Father’s Day is often painted with a very different brush than Mother’s Day. While we’ve meticulously planned our brunch-in-bed and fresh flowers for Mom, we’re content to let Dad grill his own meats on Father’s Day. Children carefully scrutinize the jewelry for Mom, but for Dad, we know we’re safe with the 7/16” socket wrench. As you meet some of my fellow Dads in this TYLER TODAY feature, I think you’ll get a chance to see a different, more sensitive side of fatherhood. While every family has different approaches to celebrating Father’s Day, in hearing their story and mine, some similar themes unfold.
The Scout Oath opens with the phrase “On my honor, I will do my best.” While I didn’t speak this out loud in the delivery room to my children, at some point in their infancy I probably muttered it tearfully under my breath, likely during a midnight feeding. Whether or not an involved father had a background in Scouting or not, it’s not hard to imagine that each of them has spoken the same intent.
Both of my children were born in Virginia. The youngest has no memory of living there after moving to Tyler when he was ten months old. The transition was an exciting time full of new adventures—new job, navigating divorce, children, and a new town. Adventures didn’t have to carry such a heavy, serious connotation though. I vividly remember our first walk to Bergfeld Park from our house on Chilton and how we could fit so much wonder into three blocks. On our first visit to Caldwell Zoo and nearly every trip since then, we’ve remarked about how well put together it is.
Sometimes the new town/new dad feeling had uncomfortable territory. I remember some dread at my first PTA meeting as the only dad present or the first time I brought them to a work-related event. The way these events were navigated, first by the Andy Woods Elementary community and second by Tyler at-large, set the tone for how fatherhood would unfold for me over the next nine years.
I had pledged to do my best, even if sometimes I didn’t know what that would look like. My daughter and son have a good mother, but after the first few years, she had moved across the county line and had a harder time being available during the day or for evening events. In the absence of having a plan for how best to support these kids and not having a regularly present co-parent, I decided the best approach was to take every opportunity I could to be present. That’s it. That’s the message. Show up.
Within the first month of starting in kindergarten, my daughter informed me about the WatchDOGS (Dads of Great Students) program at Andy Woods. It was a beautiful opportunity to see what her school day was like. By the time my son enrolled in Pre-K a few years later, WatchDOGS had become a semi-annual event. Soon community events were treated the same way—kolaches before the Rose Festival Parade, KidsFest and ice cream at Bergfeld Park, True Vine’s Birthday Party—all were opportunities to make a memory with my kids. Once those memories start to stack, they become traditions. Those family traditions are what will stick with them as they become adults.
My job has afforded me some memorable opportunities to share with my kids as well. Dean was invited to be the stand-in for “The Future of Scouting” at the 2020 Distinguished Citizens Award luncheon and ceremonially accept the award from prior year recipients Tim and Michelle Brookshire. Alexa served as the youth representative to swear-in the Executive Board of the East Texas Area Council Boy Scouts in 2018 as one of the first girls registered in the Cub Scout program in our area. More recently, she filmed a promotional video for a national calendar search tool adopted by nearly every Scout council in the country. In each of these instances, as a proud father, I was sitting right next to them, watching my life’s work meshing with my children.
The ”do my best” is a call to be present. Community events were the easiest places to see that participation, but it extended into quiet spaces as well. Regular tasks like folding laundry and doing homework became bonding opportunities. The kids knew I would be there as a source of support, but as a participant as well. East Texas has grown to be our home and while I’m very thankful for the contributions their mom has made, as a single father in shared custody, I have this community to be deeply thankful for as well. On Father’s Day, we naturally tend to think about our dads and our kids first. I want to encourage the dads to look across the school parking lot, the church aisle or the grocery cart and see each other, too. I’m very thankful for dad-friends like Cody Grace, Stephen Morton, Sam Learner and Rich Long and for the dads like Rev. Ralph Caraway, Sr., Ralph Caraway, Jr., Dusty Douglas, and Jesus Ledesma that I’m about to introduce you to. Happy Father’s Day, gentlemen, and keep showing up. It’s the only way, on your honor, to do your best.
