When Etan Thomas asks, “Who’s your daddy?” it is not a rhetorical question.
The 11-year-NBA veteran and former Syracuse standout center explores all angles of male parentage in his latest book, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” out Tuesday.
A father of three, the 33-year-old Harlem-born Thomas understands daddy issues intimately. The Obama administration even chose him to participate in the President’s town hall meetings on fatherhood.
But Thomas, who now plays for the Atlanta Hawks, doesn’t just rely on his own voice to convey the importance of parenthood.
He also enlists the help of nearly 50 celebrity contributors — athletes like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Kevin Durant and Tony Hawk; musicians like Ice Cube, Damian Marley and Chuck D; and politicians like Howard Dean, the Rev. Al Sharpton and Rep. Elijah Cummings.
So while Thomas has already developed a reputation as a tough enforcer in the paint, his latest book has turned him into not only a shot blocker but a defender of fatherhood.
What motivated you to write this book?
I just wanted to go through each topic and aspect of fatherhood. Some parts focus on young men getting over the anger of not having a father with them. In another chapter, I deal with the fact that when kids are younger and come from a single-parent home, all these statistics tell them that they are not going to be successful. They are going to end up in prison. I want to tell young people they can create their own path and here are some people who have done just that. These are people who have been through situations way worse than yours. Just look at Baron Davis and Kevin Durant, both of whom were able to rise above their upbringings.
Why invite such a varied set of contributors?
I wanted to have a mix of people who can speak to everybody. Somebody might hear more from Ice Cube than they would from Tony Hawk. Other people might hear more from Elijah Cummings than they would from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The more voices, the wider the sector of young people that would be reached.
I’m not a fatherhood expert. It is not something that I have a degree in. I’m not qualified to lecture anybody. It’s a learning process for me as well. I wanted to hear from all these different men so I could learn, too.
What was your father situation like when you were growing up?
My parents were divorced when I was younger. My father was not in the home with me. Sure, I had a relationship with him, but it wasn’t the same as if he had actually lived in the house. I explain in the book how I had to look at other men as positive role models, like my pastor or my assistant coach at Syracuse, or my grandfather. These were positive men that I had to have in my life for guidance.
My dad is still alive. I sent him a copy of the book. Certain parts will probably be tough for him to read, but other parts he’ll appreciate, like the forgiveness part. You have to forgive. You have to move on. You can’t keep that anger inside of you.
Why is it so important to have a father around?
If there are no positive male influences in a young man’s life, then who are they going to look up to? I understand that when they go toward the gang life it is because the gang is like a brotherhood. The OGs are like your father figures. But that’s the negative. I want to show what can happen if you choose a positive father figure.
Aren’t you worried that people will say, “It’s easy for you to talk about being a good father when you are in the NBA and make a lot of money”?
Professional athletes certainly face different challenges when it comes to fatherhood. Sure, we have more means, but we are on the road all the time. When you are young and you are going to different cities all the time and hanging out, it’s cool. But then when you get older and you have kids and those kids can verbalize that they don’t want you to go, and they miss you, and they cry, it changes everything. Being physically gone so much is very tough on us.
What would you like readers to take away from this book?
It’s just like that old saying, the man with no shoes didn’t know how good he had it until he saw the man with no feet. I want readers to come away from this book believing that you can be whatever you want to be even if you come from a situation that isn’t favorable. If you don’t have a father in your home or things are tough, you can still choose to make the right decisions that are beneficial to your entire life. Break the cycle. These are men who have done just that. President Obama came from a single-parent household. He didn’t know his father. And now he is the President of the United States. If he can do that, anything is possible. You don’t have to be a statistic.