Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt discovered early in their friendship that they shared a disturbing trait: as children, they navigated dangerous inner-city life without a father’s guidance. In spite of this, they escaped delinquency and crime to form the Pact, dedicated to putting themselves on the road to success. Now, the Three Doctors make a new promise: to set aside their resentment, and rebuild the relationships with their fathers—men they barely recognize. Told in alternating voices between father and son, The Bond explores the hard lessons of growing up without a father and suggests ways to stem the tide of fatherlessness in communities across the country. Honest, brave, and poignant, The Bond is a book for every child and every family.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
“The authors of The Pact return with a book about how it feels to need a dad and what it takes to be a good one. Timely, healing, and hope-filled.”—Detroit Free Press
“A memorable portrait of the resiliency of family. However configured.”—The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“The Threee Doctors pull no punches…. This is a book that every father and every family should read and take to heart. It’s honest and brave and true.”—Queen Latifah, musician, actress, and author of Ladies First
“Powerful, candid straight talk needed to help mend our community fabric and strengthen our family ties.”—Cory Booker, mayor of Newark, New Jersey
Rameck Hunt: I initially came up with the idea because I wanted to build a better relationship with my dad. There were so many things I wanted to ask him, but I didn’t know how. I’d often wondered, for example, whether he wanted my mom to get an abortion rather than have me, and whether he thought about me when I wasn’t around; but I couldn’t bring myself to ask him, because the questions made me uncomfortable. So I thought if we wrote a book in collaboration with a disinterested third party it could serve as a vehicle for providing the answers. When I started research for the book, and explained to George and Sampson what I was doing and what I wanted to get out of it, they thought it was a great idea and they joined in.
George Jenkins: We see this as an attempt to get a conversation going about parenting, about the relationship between fathers and sons, and about the issue of fatherlessness prevalent not just in America’s inner cities but all across the country. We thought the best way to do this was for us to write about our own experiences growing up with absentee fathers and the extent to which it left gaping holes in our lives. We write about the things we missed out on that might have helped us have an easier journey. We write about the bumps and obstacles that got in our way. And we explore a lot of questions fatherless children ask. Above all, we celebrate the fact that it’s never too late to connect with your father.
Why is this such an important topic?
Sampson Davis: There’s a growing epidemic of fatherlessness in our communities that needs to be addressed. At one time nuclear families were the backbone of this country. Statistics from generations past indicate eighty to ninety percent of U.S. households were made up of married couples with their children. That’s clearly no longer the case. In fact, in 2001 it was reported that nuclear families dropped below twenty-five percent of U.S. households. Single-parent homes, and particularly those headed by women who have children—families typically poorer than two-parent families—are becoming the norm. Obviously, relationships don’t work out all the time, and you move on for any number of reasons. But whether or not the relationship works, you still have a responsibility when a child is involved and that child is looking for love, guidance and care not from one parent alone but from both.
Knowing that so many relationships end in divorce and separation, and having grown up with absentee dads, we thought it was important to create some kind of blueprint or path for fathers—indeed, for both parents, and for their kids—to follow. We know this isn’t easy to deal with, especially if you’re no longer living in the home, but that doesn’t excuse you from being accountable. We certainly don’t expect this to stop people from separating or divorcing, bu/t we do hope it will move them to take a more active role in their kids’ lives.
Are we expecting to change the world? Yes. Do we think we will change the world? We certainly hope so. A friend of mine, a psychiatrist in Jamaica, likes to say, “Aim for the sky, land on the roofs.” We’re aiming for the sky.
Describe your childhood experiences with your fathers.
