years, you’re going to be a little bigger, there’s certain things that you can’t get away with that other people can. And that’s just the way it is.

Jim: Describe some of that for us.

Benjamin: But with this - with her it was - it was man, you know, I remember being - when I realized that, oh, yeah, I am different, but that difference means something. And that’s what she was encountering for the first time.- I said to her, “Naomi, did it make you sad?” She said, “Yeah.” I said, “Why did it make you sad?” She said “Well, because they were pointing out how different I was.”

And specifically - as we’ve talked about before, for those who are - who are minorities - you’re very aware of - of race. You’re aware of it, because you have to be, to navigate it. So, you know, even talking about, you know, kind of the talk (laughter) - um - it’s kind of a series of talks, and it’s a series of things that you understand growing up.

Jim: Let me share a story with you of a good friend of mine who’s connected to this ministry. African-American man, very successful Fortune 500 business guy, a long career with a company that everybody would know. He’s got two vehicles. He’s got a beat-up old pickup that he likes to use on the weekend to, you know, pick up leaves and take them to the dump and all that kind of stuff, and then he’s got a Mercedes-Benz that he earned.

And he says whenever he’s in the Mercedes-Benz, he gets pulled over because they think he’s a drug dealer or they think he’s doing, you know, somehow he acquired this Mercedes-Benz inappropriately. Does that resonate with you? Is that something that’s real and true?

Benjamin: I got pulled over on the way to - uh - going to the hospital. And I was driving the speed limit. We were about to have our first child. We’re in Boston, Massachusetts. I specifically didn’t drive over the speed limit because, you know, you have this idea of the cops are going to come over and escort you to the hospital. Well, that’s not really real life (laughter). So we get on the interstate. I’m driving my Range Rover. It’s 2 in the morning.

I wasn’t speeding; I know beyond a shadow of a doubt. I get pulled over. Cop comes up to the window. I tell him where I’m going - he asked where I’m going - taking my wife to have a baby. He shines a spotlight on her face, then on her stomach. And then says, “Well, get there, then.” And walks off.

John: Oh, my word.

Benjamin: And so, different stories like that - many people have stories that are worse. Black and white, have stories that are worse.

I’m not saying that black people are the only people that get pulled over, but there is a history in the black community of not so great relationships with the police, dating back to the times when black men and women were simply arrested for standing and sent to coal mines to die, going back to police officers with water hoses. There is a history in the black community of distrust with the police officers, because they have used their power in a way that has not been fair and just.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: Now, that’s not an indictment on every police officer. But I think part of the disconnect between white and black is not understanding the historical context of how black folks, many of them, many of us, approach the police, or think about the police, view the police and how the white community views the police.

Jim: Well, and just that fundamental difference that it’s filled with fear. I mean, there’s normal fear when you get pulled over by a police officer.

Benjamin: Of course, especially if you doing something you got not business doing (laughter).

Jim: (Laughter) Right. But I mean, in addition to that, you have to have “the talk.” I mean, this friend of mine told me about that, the talk that he - he’s got two 20-something boys. And he told me about having to have the talk. And I was with - I thought it was sexual. Yeah, the talk, we all have that, about 13.

Benjamin: Because you want your kids to come home.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: And the thing - and the thing that a lot of times gets overlooked is implicit bias. Um, what?

Jim: Well, I was just going to ask you, if I could be bold enough?

Benjamin: Please be bold.

Jim: Because we’re brothers in Christ first and foremost.

Benjamin: And we can edit it if it’s too bold.

Jim: (Laughter) There you go. But here - here’s the bottom line. When I look at the Ferguson situation...

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jim: ...Um, and I don’t have all the details. I’ve just seen what I’ve read in the media. I’ve been to Ferguson. I did meet with both black and white leaders...

Benjamin: I saw that, yeah.

Jim: ...In the city, and it was interesting to go. I had no agenda, other than we were there to visit a friend of the ministry, actually. But it just worked to where I could meet. That scenario, to me, when it first happened, it’s tragic that anybody loses their life ever, but I remember the first thing I thought about - and this may - this may hurt, and tell me if it does, ‘cause I just don’t know - but when I first heard about that, I thought, that poor young man. To me, it was an authority and a respect issue that got out of control.

Benjamin: Uhuh.

Jim: That, you know, I didn’t know his background, how he grew up, but the police officer - the way I understood the story - he was walking in the street, and the police officer’s driving by and said, get up on the sidewalk. And he - he didn’t respond favorably.

