FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
I'm Farai Chideya and this NEWS & NOTES.
Three young men made a pact to transcend the challenges of growing up in intercity Newark. They decided to become doctors and make it happen. After that, they go on "Oprah," write a New York Times bestseller and form a foundation to help the next generation. So what about an encore?
Well, now, there's their new book "The Bond." Three young men learned to forgive and reconnect with their fathers.
I'm joined now by Dr. Sampson Davis, Dr. George Jenkins and Dr. Rameck Hunt.
Dr. SAMPSON DAVIS (Author, "The Bond"): Thank you. Thank you.
Dr. RAMECK HUNT (Author, "The Bond"): Thank you for having us.
Dr. SAMPSON DAVIS (Author, "The Bond"): Thanks for having us.
CHIDEYA: Thanks for coming in to NPR West.
So this is your third book. You've got "The Pact" and "We Beat the Street." So Rameck, why this topic and why now?
Dr. HUNT: Because I have some issues that I have with my dad, and I wanted some questions answered, but I didn't know how to answer that - go up to him and talk to him about it. So I thought a book would be a good idea to broach the topic. In that way, we can have a dialogue without really having a dialogue.
CHIDEYA: Sampson, does anything has to do with the work that you guys do with the Three Doctors Foundation, talking to young people? Did that help inspire how you approach the book?
Dr. DAVIS: When Rameck mentioned doing this book, me and George both were a little reluctant because there was scar tissue that had formed over the years. And to reopen those wounds and explore those feelings was tough because you just don't know what type of emotions we're going to come up. But I'm so glad that we did because we had a chance to heal in so many ways. And we realized that our stories are like so many other people's stories out there. And when you pick up and read the book, there's going to be certain sections in "The Bond" that they claim as their own.
Dr. HUNT: Mm-hmm.
CHIDEYA: One of the interesting things you guys do in this book is go back into the life stories of your fathers. I want to get each of you to do this. But, George, can you start us off and read just a tiny little bit of your father's story.
Dr. JENKINS: Okay.
(Reading) If you would have told me when I was a young man that my son and I would have grown up to be this distant, I wouldn't have believed you. I always pictured myself having a close relationship with my child, much closer than I was ever able to have with my own parents. When I searched my soul, honestly, I have to say there were several reasons why things turned out this way. But more than anything else, it was sheer geography that robbed me off my closeness with my son. George is my only child, and I am proud of him. Yet, it was painful for me to read his book and see my role in my son's life reduced to just a handful of pages. I can't deny that I haven't been the most attentive and affectionate of fathers. It's not something I'm proud of. However, I didn't have much of a road map to follow.
CHIDEYA: So, George, your father essentially said, if he lived closer to you, then things would have been different. Do you buy that?
Dr. JENKINS: I think they would have been a little different. I'm not sure of how much different, but he still didn't have to be as distant even when he was distant.
CHIDEYA: Have you forgiven him?
Dr. JENKINS: This book has helped the process of beginning this journey, to get from that hurt and that resentment and all of the negative feelings that you harbor in the baggage that you carry from not having your father. Though, it takes time to let that go just as it takes time to build a good relationship, and it takes time to build that negative relationship. And I think it's going to take time to kind of reverse it.
CHIDEYA: Sampson, let me turn to you. You wrote about how sometimes you and your friends would pick on a kid from a two-parent home. Why do you think that was?
Dr. DAVIS: To cover up the pain that we were having. I mean, many of us in our community didn't have both mom and dad in our home. So we thought that we had a sense of freedom more so than kids with two-parent homes. But a lot of that was you're really screaming to be hugged, you're really screaming to be loved.
CHIDEYA: So when George and Rameck wrote about their fathers, they were able to get their fathers to really participate in doing story on their own lives. Your father was too ill to do that. You had to write for him. Why don't you read us a little bit of his story?
Dr. DAVIS: Okay.
(Reading) I made sure that mom, pop and Thelma got tickets to attend the Essence Award at Radio City Music Hall in New York in 2000 when George, Rameck and I received an award from the magazine. Pop was quiet that night but all smiles. He didn't say much but I could tell that he was proud. I could also tell that the event was a moment of reflection for him. Maybe he was questioned in his absence in my life. We never spoke about it but his face gave away the fact that he was thinking about something serious. That was the last time I saw him in good health.
CHIDEYA: So as someone who has so much medical knowledge, you know what your father is going through from two sides. How do you deal with him now as oppose to when you were younger?
Dr. DAVIS: My father recently passed in May.