George Jenkins: My parents were married for a brief period—about two or three years—but it was a very rocky relationship. Dad abused alcohol, and Mom had little patience for his heavy drinking. She wanted to raise my older brother and me in a healthy environment, so she moved us from South Carolina, where we had been living and where my father remained, to New Jersey. Dad never made enough money to take care of his responsibilities to us, and there wasn’t much effort on his part to be a presence in my life or to help Mom in rearing me. She bore the brunt of all that. When I decided to make the leap to college and professional school—a time when I needed him most—that hands-off approach continued. I watched mom wear herself out working a number of jobs at a time so I could concentrate on my studies. That created a lot of resentment in me toward my dad over the years. He and I would talk on the phone occasionally, and the conversations were always friendly and warm. But 675 miles separated us—a distance he seemed to have no interest in bridging—so no matter how pleasant the conversation, there was nothing on which to build a father-son bond. It was like being in a platonic relationship when you’re really starving for a romantic one. As a child, I convinced myself I was cool with my dad’s absence. After all, hardly any of my friends had fathers, either. As a grown man, I know better. When we decided to write this book, I stalled, switched gears, and for a time stopped writing altogether. It was hard to grasp how deeply I had buried things and how unwilling I was to disclose them.
Sampson Davis: The Pop I knew was present physically for my early years, but was an absentee father nonetheless. He was a very stoic man from the South, with a strong, solid demeanor that commanded respect. But his relationship with my mom was incredibly volatile, and domestic violence in our household—on both their parts—was the norm. Added to that was the wear and tear of trying to raise a family of six on a meager income amid the land mines of inner-city Newark. Pop’s way of coping was to retreat behind a closed door, to wall himself off. There was never an attempt on his part to open himself up so I could ask him the questions every boy wants to ask his dad: What do I do in this or that social situation? Do I shake the person’s hand? Do I make eye contact? How much do I ask? How little should I ask? What about girls and dating and sex? And I longed to hear him say “I love you” to me. Those three words would have meant the world. Even doing something as simple as going fishing with him would have been wonderful, because it would have allowed me to get to know him on a more personal level. Instead he was just this physical presence I called “Dad.”
When I was about twelve or so, he divorced my mom, and later he remarried. I’ve been told by my stepmom and my stepbrothers and sisters that with them he was the kind of man—the kind of father—I so desperately wanted. They always talked about how great and kind and giving he was. As I researched his life story for the book, I learned for the first time that he had courted my stepmother for roughly ten years before they married—from the time I was about four. In essence, he had left me to fend for myself after his marriage to my mom soured and he headed off in search of love.
Sampson, you make it pretty clear that both your parents contributed to the turmoil, anger, and bitterness in their marriage. Are you ever angry with your mom for the part she played in pushing your father to “wall himself off” from you?
Sampson Davis: My parents’ method of conflict resolution certainly left a lot to be desired, but I can’t blame my mom or fault her. She was in the trenches fighting alongside us. When you’re cold and your belly’s empty and you look to your left and see that your moms is there, and you look to your right and see that your dad is not, you can’t help staying with your moms. I do wish they had learned to resolve their arguments in a more suitable manner as the years went by and tensions between them continued to build. (I was ecstatic when they got divorced, because I knew, for the first time in a long time, there wouldn’t be commotion at home.) Parents often forget: Your children are you. They copy your behavior. That’s what happened to my older brother. With mom and dad fighting all the time, he followed the same pattern in his relationships. It’s something of a common model in my community: a couple hammering away at each other over their differences. Either they don’t know how to get past them or they don’t want to.
Rameck, what about your experience with fatherlessness as a child?
Rameck Hunt: I don’t have many memories of my dad, because I never lived with him except for one summer when I was in high school. You see, I arrived sort of gift-wrapped in scandal. My dad—who was in college at the time—had two girlfriends competing for his attention—my mom and another girl—and he got both of them pregnant. My half sister and I were born eighteen days apart. Basically, Dad ended up choosing my sister’s mom as the ultimate victor in the girlfriend competition, so he and my mom were never together after I was born. About a year later he was arrested for armed robbery. (He had become addicted to heroin while on a Christmas break from school.) It was the first of several prison stints, ranging from eighteen months to two years. The memories I have of him are memories of the prison, where Mom took me for regular visits. I grew up thinking that that was his home, that he lived in a faraway dormitory. The only time I saw him—the only time I’d get his undivided attention—was when he was in jail, or occasionally between prison sentences.
