On September 29th at Magic City Morning Star News I published a review of Patrick McKnight's novella 'Daddy Loves You'. The book was originally written as a screenplay before being transformed into a novel. Whilst a literary editor might find technical fault with the book, I found the storyline quite 'real' and 'moving'. Since then Mr. McKnight and I have been engaged in an 'interview by correspondence' because I wanted to understand a little more of the man behind the story. Today I am delighted to present that interview.
Interview with Patrick McKnight
BenDedek: Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview - especially in this fashion. My first question for you is 'what was the most important reason for writing this story?'
McKnight: Because I grew up without a father, part of the reason for writing this book was that I wanted mothers like my own, to see what it means for a child not to have the other parent in their lives. When I would ask my mother about my father she would say "you don't need him," but I believe that all kids need two parents even if the parents are not together.
In the book the main character Chad has a moment when he's talking to his best friend Ernest and has an emotional outburst and says "and abandon my first born like my father did me". Children should never have to feel that they are abandoned by their fathers. Sometimes they are. Sometimes it only looks that way. When I first started writing it was heartfelt because I had sort of abandoned my children. Another reason for writing the book was because I think people need to understand how fathers feel about their children and the pain fathers feel because of separation. The pain is even worse when a man tries to reach out to his children and they don't want any part of him.
BenDedek: How much of you is there in this story?
McKnight: That's hard to say but I often wonder how I would have turned out had I had both my parents in my life. People who do have both parents in their lives when they are growing up can't really appreciate the benefit. This is a privilege that most of my ethnic group and others don't have. The main character Chad is my definition of a father. He puts his kid's welfare first. I really believe that kids are what we make them. They learn from all of our actions and behaviors.
BenDedek: When I was reading your book I was mindful of having read that you originally wrote the story as a screenplay and that you had encouragement and assistance from a fellow prisoner in converting the screenplay into a book. Can you give me some more insight into this process?
McKnight: I am more of a visionary than I am a writer. When I first wrote, I was writing for the camera not for readers. My hope was to make a movie so that I could get my message across. In prison I would pass my screenplays around for other inmates to read and would get feedback from them.
There was an inmate there by the name of David who I didn't expect to be interested in anything that I had written. Alabama's prison system is very segregated and to be truthful, he was a elderly white man between the ages of 75-80. From his looks I first thought he could have been a wizard for the Klan. But I was very wrong about this guy. He told me that in his opinion it was a great story and he said it should be published as a book.
David was one of the GED tutors and he wanted to teach me how to write a manuscript. I wouldn't call myself an accomplished/skilled writer, but what I am, he help develop. You made some comments in your review about how literary editors would find fault with the book and I want to say that I apologize if I'm not as skillful as some may like. I only learned what skill I have from David and I respect and admire him for helping me.
I did get a few different editors to help me before I was comfortable enough to release it and now my goal is to perfect my craft, but not solely for my sake, but also for David who spent so much time with me trying to develop me. I may have the wrong concept of writing, but in my opinion, it's about the substance of a story and the characters that drive it. Again, if I offend anyone with this piece, I'm sorry but this story is real life for many people.
BenDedek: While I knew that there were shortcomings in the literary construction of the book I also realized how important the story is and as I pointed out in my review, it is the story itself and the effect it has on the reader which had to be my focus. I also pointed out that you were generous toward and forgiving of the main characters. I felt that Anna Sue got off very lightly for all her sins. How important do you think forgiveness is in a person's life?
McKnight: Forgiveness is hard, but it's a necessity in my opinion. In the story I felt that Anna Sue had to be forgiven so that her life could be transformed and this was crucial for her daughter Kerri's life. If brought to their attention I think that most mothers will try to change for the sake of their children. Chad's mother had passed judgment on her granddaughter Kerri because of Anna Sue's parenting. I wonder what might have happened in real life if Chad's mother had been more understanding and forgiving from the start.
I hope that my book will make people more aware of the need to forgive others so that they can live their lives without anger toward those around them, especially family.
BenDedek: What advice would you give married couples about their behavior in front of their children?
McKnight: I live by the motto, "treat people the way you want them to treat you". I have to stop and think before I respond in a situation. Would I want my partner to call me a "dumb ass" in front of my son, even if it is true? No I wouldn't because I want my kids to have a positive image of me. The same goes for his mother. Parents should not put down or disrespect each other in front of their children. It doesn't matter what other people think about me, but what my children think is important. I want to be a hero to my children. All parents do. And so they have to learn to give their children positive attitudes toward their parents.