RALPH CARAWAY SR. & JR
Reverend Ralph E. Caraway, Sr., the Senior Pastor at St. Louis Baptist Church, fondly remembers his time in Boy Scouts as an early influence on what it meant to be a man and ultimately a father: “There was an investment made in me that got me to invest in young men. Boy Scouts was another feeder program to introduce young men to ‘mandom’. Our Scoutmaster knew we were boys, but he pushed us toward ‘mandom’.”
With over 25 of years service to St. Louis, a congregation of 800+ members and three children of his own, Rev. Caraway regularly sees opportunities to help shape the direction of others. That early investment in his development also helped steer him toward a life of service through ministry.
“It’s not about masculinity if it’s only about you. You miss Jesus. There’s a holistic approach,” Caraway Sr. said. The biblical approach to masculinity developed into a program Rev. Caraway led called Man According to the Manual, which likened the Bible to the instruction manuals that accompany power tools or appliances. This scriptural approach fostered his overarching views on fatherhood, referencing Ephesians, Chapter 4. “It talks about fathers nurturing their children,” he said. “They raise them up to the lord. Fathers don’t provoke.”
Proverbs 26 provided important guidance in acting as a father. “Train up a child in the way he should go. Biblically, child-rearing is up to the fathers. It’s a biblical rule. Jesus had a father and while he was on Earth, he made a connection with him and was always seeking approval,” said Caraway, Sr. “Man is made in the image of God – nurturer, provider and protector.”
Despite the detailed manual to fatherhood, Rev. Caraway, Sr. sees some serious challenges facing men currently: “Fatherhood is taught differently now and replaced by gimmicks and gadgets. We’re allowing sports heroes to become fathers. Entertainers are taking over without knowing your child. They’ll talk about ‘the greatest’ when it comes to statistics – but the true GOAT walked on water and made feasts from [fishes and loaves.]” In order to combat the infringement on the role of fathers, Rev. Caraway, Sr. encouraged new fathers to exercise patience by taking “all the time you need to spend with moments that you won’t get back. Be careful with things that occupy you and that make you absent from the ones who need you.”
In honoring that time spent together, Caraway, Sr. praised his own father. “Without him, there’s no me. There’s no Ralph Caraway, Jr. There wouldn’t have been Scouts,” he said. “He brought me up right and emphasized responsibility and accountability.”
For “experienced” dads of grown children, Rev. Caraway, Sr.’s advice was to respect their adulthood but remind them that you’re their parent and be flexible. He’s had ample opportunity to practice his own preaching with his son, Ralph Caraway, Jr., the Senior Minister at Greater St. Mary’s Baptist Church and Smith County Constable for Precinct 1. According to the elder Rev. Caraway, “We talk about so much. Sometimes we’ll talk about what our sermons might be about. He reaches a different age group than I do, so there’s a benefit for me being tapped into that.”
In law enforcement and ministry, Ralph Caraway, Jr. feels the call to help others. “When you look at the totality of service as a peace officer or a preacher, you’re leading and feeding. The main focus is teaching people a better way of life, but really reaching them at the same time,” he said.
That leadership gives Caraway, Jr. the opportunity to reach beyond his own household. Throughout his career in the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office, he cited his former leaders as inspirations that model his approach.
“Gary Pinkerton was a father figure. With every journey I’ve taken in law enforcement, he’s been who I reached out to,” Caraway, Jr. said. He believes his relationship with Sergeant Kevin Mobley, the liaison officer at John Tyler High School, had a major influence as did the late Randy Meadows. Through all those inspirations, there was still the looming encouragement and inspiration of his father. “My dad has done it all as a role model – my pastor, my adviser, everything you could want in a man, he’s touched. He’s done everything he can to help me be productive as a man. I thank God that he saw enough in me to make Ralph Caraway, Sr. my dad.”
Even with those luminaries mentoring him, Caraway, Jr. felt it was important to chart his own path and be his own man, especially as a father to three kids in his own household including those of his late sister. As a high school senior, he remembered telling his father that he wanted to be like him. The elder Caraway paused and challenged him to be better than that, then raised the bar by constantly reinventing himself.