Did you feel a lot of animosity toward your dad?
Rameck Hunt: No, I never did. As long as I got to see him every once in a while, it was enough. I didn’t question his absence. In my world, daddies were kind of an oddity anyway. It was the rare kid who had one in his life. The thing about my dad was, he really wanted to do better. He wanted to be there for my sister and me. He knew it was going to be difficult, but he was constantly battling his addiction. And even though he had this problem, he made me feel, at least in some sense, that I was a priority. If I saw him walking down the street and asked him for five dollars—and he had only enough money in his pockets for a ten-dollar bag of heroin—he’d give it to me without hesitation. He’d be scratching and itching and jonesing for a fix the rest of the day, but he’d put me first. Nevertheless, in my single-mom household, it was clear I would have to teach myself to become a man; I couldn’t rely on him to decipher those mysteries.
George, you’ve talked about the resentment you felt toward your dad—particularly as you were struggling with college and medical school. Ultimately, however, you built a better relationship with him. How were you able to put that resentment aside?
George Jenkins: Time and distance and the struggle for an education made it a little easier. When I was actually going through it, I didn’t want to have any part of him. I’d get off the phone after one of our calls and then have to go study, and it was a constant reminder that he wasn’t there. When I got out of school and didn’t need his support as much, I found it easier to concentrate on having a relationship with him. Once I started to let some of my resentment go, I was able to talk to him more and ask some of the difficult questions I had always wanted to ask. And the more we communicated—the more I learned about what had happened to him and how things had ended up the way they had—the easier it was to continue letting go of that old resentment. One of the messages we want to reinforce here is that despite the best of intentions on the part of our parents, sometimes things go wrong. I began to see that my dad didn’t intentionally make things the way they were, nor did he want them to be that way. And so I was able to deal with it better.
When did you most feel your father’s absence?
George Jenkins: For me it was a lot of small things: trying to figure out male grooming; handling situations with my peers; figuring out how to sidestep confrontation or avoid the pitfalls of Newark’s streets, where fistfights could ignite in a flash. I just wish I had had the support that a father is supposed to give you. Rameck talks about the fact that even when his father was desperate for cash to get his next fix, he’d share whatever money he had. He saw there was at least some sacrifice on his dad’s part. I never experienced that with my dad. I didn’t need him to have all the bases covered, but I needed to see him at least making an effort. And that never happened.
How did you deal with it?
George Jenkins: I ended up attaching myself to my friends’ parents. And of course I relied on Sam and Rameck. We all leaned on each other. If I didn’t know something, I’d ask them, and they’d pass along whatever lessons they’d learned. It was Rameck, for example, who taught me how to drive a stick shift. All three of us talked to one another about relationships and anything else a father and son might talk about. We kind of raised one another and pushed one another along. I figure each of us had twenty-five percent of the experience that equaled out to about seventy-five percent of a father, and then we fudged the rest.
Sampson Davis: There were two things I did to cope. As a preteen I found an awesome mentor in a guy named Reggie Brown. Age-wise he was more like an older brother, but in many ways he was my father figure. He taught me how to drive and invested a great deal of time teaching me kung fu. (It wasn’t about the martial art itself; it was the bonding that was important.) Eventually, as a teenager, I turned more to the street—friends my age who were also wandering, trying to find themselves, trying to work out their own definition of what a man is supposed to be. Unfortunately, on the street the definition of being a man often includes standing outside a bar or on a street corner drinking beer, staying out until all hours of the night, and not being accountable to your kids. Today, when a friend tells me he’s going to the park to play with his kids, I think, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” But back in my teenage days I’d have thought that was corny, that men weren’t supposed to do that. The street supplied me with a lot of wrong answers, and as a result I got into a great deal of trouble.
When did you feel your father’s absence most? Was it as a kid, as a college student, or is it now as an adult?
