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Talk show host and Strange eye favorite Karamo fathered his son Jason at age 15, not long before coming out as gay. But it wasn’t until Jason – now known as Jason “Rachel” Brown – was 10 that his father even learned of his existence. While the news blindsided Karamo, he knew early on what kind of father he wanted to be and what generational patterns he wanted to break.
“I grew up in a very, very toxic male household where emotions were not expressed,” says the TV personality. “My sisters had full authority to express their emotions, but I never did.”
When it came to raising two boys of his own — after getting custody of Jason, he adopted the boy’s younger half-brother, Chris — Karamo “made me model something else.”
“I think people forget that all we want to change about our self-esteem, about the way our lives are, is to practice new behaviors every day,” he tells Yahoo Life. “And it doesn’t mean things have to change overnight. It’s just telling your child every day, ‘It’s okay to say how you feel.’ It’s OK to give more hugs and say ‘I love you’ and these things we sometimes tell men that are counterproductive to being a man, which it isn’t.”
Jason says his upbringing was the “opposite” of how his famous father was raised – and indeed, how he and his brother were treated before Karamo came into their lives.
“We’ve been told from the start that it’s okay to say ‘I love you,'” he says. “We got hugs and kisses. We got all these reinforcements. Before I met my dad I went through the same position. But once he came into the picture I’ve known nothing but love [and encouragement] to express myself, to express how I feel when I feel any way.”
Father and son hope to enable other families to acknowledge and honor their feelings with their new children’s book, I’m okay to feel, with illustrations by Diobelle Cerna. A sequel to their first literary collaboration, that of 2019 I am perfectly designedthe book sees a father teaching his young son how to name and express his emotions when their trip to the park is interrupted by a storm.
Karamo, who currently hosts his own syndicated talk show, hopes the book will quell the cultural and societal message that feelings aren’t something to talk about. Given his childhood experience, it’s especially important for young boys to have that validation.
“You see your sisters can talk about what they’re feeling and then all of a sudden you turn 9, 10 like a little boy and then all of a sudden it’s like you can’t do that anymore,” he says. . “You have to be strong now. You have to toughen up. You have to protect your sisters. You have to be there for your mother. And it’s like, I am a small child. Why should I do this? Why can’t I just tell you that I feel sad or scared or nervous? And so it was important for people to understand that it’s okay for kids, especially little boys, to feel their feelings.”
The book also shows kids how to process those big emotions — including a breathing exercise on the pages — and how to feel safe. Although Jason is now an adult, he says his father still makes him feel safe.
“My dad has just always been that person who just showed up and was there for me and accepted me for who I am and what I’ve done,” he says. “There are so many things I’ve done in my life that I thought: this is it – no one will accept me. … I’m at rock bottom and no one will really understand. I always play myself, and I realize that my father, [even] if he hasn’t been there, then he understands. And that’s actually the main way he makes me feel safe.”
How is he doing? By asking, not assuming, says the Emmy winner, who says curiosity is his “greatest gift as a father.”
“I think as parents sometimes we forget that these are still people… who have their own thoughts and feelings,” he explains. “And I think I ask a lot more questions [instead of] assuming I knew what was best was perfect for me.”
He recalls asking a young Jason what he thought the purpose of life was, simply to get a sense of how his son saw not only the world, but his own existence. Jason’s answers enabled him to understand where his son was coming from and “guide” him accordingly.
“And so I always encourage people: if you want your kids to feel safe, make them feel heard and seen,” notes Karamo, “because when you see and hear them, you don’t assume that you already know them you allow yourself to be open to really understand how they feel about the world around them and it gets hard because sometimes as adults we are frustrated we are exhausted we are so ready to face the routine, that we forget our little humans have thoughts and feelings that they need to be able to express openly and honestly without judgment.”
Both Browns see their next children’s book about healing. Says Karamo, “We turn into these adults who don’t know how to heal ourselves, and we walk around with the trauma of what happened to us in the past that we never really healed.” He wants to give young readers the tools to process whatever negativity they encounter, whether it’s from the adults in their lives or from bullies. The Netflix star, as a gay man and father, knows the latter all too well.
“I still get setbacks,” he says. “We were just in New York for Thanksgiving and I was walking down the street with my partner. This woman had the nerve to make a homophobic remark in the middle of New York. And you know, those things still affect [us]. Even though my children are older, no one wants to hear or see that. I think there is growth, but we still have a lot of work to do. I hate that we always have someone politicizing people and human lives, and then it turns into these things… you just enforce hatred. I think it’s gotten a little better, but you know, there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
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