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Joe and Willie on their dads: The value of 'just being there' and leading by example

Ahead of Father's Day, the "Morning Joe" co-hosts talk about their dads' everlasting influence and support.
From left to right: George Scarborough, Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist and Bill Geist.
From left to right: George Scarborough, Joe Scarborough, Willie Geist and Bill Geist.

Ahead of Father’s Day, “Morning Joe” co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Willie Geist reflected on their dads: men who understood the importance of time with their children and led not by their words but by example.

Fellow “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski, who sat down with Scarborough and Geist, began by talking about her dad, the late Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carter’s national security advisor. “It made me think to ask Joe and Willie about their dads,” she said. “… What about the moments when your father was really there for you?”

“It goes back to childhood — the very beginning,” Geist said. “And as you get older, you start to realize how important it was for your dad just to be there. We talk a lot in parenting about quality time. I just think about time.

His father Bill Geist, who retired last year as a correspondent for “CBS Sunday Morning,” had a busy job but “was always home for baseball practice or basketball or whatever thing I had to do that night,” Geist said.

Willie Geist as a toddler with his dad, Bill Geist.Courtesy of Willie Geist.

“As a kid, you have these snapshots, I think, in your mind of your own childhood,” he added. “And my dad is in all those snapshots.”

Because Geist, along with his co-hosts, wakes up at 4 a.m. for “Morning Joe,” he said people often wonder how he balances work with parenting.

“What I always say is, for the last 12 years with you guys, I have had for the most part evenings,” Geist explained. “I’ve been home for bath time, I’ve been home for story time, I’ve been home for dinner. And so I hope my kids will have those snapshots in their minds that I have of my own dad from my childhood.”

"Morning Joe" co-host Willie Geist with his wife Christina and children Lucie and George.

Scarborough agreed with Geist’s focus on time spent together.

“Like any kid, you overlook the obvious,” Scarborough said. “And I remember it came to me: I said, 'wait, when was my dad there? Oh, wait a second – my dad was there all the time. My dad was there every Sunday when we went to church … every Little League baseball game.'”

Joe Scarborough with his mother, Mary Jo, and father, George.Courtesy of Joe Scarborough.

George Scarborough was also there when his son decided to run for the House of Representatives seat for Florida’s 1st district — the seat held by eight-term incumbent Earl Hutto.

“My dad said, ‘Well, that’s great, Joey, but I’m voting for Earl,’” Scarborough recalled.

“Oh, no!” Brzezinski said.

"But after we got past that, my dad was actually my fiercest advocate,” Scarborough said.

Joe Scarborough with his mom, Mary Jo, and dad, George in the 1990s.Courtesy of Joe Scarborough.

That support resonated even in small moments, including when the younger Scarborough took one of his parents’ cars to college and promptly backed into another vehicle. Scarborough was terrified to call his parents and explain he had caused $175 in damage that he couldn’t afford to pay.

“And he goes, ‘Oh my gosh! Well, you’re OK, right? It’s only money. It’s only a car,’” Scarborough said. “But it was a small thing like that. He was always there for me, always there for his kids, and there even in difficult times as I grew older.”

Brzezinski commented that both fathers must be proud of their children, who followed in their footsteps in several ways. She noted that George Scarborough, who died in 2011, was a coach for his son’s athletic teams just as Joe Scarborough is coaching son Jack’s baseball team. And Geist is the anchor of “Sunday Today,” similar to his own father’s CBS role.

Joe Scarborough coaching his son's Little League game.Courtesy of Mika Brzezinski.

“Yeah, it’s funny how things happen that way,” Geist said. “He retired last year, so I don’t have to compete with him.”

His Midwestern-raised dad is loving but “stoic,” Geist said, and he learned from his father by following his example rather than from deep sit-down conversations. His dad, for example, never told Geist that journalism was a path he should follow.

Willie and Bill Geist on the set of "Morning Joe" on May 20, 2014Nathan Congleton

“I watched him do it, I watched him be good at it, I watched him enjoy it, and I thought, ‘wow, if I could somehow have that kind of life, boy wouldn’t that be cool,’” Geist said. “So I guess I was inspired by him, but just by his example, not by his words. And now, you know, thanks to the both of you, here we are 12 years later doing something we love every morning.”

Scarborough, too, chose his career paths in part by watching his father.

“My dad wasn’t involved in politics, but he always loved politics,” Scarborough said. “And we always watched the news. There’s no doubt I got my inspiration for politics and news from him and from his example.”