Etan Thomas, former Syracuse basketball stars return for fatherhood panel

The panel tackled issues faced by children in single-parent homes and encouraged students to forge their own destiny.

Cameras flashed as six former Syracuse University basketball players sat at a table answering questions. But this was no post-game press conference, and basketball was rarely brought up during the two-hour conversation 

Etan Thomas, Billy Owens, Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Roosevelt Bouie and Lawrence Moten had not returned to discuss their careers on the hardwood, but rather to have a dialogue about their roles as fathers. 

Photo: Bryan Cereijo
The audience shares a laugh at comments made about fatherhood by the panelists.

Their fatherhood panel, held at the Schine Underground on Saturday, was part of Coming Back Together (CBT) weekend, which celebrates the accomplishments of African-American and Latino alumni of SU. 

Thomas, who wrote a book called, “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge,” moderated the event with fellow Syracuse alumnus Rachel Vessel, the author of  “Daughters of Men: Portraits of African-American Women and Their Father.” 

Thomas said the panel was organized as a way to encouraging children growing up in single-parent households. 

“Young people are getting bombarded with negativity,” Thomas said. “We want to use our celebrity to inspire, because youth listen to people they know” 

“Lots of people are told they’re going to fail in life because they’re from a so-called broken home.” 

Every member of the panel discussed the role of the father in a child’s life and some shared their own experiences. 

The afternoon’s most powerful moment came when Coleman pointed at a long-time friend in the back of the room. Coleman seemed overwhelmed with emotion as he described how he and his friend were both raised without fathers. 

“On Father’s Day this guy pulled me aside and said, ‘Hey, we made it.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I asked. ‘We beat the odds,’ he said. “’Because we didn’t have fathers, but now we’re being good dads.’” 

Wallace, who had a son by the end of his freshman year of college, said being a father put his life into perspective. While other students were out partying, he was home with his son. 

“My father wasn’t around when I was growing up, and I didn’t want my son to have the same experience,” Wallace said. 

Wallace said his father attempted reconciliation and wanted to reenter his life, but their relationship was already so strained that it couldn’t go beyond friendship. 

“We could never have a father-son relationship. He abandoned me,” Wallace said. 

Wallace also encouraged youths to move forward and never make excuses in any facet of life. 

Vessel spoke of the importance for girls to have a father figure in their lives. While in her thirties, she reached out to her father, who had been absent during her childhood. 

“I chose to forgive him when I realized that forgiveness is more for the forgiver,” Vessel said. 

Vessel is grateful that she forgave her father. While she admitted it was very difficult, she was then able to replace the negativity with positive memories. 

Moten discussed what he sees as the realities for children growing up in a single- parent household. 

“A lot of kids are raising themselves,” Moten said. “It starts at home. You are a product of what you see and hear at school, or what you learn from your mentor or your teacher, and you bring that out into the world.” 

Thomas echoed those sentiments regarding differences in the education of children in suburbs and inner cities. 

“There are new metal detectors, but old books,” Thomas said. 

He said that he hopes children can use these discrepancies as motivation. 

“We’ve got to do something. Can’t just point at them and say you’ve got to do something,” Thomas said. “We’ve all got to something.”

Seamus Kirst article

Great to read about a forum dealing with such an important topic. Well done.

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