Intro to Watsonopolis

Watsonopolis is a place where the Watson family posts their writing, reflections, images and videos.

Most of the stuff we post are our own thoughts, wonderings, and stories that emerge from our lives, our living, the world around us and the world within us.

You'll find us reflecting on our travels, our faith, justice, and what it means for us to live well in 21st century America. 

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Following Footsteps

A confession that will certainly come as no suprise.  As a dad, I have no idea what I'm doing.  Truth of it is that I'm not sure any father has much of an idea.  Most days I feel like the leader of a exploration throught the Amazon.  We're headed for the beach, but we're using what little sun we can see, hopes, prayers and our gut-level best guesses.  On harder days I shout loudly and confidently, "This way everyone, its just ahead!" hoping that if I don't flinch and look confident then my children won't know that dad is 1/2 lost 3/4 of the time.  

The best guides I have are those men that have gone before me; my dad, my pawpaw and my grandpa.  All men who were raising families like I am, but all of whom were much younger than I am at this stage of family-making.  In each case, they got an early start; or I got a late one.  I shake my head when I think that, when my dad was my age, his oldest son was a freshman in college.  My oldest is in first grade.  

But I'm following footsteps that my dad, my dad's dad and my granddad have put in front of me.  I'm raising my boys using some of the same patterns that I was raised with; for good or ill.  Lessons that I teach my boys remembering the lesson that my dad taught me.  

I remember one night, living in St. Francis Square Apartments, there was a stabbing in another building.  My dad putting on his shirt and boots and starting out into the night, because someone was hurt and someone needed rescue.  And I remember the feeling of pride and fear waiting for his return.

Elias wearing my bootsA couple of weeks ago, after picking up my first grader, I noticed, in the downtown alleyway a block from his school a woman trying to get away from a man she was arguing with.   I did what my dad, and my dad's dad and my granddad would have done.  I pulled into the alley, told my son to sit tight, and headed in to make sure this ended better than it had started.  Once sure that cooler heads were prevailing, I walked back to the car, looked at my boy through the windsheild and grinned.  Him grinning back.

I remember my grandpa teaching me the absolute duty of a man to defend a woman.  "The only reason you should lie is to save a life or defend the honor of a woman".  The truth underneath my grandpa's wisdom is the value of life and dignity of womanhood.  So, when, on the drive home, my boy asks me, "dad, why did you take off down the alley?" I am able to say to him what my dad, my dad's dad and my granddad would say, "son, if your sister grows up and some man is doing that to her, I'd want a father to stop and make sure she's ok.  Men don't treat women that way son, and when they do, other men - like me & you - have to stop and remind them of that".   

This Christmas my boys recieved gifts that serve as physical reminders of what I'm trying to do.  My oldest got a bike and my younger son got a pair of boots.  Both were hand-me-downs from their dad that their Pops and Grammie had been saving for decades.  Watching the boys ride 'my' bike and walk in 'my' boots has been inspirational and sobering all at once.  Reminders that I am paving a path for them, showing them - literally - which way to go and which way to walk.

I'm trying to leave footsteps for my boys to follow.  Signs that may not seem like much now or even make much sense, but later, a generation later even, will become crystal clear. 

I'm hoping the guideposts I leave help them when they find themselves neck deep raising their own children or in an alley 'reminding' another man how to treat a woman while his 7 year old looks on.  "This way boys!  It's just up ahead".




My Life as a Dancer Part 3: 3 Women or Ending with the Beginning

Nearly a year ago I started a series of blog posts entitled, My Life as a Dancer.  Somewhere between parts 2 & 3 my blogging got derailed by my living.  And while I’m not living any less now than then, it seems the changing of the seasons are giving me wider room to write…and hopefully, dance. 

The 3 Women with whom I danced or Ending with the Beginning


I’m almost certain Tatiana was my first real crush.  I was 12 years old, in the 6th grade at S.S. Conner Elementary when my mom informed me we were going to Atlanta.  My cousin Yvette was getting married, it was a big occasion and so we all packed up the sedan, scooped up grandma & grandpa and made the 14-hour drive from Dallas to Atlanta. 

The wedding was quite the cultural exchange.  My uncle was a tried and true North Louisiana man.  He carried himself with a southern dignity that befits a son of the South.  A graduate of Louisiana’s finest colleges during a time when you could say “Louisiana’s finest colleges” with a straight face.  LSU, then Tulane medical school.  My uncle John is class.  He married a woman who matched his dignity with an eloquence of her own.  My aunt Cecilia is from a proud, well heeled family from Costa Rica.  When she spoke, she had a Spanish accent that would melt you.

The wedding reception was to take place in my uncle’s back yard.  Tables in delicate decor peppered the back yard.  And in the front middle of them all was the parquet dance floor. 