Caraway, Jr. believes dads of young children have a different challenge currently than the prior generation, and that it requires a different approach to modern fatherhood. “We have to continue to listen and reinvent, but find new ways that are just as effective. Peer pressure and bullying are at all-time highs. As a dad, you have to be a great listener and even when you’re tired, show up. Always be present. Make sure that child knows you’re there for them and you have their back.”
Dusty Douglas, also known in social media circles as Dusty Dubs, broadcasts to over 2.7 million TikTok followers through his account, @dustymdouglas, with another 740,000 on Instagram and 300,000 more on YouTube. Among those followers are professional athletes, musicians, comedians, and fathers who can appreciate the “King of Dad Jokes.”
Beyond his following, however, Douglas has turned his creative attention to fostering the artistic development of his most ardent fan, his 18-year-old son, Asher. “He is a gifted kid, extremely talented in the arts, with big ambitions,” Douglas said.
The investment isn’t about the gratification of likes or widespread exposure to a following. To Douglas, his son is chasing something with a longer-term payoff. “I’m here to facilitate that. I’m really wanting him to choose a path that gets him a career he’s going to be happy with.”
Douglas can draw on his own experience. “When I was a teenager, I got heavily into writing and recording music. I really chased that,” he said. He went so far as to move to Los Angeles in 2002 to work on recording, playing guitar, bass, drums while also writing and singing. As for the results of his effort, “My band never really had a lot of success, but we did get a single played on The Buzz in Houston. So that was just about the highlight.”
After returning to East Texas, Douglas played a number of gigs as a drummer with Al and the Longshots around the Tyler area. He currently has over 150 songs on Spotify in his discography. It was Asher, however, who went viral first. A punk cover of “Some Things Abt Me” by CHIS was used in “a couple hundred thousand” videos on TikTok. That success made Douglas realize that with no A&R representative necessary, “You can get an audience all on your own.”
That realization spawned a series of humorous voiced-over animal videos, including a cat named Piddles and his “Meowfia” in a 1920s gangster-noir voice. With over 8 million views, a video-comedy career was launched. Success did not take away from Douglas’ priority to be a diligent father.
“I didn’t want to try to influence him too heavily,” Douglas said of his social media popularity. “I didn’t want to be that sports dad reminiscing about a failed football career. My son plays guitar—self-taught by watching YouTube. I didn’t want to interfere too much, but I did get involved with production. I thought I could facilitate that.”
After the punk cover went viral, Asher released his first EP featuring his dad on drums. Douglas is also credited as a co-producer, though with regard to his son’s contribution, “He was doing the stuff himself. A lot of it was his drive.”
As an experience, that EP is emblematic of how Douglas wants to approach fatherhood. “Being present is everything. When your child has a problem, being their first line of defense on that problem takes priority,” he said. “Dads are shepherds. Your dad can be who tells you those hard truths.”
For Douglas, there’s a more modern approach than what he calls an “antiquated approach to the universal family, where moms are more nurturing with physical expressions of love and dads are away at work. My dad didn’t ever hear his dad say ‘I love you’ until he was 22. His dad was basically on his deathbed.”
New dads in particular need to practice a modern approach, which includes showing themselves and their kids some grace. “Cut yourself some slack. Recognize you’re going to make mistakes. Cut your kids some slack, too,” he recommended. There can be an expectation of perfection, both self-imposed and placed on kids. “As a younger dad I know I expected my son to fall in line, but as he got older, I realized I needed to redraw those lines.”
Douglas believes experienced dads also could benefit from some grace. “You have to take comfort in what you’ve taught them up to that take-off age. Trust them,” he said. Allowing them to make mistakes is healthy as long as you “trust the process and your parenting and let them put it to practice.”
Sooner rather than later, Douglas is going to have the opportunity to follow his own advice. Asher recently played The Green Room in Tyler and really enjoyed the experience. As for Asher’s future plans, neither father nor son wanted to comment in print, believing that teenagers deserve some privacy. Douglas has a much better idea of his own next moves, however.
“I’m interested in crossing over into voice acting. I recorded two voice-over demos with Bill Farmer, the voice of Disney’s Goofy, at Toon House,” he said. He also plans to continue to grow his following, as well as his social media earnings. He recently completed ads for CAPCOM along with one for AppleTV, though without an agent currently Douglas has not given up his engineering day job.
