The cast of TV One’s original feature Bad Dad Rehab recently shared a few anecdotes on-set relating to their views on parenting and fatherhood. The dramedy directed by Carl H. Seaton, Jr. and written by screenwriter Keronda “KiKi” McKnight centers around four men of color attending a guardian recovery program as an effort to strengthen or better their relationships with their children despite ongoing conflicts with their former girlfriends and ex-wives.
Shot throughout Atlanta, Bad Dad Rehab earned top prize in the American Black Film Festival’s (ABFF) 2015 Screenplay Competition. Malik Yoba stars as John Leon, the personable organizer of Deadbeat Dad Rehab, a program he co-founded in a friend’s garage following the death of his 16-year-old gangbanging son. Deadbeat Dad Rehab is John’s way of grieving and holding himself accountable for being an unfit parent to his his slain child.
Yoba, whose parents divorced when he was 10-years-old, sees a lot of himself in the character he portrays. The lead actor from the groundbreaking FOX crime drama New York Undercover started a nonprofit organization, the Malik Yoba Fatherhood Project, following the birth of his first son in 1998. “The film is ministry really to a lot of people,” says the former co-star of the hit FOX series Empire and Tyler Perry’s Why Did I Get Married film series. “It’s important that when we tell these stories that people see themselves, the worst version and the best version. Hopefully, it creates an aspirational condition.”
Spending two years fighting an expensive custody battle, Yoba, a native of Bronx, NY, empathizes with his co-star Wesley Jonathan’s character, Shawn Wallis. Shawn, unlike the other fathers, has a very stable relationship with his two children despite a series of misfortunes. He’s unemployed, can’t afford to pay child support and lands in-and-out of jail because of his bitter ex-wife.
Jonathan is raising a two-year-old daughter. His parents divorced when he was two. He’s vocal about spending many years repairing his estranged relationship with his father. “We’re fine,” confirms the co-star of Roll Bounce and TV Land’s The Soul Man, sharing his father’s debilitating condition resulting from diabetes. “He has guilt and constantly apologizes, but we’re cool now.”
Being a father, Jonathan says, has changed his entire outlook on life. Not one to dwell on the past, the Los Angeles-born talent thinks it’s important for all parties involving in family conflicts to find forgiveness. “We don’t know how much longer we have on this Earth, so there’s no need for anyone to hold a grudge,” adds Jonathan.
“Whatever reasons that are hindering you from being with your children, take responsibility for your actions. Mend relationships the best way that you can. The clock is ticking. We’re all not getting any younger.”
Grammy award-winning songwriter, businesswoman and Real Housewives of Atlanta cast member Kandi Burruss portrays Shawn’s supportive sister, Tanya. Also the product of divorced parents, Burruss has had her share of issues with her teenage daughter’s father. She says she took the role in Bad Dad Rehab because of its universal subject matter.
“It’s a story that a lot of people can relate to,” says a chuckling Burruss seated next to Jonathan, “those are the ones that hit home and what people want to watch.”
Pierre Gonzalez, played by actor Rick Gonzalez, is a barber who tries to deny his paternity and avoid paying child support to his young son despite the test results. Robert Ri’chard is the self-proclaimed “flyest character in the story” Tristan Simmons, a promiscuous, irresponsible sneakerhead with four kids by three different women and another on the way by his current girlfriend. Tristan is forced to mature and confront his abandonment issues resulting from his own relationship with his absentee father.
The charismatic, comedic performer who appeared in Coach Carter, Nickelodeon’s Cousin Skeeter and UPN’s One on One appreciated the challenge to portray a disturbing male character. Ri’chard considers Bad Dad Rehab an opportunity for him to diversify his acting chops. “This is a very fun, entertaining and direct way to address a lot of father’s issues that a lot of men are having in different ways without being corny,” he says.
Super successful entrepreneur Jared Cooper, played by Robert Christopher Riley, is a satellite parent, divorced after having an affair with his wife’s friend. Often concentrating on his career, Jared believes he can raise his rebellious teenage daughter with gifts and money. The well-educated native of Brooklyn who appeared in VH-1’s Hit the Floor and a Broadway revival of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof was raised by a single mother.
The offspring of a deadbeat dad, Riley echoes Ri’chard’s enthusiasm about acting in Bad Dad Rehab, adding optimism to his comments. “The script has a number of redeeming plot points,” says Riley seated next to Ri’chard in a conference room. “It gives you hope. The characters give you hope for the future.”
The cast proclaims their familiarity with each of Bad Dad Rehab’s dynamic characters. The men especially think it’s necessary to recreate the complexities on-screen that exist within the community of black and brown fathers. Jonathan is especially vocal considering his character constantly makes efforts to be in his childrens’ lives.
Jonathan serves up a conclusive statement resembling what each cast member of Bad Dad Rehab believes. The made-for-TV project, he says, should empower and encourage the community-at-large, especially men, to be role models and responsible at home. “It’s so many fathers out there that want to be fathers,” he said. “It’s just not often seen or heard in mainstream culture.”
“Be in your kids’ lives,” warns Jonathan. “Stop holding grudges for your own reasoning. Let go, and stop being selfish.”
Bad Dad Rehab makes its television premiere on TV One on Sun., Jul. 3 at 7 p.m. ET. Check local listings for channel availability.
This post was written by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor for the Burton Wire. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.