At the reception I sat with mom and the grandparents.  Two tables over was Tatiana. 

Tatiana and I had met a few days earlier at my uncle’s house.  She was 4 years older than me and had come from Costa Rica to attend the wedding.  We hung out some and she laughed at my jokes.  I laughed with her too, but tried to make sure not to smile too much lest the light reflect off my blazing shiny braces and blind her. 

The band played, people danced and finally I mustered all the courage a 12 year old boy can muster in order to ask a 16 year old Costa Rican goddess to dance to whatever nonsense was being played by the oldies cover band. 

Interrupting the conversation she was having with some less-than-smooth-talking guy in the wedding party I asked, “Tatiana, would you like to dance?”.  And to the dance floor we strode. 

We were into our 3rd dance when it happened.  Words that would alter the trajectory of my life.  Tatiana looked at me with her big latin eyes and said, “Matthew, you have to move your feet more.  Like this.” 

Subtle I know.  But in the ears and heart of a 12 year old, this was tragedy.  She was giving me dance lessons.  Which translated to me, “She thinks I’m a horrible dancer.  Oh No!  This is terrible!”  Here I was trying to impress the 16-year-old beauty queen and she was none to impressed with the way I danced to Bob Segar’s ‘Old Time Rock & Roll’. 

Something had to change. 



Beverly and I grew up in the neighborhood together.  We went to the same elementary school and then on to the same Jr. High School.  We didn’t hang out much and we moved in different circles, but we had a comfort and familiarity with one another that happens when you grow up with someone, see them nearly every day of your life even if its only across the school yard. 

Immediately following the ‘Atlanta Dance Floor Tragedy’ I resolved to be a better dancer.  So that next time Tatiana, or any girl really, danced with me, she would be duly impressed. 

I danced in my bedroom.  All the time.  In the mirror.  Different kinds of dances even.  And when I was over at friends’ houses that had cable I would watch music videos.  I even snuck cardboard through my bedroom window so I could work on my break-dance skills under the watchful eyes of my friends, Kevin & Reggie.  Both of whom were good dancers; for being 6th graders. 

Then, nearly 2 and a half years after Atlanta, the night of vindication came.  This time it wasn’t at a backyard reception that looked like a page out of Southern Living it was in the cafeteria of a Dallas public Jr. High School.  No parquet dance floor at this shindig as linoleum would have to do. 

The Cafeteria @ Gaston Jr. High School8th Grade Dance at Gaston Jr. High.  After years of practice, I put on my dancing shoes.  With confidence I danced with anyone who came near me on the dance floor; and oh did the girls come near me.  Towards the end of the evening, Beverly and I danced.  A girl that knew me when I was 12 but was unaware of the dance skeletons in my closet.  And then it happened.  Beverly, pushing her blonde locks aside, looks at me and says, “wow Matthew, you’re a really good dancer”. 

Boom goes the dynamite. 


Lisa Raquel

Fast-forward a decade.  Most of my dance exploits and accomplishments are in the rear view at this point, though the crowning dance achievement would lay in front of me, catching me altogether unaware. 

I’m California’s newest resident along with a few dozen other seminary students who’ve recently moved to San Francisco’s Bay Area.  Ironically enough, one of our first acts as Southern Baptist Seminary students is to host an impromptu cookout and dance.  Both of which are firmly entrenched in my wheelhouse. 

That night, with the other single seminarians, once again, I showed my moves, but not too much or too many so as to not come across as a braggart.  Then someone from the back requests Salsa.  Not one of my fortes, I’m more of a Cumbia & Meringue man myself.  So, I know I need a good partner.  Word in the seminary bubble was that Lisa was Cuban and from Miami.  “She’ll do”, I thought to myself. 

“What makes you think I know how to Salsa?!” the ice queen snarls. 

Hmmm.  Not the reaction I often get on the dance floor.  “Cuba + Miami = Salsa right?  I mean just like Texan + Country Music = Two Step”.  My answer sufficed enough to get her on the dance floor, albeit reluctantly.  Her guard remained up the entire dance and the entire night.  So much so, I think she even led on the first dance…just to show me she could.  Nevertheless, in the asphalt covered parking lot converted into party central we danced. 

Two years later, we danced again.  At a wedding reception.  On a parquet floor. 

But this time it was our wedding.  Our reception.  Our song.  Our dance.  And we have been dancing ever since. 



Last Thursday, marked day # 4,237 of my marriage to Lisa.  That night, we walked the streets of Washington, D.C.  and made our way to the Hill Country BBQ on 7th St. We wandered into the basement where a Texas Honky Tonk band played.  We pushed the tables aside and on a concrete floor beneath the streets of our nation’s capital we danced some more.  




