If anyone knows what it’s like to have a rough childhood, it’s Tom Watson.
“I remember being scared as a child,” the Fraser Heights resident said.
“I remember a fair bit of the painful stuff.”
After going into foster care at the age of four, Watson was bounced around 12 different foster homes. His 12th foster home could be described as a ‘house of horrors,’ something that Watson highlighted in his 2011 book “Man Shoes.”
For punishment, that foster family would submerge him in a barrel of water, chase him around with a belt and run a floor polisher over his bare feet. After a “punishment” put Watson in the hospital with a broken arm and a badly damaged ear, he was removed from the home.
Although an unlucky number for some, it was Watson’s 13th family that ended up granting him good luck.
Edwina and Jim Watson brought the five-year-old Tom into their life while they were in their 60s. The couple had four adult children and decided to give young Tom a chance to live a proper life.
It’s this family that Watson gave credit to after winning the inaugural SOS International Foster Award in an event hosted by the SOS Children’s Village in Surrey.
“It was a surreal and humbling moment,” said Watson. “It was also a validation of my foster parents, my 13th family, who took a chance on a five-year-old when they were in their early 60s.
“It was a moment to celebrate that someone took a chance on me,” he added. “They rescued me from a life that was going nowhere.”
When he stepped up to receive the award, he dedicated it to his foster parents.
“I always believe that I have to live bigger than myself. I’ve been given an opportunity that other foster kids don’t get. the Watsons gave me life and opportunity. I’m cognoscente of the fact that I’m a fortunate guy. The Watsons saved my life, so how many other lives can I save?”
Growing up with the Watsons near Rycroft, Alberta he admits that it took him a while to warm up to his new family after a childhood filled with neglect and abuse.
“Even at five years old, you know you’re just expendable,” he said. “A lot of foster children struggle with the fact that they’re not wanted. The Watsons were able to show me that they were in it for the long haul.
“They were actually able to get me to like myself, and believe that I was wanted.”
Watson remembers a specific moment where he started to warm up to the first family to show him love.
“Ms. Watson would come in at night and read to me, and say ‘I love you, Tommy.’ I would never respond, for months and months,” he said.
“I was closing in on seven years old when finally, as she turned back to look at me one night I said, ‘I love you too, Ms. Watson.’ That was the watershed moment for me.”
Watson and his wife Kathy live in Fraser Heights and have three kids.
He says his foster parents’ loving nature taught him to give back to others. One way he does this is by travelling to other countries to build houses for the less fortunate.
“When I was a kid, where I was going to lay my head down was one of the biggest things for me,” he said.
“Millions of people around the world don’t know where they’re sleeping tonight. Giving back by building them homes is something that I love to do.”
According to Watson, he has helped with 70 home builds around the world with companies like ‘Homes for Hope’. He has also assisted with 30 well-projects in Africa, supplying impoverished communities with clean drinking water.
He recently returned from Mexico, where he helped build a home for a family with a two-year-old and a six-month-old. They were previously living under cardboard.
“If it becomes a home, it becomes a family,” he said. “Generationally, we can change people’s lives.”
Watson also works as a motivational speaker. He said he did about 30 to 40 free gigs before someone told him he should do it full-time.
“I just tell my story,” Watson said, adding that being the first recipient of the SOS International Foster Award was a tad overwhelming.
“To be honest, it was shocking,” Watson said. “A dozen different villages from around the world wished me well. To have people like Angelina Jolie, [Sylvester] Stallone, the Duchess give their regards is remarkable. When you have that level of interest with people congratulating you, it’s very humbling and exciting.”