The three of us grew up in a world where it seemed normal for men to abandon their children. Fathers weren't important in our lives at all.
For us and for a lot of the kids in our Newark neighborhood, Father's Day was never a big deal. We hardly knew when it fell, and rarely celebrated it when it occurred. To us, Father's Day was "kind of like Rosh Hashanah," as Rameck puts it. "It seemed like a celebration for other people, a day that belonged to another culture." To this day, George remembers the humiliation of having to ask a classmate how to tie a necktie because his father wasn't around to help him learn. And Sampson knows firsthand the destructive lure of the streets and how valuable a father's steadying influence would have been when times got tough and he found himself out there.
Our dads weren't our heroes. In many ways, they were the guys we hoped we'd never be like. So fatherhood and the crucial role it plays in the lives of children and families weren't important to us as kids, because we didn't know any better.
We do now.
Not having fathers left gaping holes in our lives. George rarely saw his father after his parents split up when he was a toddler. Rameck's father was hooked on drugs when Rameck was born, so he spent his time either locked up or out on the streets searching for a fix. And Sampson's father moved out when he was still a child, leaving Sampson's mom with the job of rearing a houseful of kids on her own. It was inevitable that we tripped in these holes every day of our lives. Rameck forced himself to sign up for Pop Warner football because it was something he thought boys were supposed to do and was so embarrassed that he didn't know how to put on his shoulder pads he quit football instead of asking for help. Sampson ventured out into the streets in search of male role models because he couldn't get his emotionally distant dad to pay attention to him. He allowed friends to hustle him down the path of crime and easy money, until he found himself locked up in the juvenile detention center for a summer. And George had to gulp down his pride many times to ask friends to help him learn even the simplest tasks such as how to shave.
In our world, it was our mothers and grandmothers who had to do the heavy lifting of parenting. They fed us, clothed us, hugged us, and fretted over us. As we grew, they tried their best to drill positive values into us, lecturing us to go to school and stay off the streets. Though they tried, they couldn't teach us everything we needed to know. It was an exhausting job to raise us, and it was scary watching them get worn down by poverty and stress.
In many ways, we ended up replacing our absentee dads on our haphazard journey to manhood with one another. In high school and college, we pooled our limited knowledge and shared our strengths. Together we figured out many of life's mysteries, from how to treat women to how to pick out a graduation suit.
But while this is a book about the profound emptiness of life without a father, it's also a book about hope. While we explore how vitally important fathers are to a child's development, we also celebrate that it's never too late to connect with your father. In these pages, we speak frankly about the sense of loss that the three of us felt as fatherless kids, and we explore a lot of questions most fatherless children ask: Why did you leave me? Did you ever wonder if I was missing you? Did you miss me? Was I on your mind? Why didn't you call more? Why didn't you send for me? We also explain how as adults we made a conscious effort to create relationships with our fathers that we didn't have as children, and how that connection has changed us and our fathers.
This book is written from a male perspective. Although we know that fatherless daughters struggle with their own issues of loss and compensation, this is our story, so we focused on our own feelings and experiences to illuminate the points we want to make.
You'll find that this book is divided into three distinct sections, so that each of us can explain our own relationship with our father. In Chapter 1 of each section, we share our experiences growing up without fathers. In Chapter 2, you'll hear from our dads themselves as they explain what went wrong in the father-son relationship. One thing we realized through the process of researching and writing this book is that although these men contributed half our DNA, we knew precious little about them and their history. We were stunned to find that all three of our fathers share common traits that account for a great deal about their inability to be devoted dads.
We resume our own stories in Chapter 3, letting you know where we stand emotionally with the information we've gleaned about our fathers. In Chapter 4 you'll meet real people who have impressed us by taking a bold stand to stop the cycle of fatherlessness in their own lives. They're people who didn't have fathers in their lives as kids, but they were smart enough to decide not to pass on the pain to another generation. We admire these people and want to banner their success so more people can learn from it. Little by little, one victory at a time, is the best way to put an end to this harmful trend.
In the final chapter of each section, we offer ideas that you can put to work immediately to help reduce the harm being done by absentee dads and to welcome these missing fathers back into their children's lives.
Remember, this is a book of hope. We refuse to give up hope that things can change. Thousands of young people who read our first book, The Pact, told us that positive friendships have the power to push a young person to success.
Once again, we're putting our faith in friendship. We believe there's no stronger force for change. We're confident that our nation's men are strong enough to put other influences aside and live lives in which children come first. That's where they have always belonged.
We believe a new era is possible, and that adults can successfully band together to form a bond and to wash away the crippling legacy of absentee fatherhood. It can happen, if we wake up and voice the hard truth to one another that it's a heartless thing to deprive a child of a father who should rightfully be a protector and a cheerleader.
We compare it to a quest. And there are tasks that must be completed to be a healthy, complete man. First you must teach yourself to succeed. Then you must teach yourself to become a father, even without a role model. And last, if you can find it in your heart, forgive your father. In the coming chapters, we will provide our best advice to you on how to achieve all of these goals.
Every time we see one of our friends break through the baggage of his past and become a loving and loyal guardian of his kids, it energizes and excites us. These are the good guys who prove that change is possible. Watching them, we know the truth: There is unrivaled joy in being a father who provides the stability and attention that encourage all children to soar.
Reprinted from The Bond by The Three Doctors, Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt by arrangement with Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., Copyright (c) 2007 by The Three Doctors, Drs. Sampson Davis, George Jenkins, and Rameck Hunt.