Cuba: Remembering 70 years ago

70 years ago on the outskirts of Pinar del Rio, Cuba a Free Will Baptist seminary was founded by an American missionary and Lisa’s grandfather Benito Rodriguez.  To celebrate the occasion, ‘Papi’ was invited back to the seminary to mark the occasion and remind folks of things that otherwise would have been forgotten.  And that’s what we did last Wednesday.

For the week that surrounded the anniversary day, Lisa, the littlest princess and me – along with 12 other Rodriguez family members from Miami and Havana - gallivanted around Cuba soaking of the country, hearing stories from Cuba past and enjoying ourselves and one another as much as we could. 

There are lots of stories and hopefully over the coming days and weeks some of them will be shared.  But, perhaps the first one should be an old one. 

During the early seasons of the seminary, Papi was instrumental in getting the schools infrastructure in place.  Established in what was (and in many ways still is) a rural outskirt of Pinar del Rio city, the school needed wells dug, facilities built and training executed.  So that’s much of what Papi did.  He dug a well.  He erected a windmill.  And he built a house. 

It is an amazing feeling to stand in a house that was the home of your ancestors.  Being in the very house that Papi built for his wife and his children, a house that was the setting for family stories, the center of ministry and formative for how Papi & Abuela would pastor, parent and live out the life in front of them. 

While in the house, Lisa and the littlest princess stood in the very kitchen where Abuela would have surely cooked countless meals for other pastors, families and ministers.  I suspect in that kitchen Abuela cooked picadillo, arroz con pollo and flan.  Meals that Lisa cooks today from Abuela’s recipes passed down and perfected in that small kitchen outside of Pinar.  And more times than not, Lisa is cooking picadillo and flan and frijoles negros for a neighboring pastor, minister or family. 

Later in the evening, before the night got away from us - before we were pushed by the schedule of the anniversary or pulled by our own vacation itinerary the 3 Watsons prayed with Papi in the living room that he built.  We thanked God for the history of that place, the blessing of a geography and the tradition that continues today.  We expressed a deep gratitude that God has blessed not just a place but also a people.  The house continues to be a haven for a pastoring family.  And the faith that was built in that home was continuing through the builder’s granddaughter and we pray even to the great-granddaughter that was with us. 

In that living room, a room where many have undoubtedly prayed, we spoke our own prayers to a God who hears and acts.  We spoke to a God who heard the prayers of an Abuela before she was an Abuela.  We prayed to a Savior who was working through a Papi before he was a Papi.  And we delighted in a 70-year history that was more than a seminary, but was a celebration of God’s faithfulness to family, 70 years later, even to the littlest princess 4 generations later.


My Life as a Dancer Part 2: When I was a Professional

This is the 2nd in a 3 part series that chronicles my life as a dancer.  You can see Part 1 HERE.

The truth of it is, is that early on in my childhood I enjoyed dancing.  I remember in elementary school I’d put cardboard in my room and work on my break dancing skills.  I was ‘electric bogaloo’. 

Secretly, though, I always wanted to learn how to tap dance.  I still want to learn how to tap dance.  I think that would be a great way to move through life; in rhythm, with a smile, and wearing cool shoes that make noise. 

But I also knew my family didn’t have a bunch of money and in my mind tap dancing classes were expensive.  I grew up in a huge East Dallas apartment complex and no one in my complex took tap dancing classes, so, I figured, it must only be for rich folks.  Kind of like golf and tennis.  Two other activities no one in my complex knew how to do.

But my fortunes would change when I entered high school and joined the Spanish club.  Ms. Barker, my Spanish teacher, was also the sponsor of the Spanish club and she encouraged me to join.  Ms. Barker was an 8 foot tall black Panamanian.  Well, maybe not quite 8 feet, but pretty tall.  Interestingly, the other Spanish teacher in my high school was African American - from Houston I think.   But he was a man and was closer to 4 feet tall.  He spoke with a stutter except when he spoke Spanish.  A fact that still fascinates me, but has nothing to do with my life as a dancer. 

It was in the Spanish Club at Skyline High School that I was introduced to Ballet Folklorico, the traditional dance of Mexico.  Ballet Folklorico is sort of like River Dance but to a Mariachi Band.  It’s fast, fun and you wear an awesome costume and, to my sheer delight, tap shoes.  Or tap boots really. 

For four years I would get up early, head to school and meet a couple of other students and practice dancing.  I danced in festivals, carnivals and parties.  I performed at schools and in parades.  I danced in several competitions and recitals.  Most times, the biggest surprise for the audience came at the end, when I would take my black felt sombrero off and out popped my bright red head.  I love the expressions on the audience faces nearly as much as I loved dancing.  “Gasp!  It’s a WHITE BOY”. 

“Yep, that’s right”.  I’d say in my mind.  “I’m a gringo.  With pelirojo.  Love me.”.

