Although her house was filled with love, Tionne herself fought a lack of self-confidence, which she attributes to her father’s absence for most of her childhood. She describes with raw, heartfelt emotion how he called one Christmas Eve when she was very young to say he was going to be there and bring her a present. He never arrived. He moved to Florida to marry someone other than her mother. She later would spend summers with him, she recalls, but never seemed to be able to distract him from his work or his women.
Even today, Tionne admits, her father still fails to see how his lack of attention affected her.
“I was never on bad terms, but he never understood what he did to me,” she explains. “When I was 25, he apologized. I had to forgive him in my heart, and I had to heal myself and keep from becoming bitter about it. I can’t change it, so it would just continue to hurt me if I stayed bitter. I don’t think he ever understood. I can’t talk with him about it.”
In addition to her father, Tionne’s mother used to move the church congregation with her singing. When her mom was 14, along with the man who would later become her husband and Tionne’s father, she joined a white singing group called the Martinelles and toured the country. Their single “I Don’t Care No More,” actually made it on the pop charts. When they came off the road, Tionne’s mother and father got married and the elder Watkins stopped performing, except in church.