When former Washington Wizards player Etan Thomas hung up his basketball jersey to write a book on fatherhood, it wasn’t because he was an expert in parenting. He wrote Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge to inspire other young men and women who experienced a troubled childhood by growing up with an absent father, like his own.

“I wanted to beat the statistics that I always heard. I heard that you will end in jail, end up in a gang, end up pregnant so fought hard against it, “Thomas said. “Everybody has a choice in life.”

Born in Harlem, New York, Dedreck Etan Thomas, commonly referred to as Etan Thomas was raised with his younger brother, and by mother in Tulsa, Oklahoma. His parents divorced when he was very young. He spent summers in Harlem with his grandfather after his father left at the age of 7. The absence of Etan’s father at home began to hurt him in fifth grade when he noticed his father’s absence at his basketball games.

“I would look around and see other people’s fathers there at their games, at Boy Scouts, at recitals. My dad wasn’t there.”

He remained private, not opening up and talking about his feelings to anyone. His expressive outlet came through writing. In junior high school and continuing throughout high school, Thomas began writing everything he felt, all the pain he endured from his father’s constant nonexistence. He emotionally shut down.

Thomas explained:

“Although my father came to visit once a month, I needed more. Some I knew only got to see their father once every several months. I got to see mine once every month, and I still wanted more so I related to those kids that didn’t have a father at the home, everyday.” In his search for a male role model, Thomas turned to his pastor and AAU coach Reverend M.C. Potter.

“Between Harlem and Tulsa growing up, I could name 20 or 30 guys that should have made it into the NBA before me that were around my age. I watched them. They could play , but they made a bad choice,” Thomas remembers.

Unlike many of the kids in his neighborhood, Thomas graduated from high school and attended Syracuse University, where he played college basketball and met wife, who also played basketball at Syracuse. He earned a degree in business management.

Now, the retired professional basketball player, who last played with the NBA in 2011 for the Atlanta Hawks, conducts panel discussions at churches with other thoughtful Black men, including CNN’s Roland Martin, TV and Radio personality Big Tigger, Washington Wizards A.J. Price and Trevor Ariza, Pastor John K. Jenkins of First Baptist Church of Glenarden, and Chick Hernandez of Comcast Sports Net.

Most recently he orchestrated a symposium on fatherhood at Greater Mount Calvary Holy Church in Northeast Washington, D.C. Similar panels are scheduled for Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem on Dec. 6 and at Reid Temple A.M.E. Church in Glenn Dale, Md. on Dec. 15.

He found the road to becoming a published author much tougher than becoming an NBA player. It took him two years to find a publisher who would take a chance on a chronicle of his life and his thoughts about fatherhood, he said.

Thomas’s book “Fatherhood: Rising to the Ultimate Challenge” features essays about life and parenting from celebrities and famous athletes including retired tennis player Andre Agassi, singer Will Downing, actor Ice Cube, rappers Chuck D of Public Enemy and Talib Kweli and current and former NBA stars Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and Grant Hill.

The retired athlete, now author and motivational speaker resides in Mitchellville with his wife Nichole and 3 children Malcolm, age 7, Imani, age 4; and Sierra, age 2.

Ashley D. Diggs

Special to the AFRO