BenDedek: You used a female character as the child in your book but I imagine that in prison you would have encountered some fairly solid 'wayward male' examples of 'problem children'. What did that experience bring to you personally or to the story?
McKnight: From what I've experienced in prison, the young boys I ran across basically were looking for a big brother, a grandfather, a father, an uncle or a gang. All these entities have something in common, a sense of security, a feel of belonging and direction. The child is a product of its environment. In my opinion, the father is the one who runs behind the boys, see what they're into, and has the man to man talks with them. He is their protector and he teaches them how to be a man. There may be one or two naturally bad men in society, but most of the time you get bad people from bad parenting or little to no parenting at all or because parents are missing.
There would be a lot less kids in prisons if fathers were around, and more importantly, if they were allowed to be real fathers who can be respected by their children. Having money is not the most important thing about being a good father. I went to prison because I was trying to get money for my children. That mistake done more harm than good. Good parenting means that parents must have good personalities and develop good relationships, because this is the example that children will follow.
BenDedek: Many feminists insist that young men today are just as sexist as previous generations. What is your take on that?
McKnight: I don't feel that we males are as sexist as our fathers, although sexism still may exist. My Ex works in a male dominant atmosphere and she constantly complains about how she has to stay on top of her game because of her gender. We have a black president, but racism is still present. Again, it's comes from what the parents teach. Obama grew up in a white household and although he may have experienced racism, we can see he was taught to be comfortable around both ethnic groups and have a genuine love for both cultures. Most of the negative attitudes that kids have come from the example that their parents set for them.
BenDedek: What Advice would you give to kids who are estranged from their fathers?
McKnight: Most young kids who are having it hard do look for support, do want to be protected, and want to belong to or be a part of something. It is really important that when they are looking for that individual or that entity that can fill that void, that they choose wisely.
Girls often think that a baby or a guy is the answer, because both will bring some of that missing love into their lives. Many guys will deceive a girl, telling them that it's all about her and that he's the only one that loves her and that a family is what they need to stay together. But a good man would truthfully encourage a girl to be all that she can be, mentally, physically and financially. He would tell her not to consider having kids until she can afford to take care of them. Rushing into a relationship and parenthood before you are ready for it really does cause children to suffer. Girls, just like boys who are estranged from their fathers, need to find good mentors. They need to find a woman who is solid and has both feet on the ground and who isn't full of nastiness and bad habits.
Because I am a man I understand the guy thing much better because I have lived it. I looked for the big brothers, I clinged to my mother's friends and I joined a gang. I saw many guys come to prison looking for something to be a part of or someone to take them under their wing. It was not encouraging! Some of the inmates they cling to don't tell them to get their GED or a trade while in prison. They don't tell the young offenders to make the time work for them so that they don't come back. Most of the older inmates just try to teach them how to be a smarter crook, but if they were that smart, they wouldn't be career offenders.
God knows I wish I had an answer for all the lost, lonely and angry guys out there. Maybe they should try sports and hopefully find a good coach. Not someone whose focus is on winning but on developing young men. Young people who are having it hard need to find REAL mentors. They do exist because even in prison I found one. If young people can find for themselves good mentors then hopefully people around them will understand that the kids are the future no matter what their ethnic or family background is.
Parents have to start being the right type of role model for their kids. They have to give them a good example. Parents don't do that when they are being selfish or nasty to each other.
BenDedek: I want to thank you for enduring this interview process and I would further like to say that I hope many people will read your book and get from it what I took from it, which is, that despite what some people may do, say or think, fathers do love their children. Whilst I personally already knew it, what I saw afresh in your book was that being or having an 'absent parent' has consequences, but if we truly 'want' a relationship with our estranged kids or absent parents, then we have to learn forgiveness and self-sacrifice. Something which I also took from your book, is that the process of reconciliation does not always work out quite as we would like it to. In closing this interview, is there something that you would like to say to our readers?
McKnight: In closing, I pray the story is the focus. I pray the story effects the readers in a positive manner. I pray the story is helpful to those that it relates to and mostly I pray that the message of "Daddy Loves You" gets the recognition it deserves. A kid is a kid is a kid, no matter what the ethnic, financial or family background is, but they all have something in common; they are all influenced by their parents example and by whatever they're taught!
Thank you for the opportunity to be heard R.P. and I humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The EBook [NOOK BOOK] sells for $6.99 at Barnes and Noble and at that link you can find a link beside the BUY NOW button that will allow you to get a free sample of the book.