CHIDEYA: I'm sorry.
Dr. DAVIS: And was it not for this book, there's no telling that I would even have the opportunity to forgive him. And it helped me to realize that forgiving is a big process. It's a big part of life. And if you don't have a relationship with your dad and you're waiting for him - because I was waiting for him to make that first move towards me. I felt that he owed me that much. But that day would never come. And I'd rather, it was up to me to make the first move, which I'm glad that I did, because if I waited for tomorrow, then, you know, it would have been too late.
CHIDEYA: So, Rameck, your father dealt with addiction among other things. Can you read us a little bit about his life?
Dr. HUNT: Yeah, certainly.
(Reading) I remember when Rameck first told me he wanted to be a doctor. He was in high school. I told him to go for it. I never let on that his words had sent icy shivers down my spine. I knew medical school wasn't free. And it's a sorry moment when a father realizes he can't help his child. Back then, I was a drug-abusing ex-felon who had no idea where to find the money to help Rameck's dream come true. That hurt me so bad. I felt like less than a man so I kept using drugs to make myself feel good. I had a government job with good benefits that paid the bill for me to go through drug rehab several times, but I always relapsed.
CHIDEYA: Your father also says of your graduation: In college, my dream had been to be a chemist but I ended up letting the chemicals control me. And he looked at you and he was proud and in some ways, changed. Do you think, in a way, that you played a father role for your own father?
Dr. HUNT: I absolutely do. You know, he couldn't be there. I knew that. And my mom was a little resentful, and sometimes actually tried to put that on me. But I didn't resent him because I saw, through all of this, that he loved me and he wanted to be there but he just couldn't. And so I found myself trying to encourage him every time, and you're going do it this time, dad. You're going to do it this time. And trying to give him ways and help him figure it out.
And so, on those - in that sense, I did think that I was being more of a father figure, you know, trying to help him figure out how to beat this habit. And when he sent me the poem, "I'm Sorry Son" - he, wrote a poem to me in (unintelligible) when I was in medical school and sent it to me, and when I read it, he basically just told me how sorry he was for not being there as a father. And that's when I knew that he was done with the drugs and that was his last stint in rehab.
And so, it just made me proud because at that time, I was finally able to have a dad in my life. And I finally felt what it felt like to have a dad. And I was well into my 20s at this time and it just kind of shows how it never is too late to reconnect with your dad.
CHIDEYA: Let's take this into a broader context. Bill Cosby, among other people, has been really working on this issue of what is the black family, how do people improve and get better. How do you try to get the message that you're putting out there to reach people without making them feel less than or attacked?
Dr. HUNT: What we're trying to say in this book is that it's not - a mom is not the only instance you agree that you absolutely need a father and look at the effects that it will have on a child if you don't. And look how important it is to reconnect. We've been talking about this for years. I mean, I come from a family who are part of the revolutionary, in the movement. But every time I look, I realize, you know, everybody's in the movement. We really move nowhere. And so - then it's really not a movement.
And so we really need to stop talking only and do some things, and I hope this book will inspire people and really evoke an emotion in them so much that they will get up, get out and do something and particularly on the issue of fatherlessness because we all know that it starts in the home. And when you have broken homes, you're going to have teen pregnancies. You're going to have people in general who's just going end up - it runs the gamut of issues.
Dr. DAVIS: Yeah, I just want to briefly add, somebody told us at the reading of "The Bond" that the power of the book is its vulnerability. And that's what I think allows us to connect with so many. When you come directly at people, even if it's something that they need to be told, but you come indirectly at them, they're exposed. And when that happens, they're going to protect themselves.
So Cosby's intentions are heartfelt and I think they come from a place where he wants to make a difference. But at the same time, what we try to do is we relate our stories and then people can find victory in our stories because there's a part of our story that's going to relate to something you're going through as a person.
Dr. HUNT: I think it's a good thing that he actually is bringing this to the forefront because it allows people to talk about it. And then I think people can look at the plea and decide what they want to eat.
CHIDEYA: So gentlemen, doctors, thank you so much.
Dr. DAVIS: Thank you.
Dr. HUNT: Thanks so much.
Dr. JENKINS: Thanks for having us.
CHIDEYA: We've been talking to Doctors George Jenkins, Sampson Davis and Rameck Hunt, the authors of the "The Bond: Three Young Men Learn to Forgive and Reconnect with Their Fathers." They joined me here at our NPR West Studios. And you can read an excerpt from the book at our Web site, nprnewsandnotes.org.
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