George Jenkins: It’s difficult to say where or when your father’s absence had the most impact, because it’s something you put out of your mind. You have your own life to live and tough times to get through, and it seems a waste of energy to dwell on things you can’t control. You almost have to be in denial about it in order to accomplish what you want, or to keep it from eating at you. I should add that there was one positive side effect of not having my dad around. Many of my friends spent an awful lot of time trying to please their fathers. I had friends in dental school who were studying dentistry because that’s what their dads wanted. Sam, Rameck, and I felt we were making choices for ourselves. We were our own men. We were chasing the dream because we wanted to, not because we had to. That’s something we always appreciated. There’s a level of comfort in that.
Sampson Davis: I strongly felt the void in high school, and even more so in college. College was foreign territory to me, and I remember being envious of classmates who would show up at school functions with their dads and moms. There were times we’d be preparing for a test and a friend would say, “My dad’s a pharmacologist and he told me what to study.” Or someone would say, “When I get out of here I’m going to go into radiology with my dad.” They had a sense of bravado. It was as if they knew everything was going to be okay. I wasn’t like that. I was strictly on my own. I always felt I was hanging on by a thread and if it got any thinner I would fall.
Rameck Hunt: I think it affected me most in junior high school and then high school—my early teen years—because that’s when those hormones start to rage; that’s when I was starting to become a man and I had no freaking clue. I was confused. I had to learn about sex from my friends. My mom’s sole lesson was, “Keep it in your pants.” Any education I got beyond that came from the street.
Rameck, you’ve written, “It’s not unusual to hear single mothers say, ‘I don’t need a man. I can do bad by myself.’” How did it happen that people stopped expecting men to be full-time devoted dads?
Rameck Hunt: As many others have pointed out, in our culture it started way back when we came to this country as slaves. Bought and sold, bred as cattle—the nuclear family was not part of our experience here. We tried to rebuild the nuclear family and adopt it once we got out of slavery, but the community was so seriously damaged. By the time the 1960s rolled around, things had gotten better. There was a sense of pride in the black community. It was all about getting these things back again, or at least that’s what was popular at the time. Everyone wore Afros; the Black Power movement was a potent force; the black female was someone to be respected. Over time, however, the tables turned. Things were different after the riots. Music started to change. Culture started to change. It was okay to be a macho guy. The notion of “How many women can you get?” started to be cool. And all of a sudden women and girls became “bitches” and “ho’s,” and misogyny was playing a big part in our culture. People believed that that’s what made you a man. And this came from a generation of boys who didn’t have fathers at home—boys who did not have nuclear families—who were trying to learn to become men and getting their lessons and messages anywhere they could. It’s easy to tear down a foundation when it’s already half broken.
Sampson, when the three of you originally envisioned this book, you planned for your fathers to each have their own chapter, so that they could tell their life stories in their own words. That wasn’t possible for your dad. Why not?
Sampson Davis: My dad developed two unforgiving diseases—Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—and he deteriorated rapidly within a two-and-a-half-year period. Three years ago he was walking, talking, having full conversations. By the time we got around to writing the book, he was no longer able to tell his own story. He passed away just recently. I’ve dedicated the book to him, which is kind of ironic. Here I am, talking about fatherlessness and his not being there for me, and yet he’s the one to whom I’ve dedicated this work. That’s how much I’ve come to grips with our relationship. I feel it’s something he deserves.
Rameck, in his chapter your father writes about a significant moment: when he wrote you a poem while you were in medical school. Why was that significant for you?
Rameck Hunt: By age twelve I was the caregiver for everyone in my family. I became a surrogate dad to my little sister. Around that time my mom’s drug habit got bad, so I became her dad too. And then I became the dad to my dad. Needless to say, I always wanted my parents to get better. Mom consistently denied she had a drug habit. My dad, at least, faced up to it and tried to beat it. He’d go into rehab, kick the drugs, and then, after a time, fall off the wagon. It was a pattern that repeated itself again and again, and it put me on an emotional roller coaster. I’d get my hopes up, my heart would mend, and then it would be ripped open again. Getting that poem from him felt prophetic. I knew deep in my soul that this time he was going to make it. I knew he was never going to relapse again. And I was right, he never did. The poem was also significant because in it he asked for my forgiveness and expressed how sorry he was that he hadn’t been there for me. Although I never really felt he had anything to apologize for, it was a lovely gesture. That’s one of the hang-ups George still has with his dad. To this day he has never apologized.
