Dear Jeff offers a collection of letters written to the author’s adopted African-American son, Jeff. Gough shares his awakening to the evils of race discrimination as a young soldier running a military housing service in Monterey, California and blowing the whistle on the Army’s connivance with racist landlords who denied rental housing to black service personnel He describes his summer as an NAACP Inc. Fund civil rights volunteer in rural Mississippi in 1965 and his later work as a Justice Department, Civil Rights Division attorney in Mississippi in 1966-1967. Gough credits these experiences with greatly influencing him in making the decision to adopt seven-year old Jeff and his twin sister.
Other letters explore the traumatic first six years of Jeff’s life, his abandonment by his mother, being recycled time and again from foster home to foster home, and the emotional and physical abuse he suffered in a failed adoption when he was a toddler. As a result of the trauma and abuse of his early years, Jeff’s adolescent and teenage behavior was chronically outrageous and destructive, marked by angry outbursts, truancy, police in the middle of the night and jail time.
Jeff died in a motorcycle accident at age 21. Decades after Jeff’s death, Gough seeks posthumous reconciliation with him, sharing significant events of his own life and career and empathizing with the emotional traumas that plagued Jeff. The letters look back at the adoption and recount their good times and bad. By being brutally honest about his feelings and faults as a father, Gough rediscovers the love that persevered at the depths of the troubled relationship. He finds reconciliation for himself, and he believes, for Jeff as well.