"His father, Syl Whitaker, was the charismatic grandson of slaves… His
mother, Jeanne Theis, was a shy, World War II refugee from France…They met
in the mid-Fifties, when he was a college student and she was his professor,
and they carried on a secret romance for more than a year before marrying
and having two boys…
My Long Trip Home is a reporter's search for the factual and emotional truth
about a complicated and compelling family, a son's haunting meditation on
the nature of love, loss, identity and forgiveness."
--Excerpted from the Inside Cover Page
As Managing Editor of CNN Worldwide, Mark Whitaker is currently in charge
of content and reporting for the world's largest, global television network.
Previously, he made history as Newsweek's first African-American
To his credit, Whitaker has achieved his phenomenal, professional success in
spite of being raised in a very dysfunctional family by parents as different
as night and day, literally and figuratively. His mother, Jeanne, was in her
fourth year as a French professor at Swarthmore College when she found
herself being pursued by one of her students, Syl.
Since this was America in the 1950s, perhaps of more significance than their
age difference was the fact that she was white, conventional and the
daughter of devout Christian missionaries while he was black, immature, and
a relatively-bohemian free-love advocate. Nonetheless, the unlikely couple
secretly embarked on a torrid affair and wed just a couple of months after
Unfortunately, although their union soon produced two precious sons, it
would only last about a half-dozen years. For Syl had a weakness for both
broads and booze. Worse, he turned into an ill-tempered lush to boot, when
liquored up on the sauce.
In no uncertain terms, the abusive husband repeatedly made it clear to his
wife that he considered theirs an open marriage, whether she was prepared to
join him in participating in the Sexual Revolution or not. And he proceeded
to imbibe and sleep around with such abandon that he torpedoed his own
promising career in the process.
For instance, after being hired to head Princeton University's newly-created
Black Studies Department, he developed a reputation for propositioning
colleagues' wives and for staggering around the campus drunk, until he was
finally given a severance package and shipped off to rehab. On the home
front, not only was Syl a deadbeat dad after the divorce, but he was too
busy making whoopee with fellow swingers even to call his sons, let alone
share some quality time with them.
This makes Mark's subsequent ascension up the corporate ladder something of
a major miracle, especially given his mother's simultaneous battle with
depression as she struggled to keep a roof over her kids' heads. Meanwhile,
Mark was compensating for his anger at being abandoned by his father by
acting out and overeating to the point of obesity.
Reflecting both a reporter's painstaking attention to detail and a
Prodigal's Son's sincere search for closure and redemption, My Long Trip
Home is a riveting, revealing, and heartbreaking memoir affirming the
potential of even the messiest of lives to blossom belatedly into something
satisfying and beautiful.