Benjamin: Yeah.

Jim: And that started the altercation. So I thought, at first, this was all about not being able to respect authority. Now, I understand better that maybe there was reasons not to respect authority, and I get that. But when a police officer says, do this, and a person - again, I don’t - the color of their skin doesn’t matter, to a degree - you obey that command to get out of harm’s way.

That’s what he was trying to do, get the kid out of the street, because that’s harmful. And then - then the whole thing breaks loose, and the young man is attacking the police officer. And he feels threatened. And he responds with deadly force...from where I was sitting, it was hard to understand the breakdown of what happened there, and why people were upset. But was that officer under threat? And did he respond reasonably? And that’s a toxic way to look at this. I know that everybody’s split on it.

There have been other instances, like that man, the 52-year-old man that had a warrant out for not paying child support, and the guy was shot in the back...

Benjamin: Walter Scott, Charleston.

Jim: ...Several times. That to me...

Benjamin: And that was a mistrial.

Jim: ...That to me was horrific injustice. But help me, as a believer in Christ, and a brother, but this white-black screen that we have; this bias that we have. The Ferguson account - and I don’t mean to offend anybody - I struggle with that being difficult for people to get, because it seemed like the officer, who was punched and was trying to figure out what to do, responded to defend his life. I mean, that was a big, young man. So speak to me boldly, honestly about what I’m missing there.

Benjamin: Yeah. Well, a couple of things. Um, a big, young black man is considered a threat. That’s part of implicit bias. So when you’re entering into a situation - this is all of us, blacks included, because the pushback is always, well, black officers kill bl…That’s true.

We, in this country, specifically – is the only country I can talk about - are infiltrated with bias, based on skin color. That’s our history.And so that is something that’s perpetuated through images, through images of beauty, through images of intellect, through media images.

What do we show? Who we show doing what? Doing what, when? And so then, police officers, as well as citizens, we’re not immune to that.

Jim: Sure.

Benjamin: And so specifically in Ferguson, and I’m sure you heard this, but there had been a history of, I guess, racial tension, or whatever you want to call it, with the police in Ferguson. Now, there is the individual aspect of it. And I’m a firm believer in ‘both-and’. So you need to listen to the police officer. That’s your job as a citizen. Listen to the police officer. If he tells you to get your butt out of the street, get out of the street. The other side of it is, OK, why is this force being used, usually, on - on black people that’s not being used on white? I search and search for a lot of videos.

And, obviously, there’s a sensationalism to it. You know, I do think that certain networks want to kind of show this sort of stuff to - to get people going. I do believe that. But when we look at incarceration rates, blacks and whites use illegal substances at the same rate, but why is it that when blacks get arrested, they have longer prison sentences?

Jim: Hm.

Benjamin: These are things that - that we really have no answer for. And so when you look at all these things together - um - and then you have a situation like a Ferguson, I think that Ferguson was just kind of...

Jim: A flash point.

Benjamin: ...A tipping point. Exactly. I mean, you looked at Trayvon Martin, or you looked at - you know - uh - the kid in Cleveland, you look at these different incidents that happened that were kind of high points and that were highly publicized, or a number of other ones, and then you - and then you take people and their personal relationships, stuff that’s happened to them and to others, and you put all that together, and you get a Ferguson.

Now, is there ever a reason for you to not obey a police officer? I don’t think so. Um , is there a reason for you to riot and loot and burn? No, there’s not. That’s not an answer. There’s real, palpable frustration there that I understand. On the other side, you don’t take that out on other people’s property.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: And so the issue is very, very complex. And I think that, you know, I don’t have a tenth of the answers, neither do any of us, but I think that part of the conversation and getting real about race, and kind of in the book,Under Our Skin,and this conversation that we’re having now and the ideas that are going through the listeners’ heads is - um - we need to talk - talk about these things. We need to have these questions answered. We need to, at least, put our ideas on the table and say you know what, this might be offensive, but what about this? How come this? Why didn’t he just do this?

Jim: We need that dialogue.

Benjamin: Exactly. And we don’t have it a lot of times, because we don’t really put ourselves in places where people have different life experiences than we do, where we can trust them to have a dialogue and - and not go to blows. (laughter)

Jim: Well, and I think what’s worse is the dialogue does occur, but it occurs within our - our community...

Benjamin: Our community, exactly.