One Cinco de Mayo, I was dancing on the back of flatbed trailer being pulled by a tractor through the streets of Oak Cliff.  Our float was sponsored by the neighborhood Hispanic grocery store.  The people were clapping and cheering and then our float would roll by with the Skyline Folklorico group being led by ‘El Quero’ (the white boy).  We were a spectacle.  But we were good.  And that’s when I went pro. 

I was invited to join a professional Dallas Folklorico troupe my senior year of high school.  I practiced with them for a few months before resigning from the troupe.  2 months after my resignation, the group toured Japan.  I cursed myself.  But it was in Spanish, so my mom never knew. 

When I graduated, Mrs. Barker and the Spanish club gave me one of the two scholarships that the school gave out for Spanish students.  The stipulation was that I had to dance in college.  The Hispanic fraternity on campus caught wind of the fleet-footed white boy and tapped me on the shoulder around April to help teach a dance or two in preparation for a school-wide Cinco de Mayo celebration.  I obliged with the help of another teacher they brought in from outside.  That started my collegiate career in dancing.

I danced with the SMU folklorico group another year or two, but eventually it faded.  I think the last dance I danced with them was “El Javelin” which tells the story of some guys trying to impress some ladies so they go out, hunt and kill a Javelina.  In the dance, I was the Javelina.  I exited the stage, strung up on a pole, wearing a loincloth and a pig mask.  An unfortunate ending to an illustrious dancing career if you ask me.

I still have my boots and pull them out from time to time.  I’ve put them on once or twice in the last decade.  Every time I see them, I smile and wink at them like we have a secret between us and then I dance a “Jalisco" because no one is watching.


Miami Christmas: When Christmas = A New World

For the past week the Watsons 5 have been in Miami celebrating Christmas.  Miami is a remarkable city with a fascinating culture; the Hollywood of Latin America and a poignant collage of all things Latin America.  The climate and the culture make it an interesting place to celebrate Christmas.  It really is a different world here.

It's 80 degrees.  I'm wearing shorts and sunglasses.  We're swimming in the ocean.  I'm running the A/C in the car.  I sweat.  The Santa Clause on Miracle Mile has a Cuban accent.  It could be disorienting if it weren't so stinking amazing.  

Every morning I walked to the corner Cafecita with the boys and ordered pastelitos and cafe con leche.  I had to use my best Spanish which at best is humorous and at worst insulting.  The first day I think I introduced by sons & nephews as my uncles and ordered 8 birthday cakes.  But the workers were patient and the regulars were amused by the bald American with 4 children in tow.  

Somewhere in the midst of all the Christmas festivities, and family visits I remembered a more recent Christmas story.  One that intersects the older one, the first one.  

Lisa's family is from Cuba.  Her Papi and Abuela (grandpa & grandma) immigrated here just a year or so after Castro came in to power.  It was, like that of many families, a difficult journey, scary to say the least.  Yet one filled with hope and possibility.  

On Christmas eve, 1961, Lisa's Papi got papers and a plane ticket freeing him and his family to leave for America.  But they had to leave the next day.  Because Papi was a pastor, and pastors were not well regarded by the new regime, he was a wanted man.  So, that night, he packed up his family and on Christmas morning, Papi & Abuela, along with Lisa's dad and two uncles, and all their possesions in a couple of suitcases, boarded a plane that would carry them to a new world and a new life.  

It is exactly 50 years later.  It's Christmas eve and I'm in Uncle Danny's back yard.  I'm surrounded by the Rodriguez family.  A whole pig is being roasted Cuban style.  The smells and sounds are soothing, softening.  It's Noche Buena, the traditional Cuban Christmas eve meal.  All is calm.  All is bright. 

We're sitting in lawn chairs.  Papi, never one to miss an opportunity to tell a story, shares the story of their exile once again.  About how the fled and the circumstances surrounding it.  He tells me it was Christmas.  He tells me he was 37 years old.  "Hey, I'm 37 Papi!" I say.  And we look at one another and smile and nod our heads in recognition of the deep similarity of a long ago Christmas eve that gave birth to Christmas day and the world was changed; and how that story was played out again on Dec. 25th, 1961 when eve gave way to day and Christmas day gave way to a new world when the plane landed in Miami.  And even still as Christmas eves on the horizon will continue to give birth to new life and new worlds as Elias crawls into my lap and asks for a piece of lechon.  

2000 years ago a brave young Jewish man & woman, tossed on the waves of political cirucumstances beyond their control were forced to give birth in a barn.  And the world was changed.  

Years later, beacuase of the bravery of a Cuban pastor, and geopolitical cirucumstances beyond either of our control my life has been dramatically blessed and forever changed.

And Elias knows the word for pork - lechon.