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On fatherhood: Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist, in their own words

Father's Day is this Sunday and Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist share their experiences with fatherhood in their own words
Image: Dad rubbing noses with baby
Dad hugging baby daughter.Shutterstock

This Father’s Day, we checked in with dads and Morning Joe co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist. Here, they share their insights on fatherhood: the importance of quantity time, why parenting shakes up perspective, and how they help their daughters to know their value.

Joe Scarborough, father of four

On why fatherhood is about quantity time: “My view of fatherhood has changed through the years. I’m 55 now, and it took me about 50 years to understand just what being a good father is. I look back at my own father, and while we had a great relationship, I did what a lot of children do -- we judge some of the things our parents did, nitpick about things we didn’t agree with.

But the older I got the more I realized how blessed I was to have him always there. He was there when we went to church, when we were getting ready for school, for my baseball games. He was a constant presence in our lives and that’s what counts.

Someone once told me, ‘There’s no such thing as quality time. Fatherhood is all about quantity. You can’t water a plant once a month – you have to be there day in, day out.’ That’s something I’ve always remembered. More than anything, I judge myself as a father.”

On why 9/11 was an inflection point in his fatherhood: “I was about 38, a young member of Congress starting my fourth term; I was considered to be on the fast track. There were people talking about me running for senator or governor. But my whole family said, ‘Joe, it’s time to come home.’ I’d started when my boys were 7 and 4 and was gone 200 nights a year. After seven years, I had to prioritize what really mattered.

My last day in Congress was September 6, 2001. I’d been selected to the Armed Services Committee and over my four terms I’d watched Al-Qaeda grow – I’d done the research, held the briefings. On September 11, 2001 – the first day I started work as a lawyer – I was driving my son to school and someone told me a plane had just hit the World Trade Center.

It was a terrible few weeks as an American grieving with the rest of the country. But I was also frustrated that I couldn’t help as a lawmaker. That’s why I say leaving Congress was the easiest hardest decision. It was by far the hardest professional move and by far the easiest life choice. My kids needed me and I came home. I took them to baseball and to church, and did all the things my father did for me.”

On daughter Kate, 14, knowing her value: “Kate has somehow just picked that up as she’s moved along. We’ve had discussions with her recently in which she’s made it very clear that she’s going to be independent. She’s going to college, will get a job, and won’t take any money from me – or from anyone.

There’s a fierce independence within Kate that I think will serve her very well. That said, I think there are still challenges in the world. I saw it with my mom and aunt, who were businesswomen – they knew their value and made sure that men knew they had value! So I grew up with that, but it’s something I was taught again with Mika, who has fought so hard to reduce disparity.

We still have a long way to go, but movements like Time’s Up and #MeToo put men on notice. That’s great to see as a father of a 14-year-old girl, and I think a lot of disparity is going to evaporate by the time Kate is in the workforce. That’s for a lot of different reasons, but it’s mainly because women are fighting to make these great gains that they deserve.”

Willie Geist, father of two

On how fatherhood changed his perspective: “The moment you’re in the delivery room with your first child, you can feel yourself turning outward rather than inward. Of course before kids I tried to be unselfish with my wife and friends – but you just feel the sobering responsibility for a new person. You can’t believe that the hospital is like, ‘OK, good luck, bye!’

It’s changed the way I view everything. When Lucie had her first dirty diaper, I panicked a little – I’d never changed a diaper, not even on a doll in parenting class. But my wife had this utter sense of calm and said, ‘Oh, your little body is working!’ I realized: One, I married well, and two, this is not a crisis, it’s a wonderful thing. Perspective.

And I view work differently than I did before. Eleven years ago when I had my daughter, I always wanted to take the extra job and say yes to everything and impress my bosses. Now, more than ever, I assess what’s truly important. Seven years from now, my daughter will be off to college, so sometimes you miss the professional friend’s book party to be home around the dinner table.”

On helping Lucie, 11, to be herself and know her value: “Before you have a kid, ideas like media messages about women are theoretical. You participate in the discussion and you think it’s important. But then when you see it up close with a daughter you realize: She’s watching this program and getting an idea of who she’s supposed to be. The people who look or act that way get the attention and admiration.

You really do have to work as a parent. You are fighting a battle against the culture to help them see what they should value. We get to be the first line of defense against that. Lucie can look at her mother and see so much to inspire her: [Christina] started two of her own companies, she works hard and is kind, she loves her family.

Lucie is 11, and all of those middle school things are happening – physically, socially – so in addition to leading by example we also sit down and talk about it. I’ll look over at my 8-year-old son [George] and he has no idea what we’re talking about!

It’s cliché, but the advice I really want Lucie to take into adulthood is to be herself, and to feel 100% confident in that. Morning Joe is a great example: You can come on and be completely who you are. People see through phoniness, and there’s reward in the world for authenticity.”

On his proudest moments as a father: “The most special times are when you see the things you’ve tried to instill in your children begin to flower. I love seeing Lucie stick up for George, and vice versa, and they’re very sweet with each other. But outside the house, you don’t really know exactly what goes on. So when you hear from another parent that your child has great manners, or that it was a pleasure to have them for the weekend, it feels incredible.”

On the one thing no one told him about fatherhood: “Being a dad is more fun than anyone told me it was going to be. At first you’re so overwhelmed by the responsibility, and while there are always tough times and long nights, at the end of the day it’s way more fun than not. Especially when they’ve gotten a little older, my kids are telling me these long, winding stories that are so funny and interesting. It’s genuinely fun. You’re never sitting there listening out of responsibility. You just truly love it.”