Jim: ...The white community and the black community, rather than together.

Benjamin: Exactly.

Jim: That dialogue rarely is happening. And that - that’s - because I think being able to express these things honestly and then hear, with empathy and compassion, what am I missing? Why am I - and we’re going to have that bias that you so eloquently talked about.

John: And part of the conversation is to get Benjamin’s book and read, further, his thoughts,as he’s captured them.Under Our Skin: Getting Real About Race And Getting Free From The Fears And Frustrations That Divide Us.We’ve got it at focusonthefamily.com/radio or give us a call and we’ll tell you more. 800, the letter A and the word, FAMILY.

Jim: Benjamin, I think on a very positive side, Francis Collins, you quote in the book, he’s a friend, actually. He’s the head of the Genome Project. And you mentioned him in the book - uh - mentioning that human DNA is 99.9 percent identical. So, when you start talking about our differences, we’re talking about one-tenth of 1 percent. I mean, and that’s in the tone - the color of our skin. I mean, it’s amazing, and yet, it divides in such powerful ways. And - but I love the fact that you drew that out. Genetically, when God created us, it’s variety. I mean, (laughter).

Benjamin: The Bible says we’re from one blood.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: Um, and that one blood means one - uh - we’re family, we’re, you know, a singular species. There’s not a hierarchy there, but it’s amazing how throughout history, what humans do is, we make people that are like us, throughout the history of the world, to be the norm and the others to be the outliers. The other’s not to be as good as.

And so, it really is interesting when you look at the genetics - not that, you know, it kind of - it kind of hearkens back to, you know, “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart” (laughter), because I could literally be a closer match to you, genetically, than someone who’s skin tone is the same as mine, someone who we consider black, genetically. And that really just spits in the face of any type of superiority, or inferiority complex - um - when it comes to - to humans.

John: And what you said…somewhere along the way, I remember you said this is not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem. And so going back to God’s design, we’ve all fallen, and we’re all struggling in that way. What - what, further, did you mean by that, though?

Benjamin: Well - well, really, what I meant by it is, obviously - the melanin count in our skin in this country is - what we base a lot of our relationship on. Whether you’re going to, you know, transatlantic slave trade, chattel slavery, coming all the way through our relationship, black-white specifically, has been based on the amount of melanin in our skin.But ultimately--

Jim: Think of that.

Benjamin: - but ultimately, the way that God gave to deal with that is through the blood of Christ and of repentance of that sin of racism, and through forgiveness. And so it’s a sin - it’s just a spiritual issue. A lot of the things that we see that are - we think are, you know, social justice issues, they’re spiritual problems, ultimately. And so that has to be dealt with, especially inside the church, people who say they believe - um - and they’re Christians, and all that sort of thing, there should never be racism in the church, and there is a lot of it. But it’s something that we need, like anything else, we need to continually confess and get forgiveness for.

But then on the other side of it, while that is a big part of it, there is the institutional side of it. So there’s the individual side of dealing with race - in interpersonal contact, you know, whether it’s, you know, confessing your sin of “ah, man, I was racist,” developing relationships, doing - identifying the personal problem of it. But then part of that is also realizing that because of that situation, there are certain systemic and institutional forces that keep racism, in a large sense, alive and well, even today.

Jim: Yeah.

Benjamin: And so, whether it’s the - the red lining and putting, you know, people in certain neighborhoods, you know, you can’t go to other neighborhoods, and then you still see the effects of that, and whether it’s - when you talk about - um – wealth, and you talk about the fact that, you know, white families - the median white net worth is around 14 times what the black community is. And that leads to educational opportunities, all those sorts of things. You kind of still see the effects.

Jim: Right. The ripple effect is still there.

Benjamin: Exactly, the ripple effect. And so, while - while we have - while we can sit at this table now and we have that sort of equality, there are still effects that have to be - um – identified, and at least spoken of, you know, and recognized. And on the other side, if you allow me to keep going - um - white people should not feel guilty for that--today.

John: This is a tension point for us.

Benjamin: Exactly. I have some good friends, you know, who - white guys, black guys – who-- we’ve had these conversations, you know. And they’re tough sometimes, and they’re a little uncomfortable, but we can have the conversations, because we have this relationship. And one of the - and you can correct me if I’m wrong, since you’re white and I’m not (laughter) - um - one of the - one of the things that I get is, well, you know, “that wasn’t me, that was my grandfather. I’m cool. I’m not racist.”

