SAN ANTONIO, Fla. — They come to the tree-shaded park a couple of times a week, finding joy on the jungle gym and merriment on the merry-go-round.
David Williams sometimes tosses a Nerf football with his 4-year-old son, Xavier, and 15-year-old daughter, Breanna.
Other times, when the 36-year-old's energy runs low, he sits and reads as they play. But he never really takes his eyes off them.
"It's a nice park," he said. "There's not a lot of big kids with their cussing and all."
Swear words are a big deal to Williams. So are song lyrics, television shows, movies, and dances. So are the people his kids hang out with.
"If you're in a car and police find drugs, everybody goes down," he stresses to Breanna.
Williams knows. Thanks to a strong mother and a 200-pound father who was all muscle and treated his wife "like a queen," Williams never got in trouble with the law. But he grew up with plenty of people who threw their lives away through bad choices.
"I knew the Hambrick brothers," said Williams, a 1992 graduate of Pasco High School, referring to classmates Troy and Darren Hambrick, football stars who made it to the NFL only to lose their careers. Troy got five years in federal prison for selling crack cocaine; Darren served probation for assaulting a woman and for cashing an NFL check he reported as stolen. Their actions make Williams, an assistant records supervisor for Pasco County Clerk of Court Paula O'Neil, just shake his head.
Not that Williams was a perfect role model. Far from it.
"I made mistakes," said Williams, a second cousin of the late Jerome Brown, a Hernando High School football phenom who played defensive tackle for the Philadelphia Eagles before dying in a 1992 car crash. During Williams' six-year stint in the Navy, he said, he drank and partied.
At 20, Williams got a girlfriend pregnant. He remembers the sting of his father's reaction.
"He was upset that I had a child outside the confines of marriage," he recalled. "But he loved me yet still."
Breanna, a preemie, was born July 14, 1995, while Williams was at sea. By the time she was 2, she was living with Williams' family. Her mother still lives in the area.
Williams got out of the military and helped care for his daughter, but a series of tragedies served as wake-up calls about the importance of family.
In 1999, a tire exploded in his father's face and killed him. About five years later, his younger brother, who was severely allergic to shellfish, died in Williams' arms at a Japanese steak house after smelling the fish cooking on a hibachi grill.
Williams battled depression for more than two years.
Then one Sunday morning at Josephine Street Church of the Living God in Brooksville, his life changed. Bishop Theodore Brown preached a fiery sermon called "The Turning Point." It was as if the message, about how everyone is made new in Christ, was intended only for Williams.
Choking back tears, he took the long walk to the altar. Some of the older men in the church surrounded him and helped him down the aisle.
"I knew I needed God in my life," he said. "I couldn't rely on myself any longer."
Williams started reading his Bible every day. He got a mentor. Over time, he took over the majority of the child rearing responsibilities.
"Through prayer and friends and a good support system, he was able to get himself together," said Williams' mother, Doris.
Not a day goes by that Williams doesn't consult mentor Dan Oliver. Over lunch or by phone, Williams bounces questions about marriage and parenting off the 53-year-old conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"You can sense in his presence he's seeking some inner peace," Oliver said. Williams has also taken more of an active role at church. He ushers, chaperones the youth on trips and is helping research the church's history.
"He's totally sold out to God," said his wife, Crystal, who accepted Williams' marriage proposal during halftime of the 2003 Super Bowl, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' lone national championship. They had Xavier four years later.
"Before he was just David," she said. "He liked to hang out with his friends. Most of his friends were not married, and he couldn't understand why I was uneasy when he wanted to go places with them."
Crystal, 33, who works as a medical assistant in Brandon, said Williams works to be a good husband and loves to cook.
Each morning he gets up at 5:30 a.m., reads the Bible and prays for his family. Then he gets the children ready for school and heads to work.
He and his wife are both strict with Breanna, Xavier, and Malik, and Crystal's 13-year-son from a previous relationship who lives with them.
For Breanna, no dating until she's 17 and only if Williams meets the boy first and gives him the thumbs up. Homework must be finished. No going out on school nights, and weekend curfew is 10 p.m. All dances and parties must be pre-approved. No short-shorts, low-cut tops, shirts with sexual innuendoes, tattoos, or body piercings other than one hole in each ear lobe.
Song lyrics in question have to be written down and read out loud to dad.
"If you start to get embarrassed, then you shouldn't be listening to that song," he said. On Fridays father and daughter have "date night," usually at her favorite place, Golden Corral. They talk about boys, friends, school.
For Xavier, he must do what he's told. Say sir and ma'am. Clean his room. Put things away. Play well with others.
Malik also must obey house rules, although his mother says he hardly ever challenges them.
"He's a quiet kid," she said. "He keeps mostly to himself."
All the kids must attend church with the family every Sunday and Wednesday. At home, each day ends with prayer in the living room as family members hold onto each other.
Williams said he wants his children to have successful lives and avoid the mistakes he made or saw his peers make.
"I want them to know there are no short cuts in life," he said. "No quick bucks. No schemes. You just have to work hard."
So does Williams have any faults?
Well … sometimes he leaves his clothes on the floor, Crystal said. And then there are the cotton swabs that he picks the cotton off of to clean out his ears.
"I told him I put him on restriction from Q-Tips," Crystal said.