Will Smith is reflecting on his experience being a parent.
In a new Father’s Day episode of Red Table Talk with wife Jada Pinkett Smith, the 51-year-old actor sat down to discuss his failures and struggles as a dad, saying he believes "I’m a way better father than I am husband."
After getting married at age 24 to first wife Sheree Zampino, Smith soon became a father to son Trey, now 27. It was then that he began to comprehend “the real weight of parenting.”
“I brought him home, we put him in the bassinet, it was like stark terror,” said Smith. “I’m totally responsible for this life. I couldn’t stop going and checking. I just cried so hard. I knew I didn’t know nothing. It’s on me now. It hit me how fragile parenting is. In that moment, I could see all the spectacular lessons my father had instilled in me, and I was like, there’s no way. I’m not that good.”
When Trey was just 2 years old, Smith and Zampino split up. Though he’s expressed guilt over the divorce, Pinkett Smith, whom he married in 1997, noted, “just because a man might not be the best husband doesn’t mean he’s not a good father.”
“With Sheree and with Trey, that was a really difficult time. Divorce was the worst thing in my adult life. Divorce was the ultimate failure for me,” Smith said. “I’ve been hurt a lot in my adult life, but I don’t think anything touches the failure of getting divorced from my 2-year-old son’s mother. Sheree and I ran into that — if a man’s not a great husband, then he loses his parental rights. I’m a way better father than I am a husband. In that process, you start fighting for your rights, and the kid is in the middle.”
Due to his own troubled relationship with his father, Smith knew he needed to control his own frustrations during the divorce.
“Because of my own experience of seeing Daddy-O punch my mother, I knew my kids would never see me do anything violent toward their mother,” said Smith. “But in the first couple years of Trey’s life, because Sheree and I were divorced, I think my desire to never have my son see me in that way made me more absent as a father. I wanted to create enough distance. We not gonna be cursing, fighting.”
Despite their early struggles, it was then that Smith turned to his own father for support. Following his dad’s advice that “you’ll never win if you fight a kid’s mother,” Smith chose to surrender. “When he’s 13, he’s going to come look for you,” his father told him. And sure enough, “As soon as Trey was ready, he came looking for his father,” Smith recalled.
Now 27, son Trey is counted as one of Smith’s closest friends and confidantes. Back in 2018, Smith took to social media to discuss his own relationship with his oldest son.
“It has not always been like this between Trey & I,” he wrote in an Instagram post. “We STRUGGLED FOR YEARS after my divorce from his mother. He felt betrayed & abandoned. It is a wild blessing to recover & restore a loving relationship with my beautiful son!”
“I love doing a lot of things. I love being an actor, I love putting stuff out in the world. I love husband and wife relating. But parenting is something really rewarding and challenging about delivering human beings to the world,” Smith told Pinkett Smith during his Red Table Talk appearance.
“And to themselves,” she added.
Parenting daughter Willow, 19, also introduced Smith to a new set of challenges. At just 9 years old, Willow rose to fame with her hit single “Whip My Hair.” The family soon set out on tour with Justin Bieber, but Willow quickly decided she no longer was interested in touring.
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“[Willow] had committed to these 30 days on [the] ‘Whip My Hair’ [tour]. We were in Dublin, Ireland, and she did her fourth or fifth show, and came off stage and was like, ‘I’m ready to go, Daddy.’ She was ready to go home, and I was like, ‘Well no, you can’t go home, baby. You committed to 30 days. You can’t go home.’ She kept asking, ‘Daddy, it doesn’t matter how I feel?’ And I was like, ‘Yes baby, it does matter how you feel, but you have to finish what you started.’ And she was like, “But I’m finished.’”
As a form of protest against her dad, Willow shaved her head.
“It was so devastating to me when she shaved her head bald,” Smith admitted. “Her record is ‘Whip My Hair.’ I’m like, that’s a protest against me.”
It was his experience with Willow that Smith said “introduced me to feelings.”
“I would say that ‘Whip My Hair’ thing put a pause button on my overt parenting. I stopped, and I just started watching my kids, and with Willow, I started to see that there was a higher value in talking to her about how she feels about the situation versus how to fix the situation, and it became the new thought process for me,” he said.
Pinkett then surprised Smith with a series of videos made by his three kids, including 21-year-old son Jaden.
“Happy Father’s Day, my guy,” Trey told the camera. “I love you beyond life. I am truly thankful for our relationship. Every step of the way, the journey has been magnificent. I wouldn’t change anything.”
Pinkett Smith closed out the episode by tearfully telling Smith, “we appreciate you, and I just want to say thank you for everything. You’re really a great father. I really appreciate the parenting partnership.”
“There’s no rules. Everybody wants rules. It’s more art than it is science,” Smith responded. “And I love what we painting.”