And there’s this defense mechanism. And what I always say is, just because there are institutional and systemic inequities that happen, it doesn’t mean that personally is your fault, even if you, at times, benefit from it. And so, part of that is being able to say, you know, it’s not my fault. I shouldn’t feel guilty for it. But I will, if I can, work to change it.

Jim: And I think that’s a key statement right there, because I think, you know, you look at a 150, 250 years of history, it’s hard for the current living generation to own all of that, obviously.

Benjamin: Oh yeah, of course not.

Jim: But to your point, what can we do to better the environment for those communities that don’t feel empowered and capable of rising to the top? – which, I think we’re making progress...

Benjamin: Yeah, I would agree...

Jim: ...But sometimes it’s slow, and - too slow, but I am with you on that. Um, there are so many more questions we got to get to. And I’d love to hang on and come back next time, if you’re willing to do that. I know you’ve got to run off and play a really important football game, but this is probably more important, in many ways isn’t it?

Benjamin: Yeah, I mean this is generational, and I, you know, the one thing I appreciate, though, is I do feel like - I’ve had an opportunity to go around to some different churches in the country, many of them predominately white churches. I went to church in Columbia, Missouri not too long ago, and, you know, you name the place, and I’ve been there. And there seems to be, um, there’s definitely people who want to engage in this conversation. Many people aren’t turning a blind eye, many people feel like there is a problem on both sides - black and white - and they want to mend the divide...

Jim: Right...

Benjamin: ...And again, it’s going to take - it’s going to take our efforts, but ultimately, as believers, we understand the power of Christ.

Jim: And wouldn’t that be the best way for the believers to lead...

Benjamin: To lead...

Jim: And to demonstrate how to do this better.

Benjamin: And a lot of times that’s not the way it’s been.

Jim: Well - and I want to come back next time and talk about that, specifically, and what solutions you have in your bookUnder Our Skinthat we can read about. And I hope people will get a copy of this. This is important. It’s important for your children, because so much of what is going wrong is what our kids pick up - either from us, or from their friends, and school and all the interactions they have. We’ve got to begin to address this very honestly and openly so that, you know, hopefully 20 years from now we have a much better nation than we have today. And I think it’s fair to say we have a better nation today than we did 20 years ago.

Benjamin: In many ways, yeah.

Jim: So we got to keep moving forward, but it takes this kind of open dialogue. So Benjamin, you’re coming back.

Benjamin: Yes, sir.

Jim: And we’re going to keep hitting you with some questions.

(LAUGHTER)

Jim: Let’s do it.

Benjamin: Thank you.

Closing:

John: And of course,Under Our Skinis available at the website. Let me encourage you, as well - Jim I think this would be a great time for folks to hit our Facebook page and carry on the conversation. I mean...

Jim: Absolutely.

John: ...You’ve raised some great issues for us to talk about, Benjamin. And so I hope there will be a vibrant online conversation.

Jim: Hopefully a respectful one.

John: Yes, I would expect that of our...

Jim: Yes, I would, too.

John: ...Focus listeners. So go to focusonthefamily.com/radio, and get the book or give us a call 800. the letter A and the word FAMILY. And then make sure you hit the Facebook page, as well. And if you can make a generous donation today of any amount to the ministry, we’ll send Benjamin’s book to you. It’s our way of saying thank you for joining our support team. Thank you for helping us raise issues like this - uh - within the Christian community. Andthank you for helping propel the ball forward, with regard to this matter.

Well, on behalf of Jim Daly and the entire team, thanks so much for listening. I’m John Fuller, inviting you back tomorrow for more from Benjamin Watson, as we once again help you and your family thrive in Christ.

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Guest

Benjamin Watson

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Benjamin Watson is a tight end for the Baltimore Ravens. His NFL career began in 2004 when he was drafted by the New England Patriots. He received a Super Bowl ring in his rookie season and appeared in another Super Bowl in 2007. In 2010, Benjamin joined the Cleveland Browns and led the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He signed a three year contract with the New Orleans Saints in 2013 and joined the Ravens in 2016. Off the field, Benjamin stays busy with his foundation, One More, his growing family and the NFL Players Association, where he serves on the Executive Committee. He is also an NFL spokesman for the All Pro Dad Campaign. Benjamin has authored two books, Under Our Skin and The New Dad's Playbook. Learn more about Benjamin by visiting his website, www.thebenjaminwatson.com.