Skip to main content
well lived

Fatherhood: As told by Queer Eye’s Karamo Brown

How one pop icon helps his own kids navigate life’s challenges.

From left to right: Karamo, Chris, Jason, and Ian |
Photo credit: Courtesy of Karamo Brown
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

Join the family!

Karamo Brown, Queer Eye’s empathetic culture expert who guides people through life-changing emotional breakthroughs, often has viewers in puddles of tears. And in real life, he is the real deal. A full-time social worker for over a decade, he has helped countless people, from at-risk youth to families in crisis to people in the LGBTQIA+ community. “I’ve helped people understand how to have hard conversations with themselves,” he says, “so they can later have hard conversations with others.” Along the way, he has learned a lot of useful things. I know this from personal experience, having helped him craft his new memoir, Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope.

Karamo and me | Photo credit: Courtesy of Jancee Dunn

In person, Karamo is as kind and wise and inspiring as he is on the show (and his famous hugs make you feel like everything is going to be all right). 

But Karamo’s journey might surprise many. In 2006, just two years after he appeared on The Real World: Philadelphia, Karamo came home to a subpoena for child support sitting on his Los Angeles doorstep. He was a single gay man just off a successful stint on a hit reality show, 25 years old, and—surprise!—a father. In shock, he learned that his first (and only) girlfriend had gotten pregnant when they were 15. (Shortly after, she moved away without telling him about the child.)

His son was 10. His name, Jason. 

Karamo immediately flew to Houston where Jason was living with his mom (now a good friend) and fell in love with the boy. He plunged into fatherhood, and eventually, with the full cooperation of Jason’s mother (who had four other children), took custody of his child. Soon after, Karamo took full guardianship of Jason’s half brother Chris, too. In full parenting mode, Karamo stepped away from the spotlight to raise his sons. 

Karamo and his family
From left to right: Karamo, Chris, Jason, and Ian | Photo credit: Courtesy of Karamo Brown

But the boys are all grown up now (Jason is 22 and Chris is 18). So Karamo, who also shares his life with his fiancé, Ian Jordan, is back in the spotlight. Known as the “Dad” among the Fab Five of Queer Eye, the Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Karamo has learned a few things about parenthood. Here are his top six parent-to-parent tips on how to raise happy, healthy, and kind kids: 

1. Reward honesty

When Karamo was a kid, he used to think how backward it was that when he did something wrong and then fessed up, he’d get into trouble. “So I’ve always told my sons, ‘If you do something wrong, and you tell me the truth, you’ll never get in trouble,’” he says. “Honesty should never be punished. It should be celebrated, because it gives your child a chance to grow—even if they’re being honest about doing the wrong thing.”

2. Respect others’ differences

All of the “negative narratives” Karamo heard as a child affected him deeply. When he was in kindergarten, for instance, his teacher kept mangling his name, Karamo Karega, which means “educated rebel” in Swahili. Finally she blurted out, “What kind of a name is that?” Karamo got so self-conscious about his name that he asked teachers to call him K.K.—a name that stuck all through elementary school.

So a priority for Karamo has been to make sure his sons are proud of who they are and to appreciate others’ differences, as well. And he leads by example, being mindful of other people’s views and perspectives. “Stop waiting for someone to verify that you’re amazing. The only verification you need is from yourself. We are all perfectly designed. It doesn’t matter if others don’t see it—you have to see it and believe it.”

3. Speak up about racism

Karamo was raised in Houston by Jamaican-Cuban parents and was one of only a few students of color in his elementary school.

Karamo, age 5 | Photo credit: Courtesy of Karamo Brown

His principal used to walk down the hallways and high-five the white students—and lower his hand when he got to Karamo. Because of that incident and many others, he teaches his sons to not let racism pass. He encourages them to acknowledge it immediately and try to not get emotional, because when it comes to race, people don’t hear you when you’re speaking from an emotional place. He tells them to be clear that they will not accept that language or behavior at all. And he suggests they find a safe person to talk to so they can release those feelings. “If you don’t have an outlet to release it, it weighs on you, and starts to eat at you and you will internalize it,” he says.

4. Model kind behavior

James Baldwin, a writer and playwright celebrated for his exploration of racial and social issues, once said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they never fail to imitate them.”

Karamo knows that his kids are paying attention, even when it seems like they’re not. So he is mindful of modeling good behavior, because the example he sets gets “trickled down into the way that everyone else (in the house) feels and thinks,” he says. He tries to be “selflessly kind” to others, which “not only makes them feel good but makes me feel good, too. When I ask someone how they’re doing, I mean it. When I compliment them, it comes from a genuine place. By people’s reactions, I can tell that they’re not used to it.”

5. Keep improving in baby steps

Karamo tells his sons that the key to success in life is to be one percent better today than you were yesterday. “Often when we think about achieving our dreams, we get overwhelmed by all the things we assume we have to do,” he says. “But success is doing one thing at a time. If yesterday you were afraid to ask for help, today ask one person for help. If you didn’t do anything towards your goal yesterday, today do one thing. That’s being one percent better than you were yesterday—which helps you avoid getting overwhelmed and stay the course. And those ‘one percents’ will add up.”

6. Steer clear of toxic people

“Frenemies” pulling you down? Kick them to the curb. Karamo encourages his sons to walk away from negative people and situations. “Don’t let someone else’s negativity stop your happy,” he says. “Choose to be around positive people and begin removing the negative people from your life. Just because someone acts like a clown in your life does not mean you have to buy a ticket to the circus.”

Well said, Dad. 

Next Steps and Useful Resources

  • There’s no instruction manual—all we have is each other. Read more stories about the adventure that is parenting on The Well.
  • Want to learn how to communicate better with the people you love? Read Jancee’s article on How to Really Listen—and Be Heard.
     

Do you want to see more articles on a similar topic?

Thanks for your input!

Published June 18th, 2019
A young woman with dark curly hair is using mobile phone. Female is smiling while holding smart phone. She is lying on sofa at home.

Join the family!