While working on this book, what did you learn about your fathers that you didn’t already know? And what did it feel like to learn it for the first time?
George Jenkins: I learned a lot about his family, his own experience with fatherlessness, and how that affected his choices with me. His mother was a widowed schoolteacher, and his father was the married proprietor of the town’s general store. In small-town rural South Carolina that sort of thing would set tongues wagging. On top of that, his mother already had six other children and worked two jobs trying to keep things afloat. She sent my infant dad off to another town to be cared for by a couple she was friends with. Although my dad and his father saw each other occasionally, his father was never a big part of his life. And on those occasions when he did make overtures to his son, his wife made it clear she wasn’t happy he had “stepped out” on her. She went out of her way to humiliate my dad. I’m sure that had an impact on how he dealt with me. When I heard this story, it knocked down even more walls between us and allowed us to start forging a relationship with each other.
Sampson Davis: I never knew my roots from my father’s side of the family, so traveling down the road of his history was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I learned, among other things, that there was a strong thread connecting the Davis men in the public record. For example, by the late 1880s—according to the census—my great-grandfather, a child when slavery ended, had become a property owner. He eventually gave his firstborn son, my grandfather, some land so he could raise crops and start building his own family. And for a while the two men lived next to each other. These were guys who had large families and were heads of their households. They were not men who shirked their responsibilities.
I also learned that my dad was big on academics and education. I knew he had enlisted in the army and served in World War II, but I imagined him as this stoic, no-frills lieutenant. It turns out he was anything but that. He was quite a prankster—a side of him I’d never seen—easygoing and laid-back. He was a self-taught musician who loved playing his guitar. He was outgoing, adventurous, fun-loving, and lighthearted. I found that very surprising. In fact I was shocked. It was thrilling to see he had this personality I never knew of. I was also stunned to learn of how he courted my mom. The quintessential traditionalist, he asked her dad for permission to start seeing her. It was great to learn that he had had that kind of respect. They slipped away to another town to marry in secret (she was fifteen, he was twenty-one or twenty-two). He continued to “court” my mom on weekends, and eventually her dad grew very fond of him. When she became pregnant a year later, they finally went to live under the same roof. They settled in Newark, and those early years were a blissful time in their marriage. My oldest brother remembers the time well—filled with family outings to the park, father-and-son visits to the neighborhood boys’ club, loving embraces, and much more. I wish more than anything that I had been born in time to witness those years.
My dad’s one Achilles’ heel showed later in life, when the marriage fell apart. He tried to hold on to the relationship, even though it had become cancerous and he no longer knew how to make it work.
Rameck Hunt: I thought I knew a lot of my family’s history, but in fact I knew only what was on the surface. I never fully understood how tough my father’s mother made it for my mom. Everyone in the family has confirmed that my paternal grandmother really didn’t care for my mom and didn’t want me around. There was a time when she wouldn’t even acknowledge me as her grandson, and when that acknowledgment did come, it was grudging at best. (My half sister, on the other hand, was doted on.)
I already knew a bit about how my dad got hooked on heroin, but I learned more of the details once I started researching the book. I learned about how he came home from college that fateful winter of his freshman year, searched out his old friends—guys who had already started shooting up—and became an addict himself. From the moment he tried it, and for the next thirty years, he chased that high, and he ended up throwing his life away.
One thing I found really scary is that although I don’t look like my dad, and although I hadn’t spent as much as a forty-hour week with him during my entire childhood, I’m his spitting image character-wise. We both have the same loving heart. We both went through a phase in which we wanted to be accepted by our friends. We both love kids and love to play with kids. We both like to be silly. We’re both introspective and like to express ourselves. We’re both deep thinkers. I saw in me everything he described about himself in his chapter. The fact that I’d spent so little time around him growing up and yet was so like him truly amazed me.