While their careers may intertwine and overlap moving forward, Douglas’ approach going forward will allow things to happen organically. “As men we want to control the future, but we can’t,” he said. “Trust in your kids but be there to help them.”
We don’t get any say in choosing our own parents. They’re a pretty fundamental precondition to being born. The choices we make throughout life, however, may steer us toward parental figures who rise to the level of, or even exceed, our own biological forebearers. For East Texas Football Club Head Coach Jesus Ledesma, the hours spent with his players and the life lessons he imparts to them feels like a parental responsibility and for many of them, he takes on a father-figure role.
“I think the most important lessons are outside the pitch,” Ledesma said. “Soccer has things to teach the players, but if you have a phenomenal player who we expect to lead the team, I’ll give them a role off the pitch. If they’re good leaders, kids with less skill will look up to them. There are life lessons to that.”
Ledesma’s own on-field experience helped shape this mentality. He graduated as a soccer standout from John Tyler High School and played for Tyler Junior College in 1995 and 1996. At TJC, Ledesma was the team’s leading scorer both seasons as well as NJCAA National All-Tournament Team both years and a member of the NJCAA All- 20th Century Team. He was inducted into the NJCAA Hall of Fame in 2008 after playing professionally in the A-league for Jacksonville Cyclones (FL) and in Chile for Universidad Catolica.
The journey from Tyler to Chile came from forming a close bond with three mentors – John Tyler Coach Demetrio Hernandez, TJC Coach Peter Jones, and soccer scouting legend Jorge Alvial. Ledesma first tried out for Jacksonville Cyclones while at TJC with Jones driving him 15 hours to attend the tryout.
Alvial called him “a little jewel to be polished” since Ledesma lacked the formal soccer academy training available in professional soccer clubs. Hernandez and Jones were influential in pushing Ledesma, to become a professional soccer player.
That confidence and support has become the foundation of Ledesma’s role as a coach. In particular, he advocates against what he calls “soccer bullying” which singles out new or different players to separate them from the rest of the team.
“If your daughter trained with our team, I would let her know to bring to my attention if anyone is rude or says anything offensive to her, she deserves respect. It doesn’t matter about social class, ethnicity or if she’s taller or smaller – we have to treat each other with respect,” Ledesma said of being welcoming and inclusive.
Parents of players can be an obstacle to that lesson. Ledesma recognizes that while parents want the best for their kids, sometimes it helps to hear new perspectives and learn in new ways. Avoiding parental negativity can go a long way in determining a player’s commitment to the sport. He regularly sees “burnout” from players at age 14 or 15 who experience shame and negativity from their parents around training and competition. One of his philosophies at ETFC is to be a motivation to kids, letting them both enjoy the game and compete at the same time.
His commitment has led to difficult situations, but ones that Ledesma felt compelled to address as a caring coach. A player’s mother once reached out to him because her daughter was considering suicide. The mother asked Ledesma to talk to her. “It helped, but it was the toughest conversation I’ve ever had with a player.”
His younger daughter is now part of his team. While she was young, she would stay at practices in order to spend more time around her father, which allowed them to appreciate many more moments together. That intentional quality time is something that Ledesma often missed out on in his own childhood.
Ledesma’s older daughter is autistic and as a father and coach committed to inclusivity, he has another opportunity to advocate for respect. “People say ‘normal kids’ and she gets excluded,” he explained. Finding intentional time with her has been critical to maintaining their bond. “It starts with parents, how we talk to our kids, that’s how they learn respect.”
He also recounted after marrying his wife, Madai, she provided the backbone of support. Ledesma recognizes the old saying – “detras de cada gran hombre hay una gran mujer – behind every great man is a great woman.”
“I wouldn’t be the father I am without my wife. She’s the only one who knows how difficult it is to spend more time with my teams than my family. But I know that support is always there. Now that I coach my daughter, it’s been a good journey, a good experience and good motivation. When you’re making kids happy, coaching becomes more than the game. You’re going to motivate them to do better.”