Is there a common denominator to be found in the stories of your fathers?
Sampson Davis: An intergenerational legacy of fatherlessness seemed to wrap itself around all our fathers, snuffing out their ability to be devoted dads. Just as our fathers weren’t in our lives, their fathers weren’t in their lives. Like so many other men without a role model to show them how to be a strong co-parent, our fathers weren’t able to figure the puzzle out on their own.
The Bond is written from a male perspective. Is it strictly for fathers and sons?
Sampson Davis: No. Regardless of whether you’re a boy or a girl, growing up fatherless profoundly affects the development of your self-esteem, your sexual behavior, your ability to form relationships, and so on. Some girls I knew growing up didn’t know how to form relationships. They thought being sexual was the way to connect with a man. They figured that if they gave of themselves sexually it would keep that man in their lives and prevent him from running out as their fathers had. The difference in how they behaved when they had fathers in their lives was obvious. They seemed stronger and less naive. They didn’t cave in. Their attitude seemed to be: “This is my stance, this is what I believe in.” The message here, for all parents, is that they have to be involved in the lives of their children. They need to go to their recitals and parent-teacher days; pick them up from school and take vacations with them; talk about the concerns that are part of their daily lives: peer pressure, friendships, alcoholism, anything and everything. It can’t be said enough: Parents need to realize how vital it is that they take an active role in the lives of their children.
I know many women who see a clear connection between the relationships they had with their fathers and bad love relationships or troubling behaviors on their part later in life. I wrote a chapter for the book called “Daddy’s Little Girl,” based on interviews I conducted with a number of women, and others done by our collaborator, Margaret Bernstein. We explored, among other things, father-daughter relationships, and the theory that a father is his daughter’s first male love and that this affects her future relationships with men. Unfortunately, as we went through the editing process we realized the chapter didn’t quite flow with the rest of the material; still, we used sections of it in the prologue and the postscript. This book was written from a male perspective, but it’s absolutely meant to be inclusive. We’re convinced every father and mother, every son and daughter, will get a lot from it.
You offer ideas that readers can put to work immediately to reduce the harm done by absentee dads and to welcome missing fathers back into children’s lives. What are the most important of these suggestions?
George Jenkins: The most important piece of advice I can think of is to make sure you don’t harbor ill feelings toward your absentee father. If you don’t put those ill feelings aside and move forward, they’ll stay with you and eat you alive. It’s also important that you surround yourself with people you can learn from, talk to, and open up with. Without Sam and Rameck, this would have been a decidedly unpleasant journey.
Sampson Davis: For me, the most important piece of advice is that you take that first step. Many of my friends bemoan the fact that they have no relationship with their fathers; they’re always telling me they wish things were different. But they also refuse to reach out to their dads. They come up with one excuse after another. I tell them that they need to express what they feel, but that they shouldn’t necessarily look for a response. When you hold those feelings in and don’t express them, and then you expect your dad to do something, you’re going to lose him and you’re going to be disappointed. The two of you will sit at opposite sides of the table with your poker faces on. You’ll think you’ve won, but in fact you’ve lost. Whether it’s the parent or the child, mother or daughter, father or son, someone has to be the bigger person. And do it now, today! Don’t wait until tomorrow. When I finally did make that move, it was too late.
Rameck Hunt: It’s perhaps a bit strange for this to come from someone who is not yet a father. The key point I’d like to make is that you’re cheating yourself when you miss out on the joys you receive from watching your kids grow: having them hold on to you, secure in the knowledge that you’re their protector; seeing them take their first steps; hearing them say “Mama” or “Dada” for the first time. My dad can’t say he had anything to do with my success other than providing half my genes. That kind of thing just kills you inside. Think about the consequences of missing out on those milestones in the life of your child.
What can be done to stem the tide of fatherlessness in the kinds of inner-city communities you three came from?
George Jenkins: The most important thing we can do is create a discussion and hope some good comes from it. We need to talk to young men and boys and help them understand the importance of fatherhood; help them focus on it, and awaken in them dormant paternal instincts. A lot of teenagers and young men don’t even want to discuss it. That needs to change. And we need to put more effort into mending family relationships that have gone bad and into reconnecting absentee fathers with their sons and sons with their absentee fathers.
What do you think will most surprise readers of this book?
George Jenkins: Some readers may get the sense that we’ve mended our relationships with our fathers. It may surprise them to know that we’ve only begun that process. For me, in particular, the book is what started the healing; it’s what got my dad and me talking to each other. But this is not an “A-to-Z Guide” for mending father-son relationships. It’s a work in progress rather than one that is finished.
Sampson Davis: I think readers will be surprised that we’re not bitter and that we were able to find some sort of victory in all this. When you pick up a book about fatherlessness, you might think it will involve father-bashing. That’s not what we’re about. In this book you get stories that are heartfelt, funny, sad, and dramatic. At the same time, you’re going to feel inspired and motivated. I think readers will be surprised that this can serve as a blueprint to help them in their father-son relationships. People who had been disconnected from their dads have told us our book made them want to reconnect. That’s one of the things we’re trying to accomplish.
Rameck Hunt: I think readers will be surprised that we’re as open and honest as we are. People who have read The Pact already know that about us. But they may be surprised that we took a different perspective here. We didn’t just tell the story of our relationship with our fathers. We also had our fathers tell their own stories in their own voices.
Has each of you reconciled with your father? If so, how difficult was that process?
George Jenkins: I don’t know where the final destination of reconciliation will be, but we’re light-years from where we were. We now talk fairly often and care enough to keep up-to-date with what’s going on in each other’s lives. That alone is a pretty important step. (I used to have to call my mom every time I wanted to contact my dad, because I refused to keep his number.) Sadly, he now has prostate cancer. Even though I’m a dentist, I’m deep enough in the medical field to be able to provide some support for him. That too is helping us come full circle.
Sampson Davis: In his later years—because of his Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s—I wasn’t able to talk to Pop or have one-on-one discussions with him, but I’m happy I was there when he was going through his illness. It would have been easy to say, “He wasn’t there for me, so I’m not going to be there for him.” But that would have robbed me of something.
Sampson, like Rameck and George, you say you wanted this book to address your unanswered questions. And yet you write that in your hearts of hearts you knew your father wouldn’t be able to answer them, even if he had been healthy and whole. Why not?
Sampson Davis: I wanted to know whether or not he loved me. I wanted to know whether I ever did anything wrong. I wanted to know why we didn’t do things together, and why he didn’t open up more, and what I could have done to make that happen. I had tried broaching these subjects with him in the past—sending him cards and flattering letters—but it just didn’t work. I would say, “Hey, I love you, Dad,” and he’d stay silent. He was simply unable to express his feelings that way. Because of this, I don’t think this book would have made a difference. At his funeral someone showed me a resume I had put together ten years ago, when I was in medical school. Dad had made copies of it and sent it to family members down South. Clearly he was proud of me, but he couldn’t voice it. Part of me has had to say, “That’s okay. That’s who he was.”
What do you want readers to get out of this book?
George Jenkins:M We hope they’ll be inspired by our experiences and that they’ll think about the positive things that can come out of trying to mend relationships with their fathers, with both their parents. We hope they’ll figure out a way to bond within themselves as a way of starting that process. Above all, we want tighter families to serve as better examples for the next generation, so they’ll have less trouble than we had. It all begins with mending those relationships now.
Rameck Hunt: We want readers to have hope. We want all fathers to become better fathers, all parents to become better parents. We hope those who have absented themselves in any way from their children’s lives will reestablish relationships with their sons and daughters, and that those who are still in the home but having trouble will do a better job. We want this book to be a catalyst for change for everybody—black and white, rich and poor, from all walks of life. We hope it will make parents and kids reevaluate their relationships with each other. That’s what we want the book to spark.