Talking Drugs with My Dad
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Talking Drugs with My Dad

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This post was originally published on August 5, 2015.

I don’t have the best relationship with my father. He is an alcoholic and a drug addict and has been for most of this life. I know he loves me—he is my dad—but he is limited. Not just in what he can give as a parent but in what he has been able to learn and know about his children. My dad doesn’t really know me at all—he doesn’t know who my friends are, what I studied in college or that I eat In-N-Out Burger once a week. He doesn’t even know that I blow my nose louder than an elephant, to the point where people make fun of me. He says my sisters and I are the most important things in his life, yet he rarely remembers our birthdays. I don’t even think he knows exactly how old I am.

This used to make me angry and feel like I got the shit end of the stick in the dad department. But since facing my own struggles with addiction, I have come to have compassion for my father. I now understand he is in the grips of a disease and that getting mad at him for it would be like getting mad at a cancer patient for losing weight.

Not long before I quit using cocaine, I was out to dinner with my father, engaged in my usual frustration about his drug-induced senility. After the third time he asked me what I was up to that week, I got fed up. Instead of giving him my normal watered-down response that adds to the distance in our relationship, I decided to get real—well, at least kind of real. I said, “So, I’ve been experimenting with drugs a bit.”

The truth was, I was in the midst of struggling with an addiction to drugs but I figured my dad was now 70 years old and I should probably ease him in a bit before dropping the coke whore bomb on him. “What kind of drugs did you do back in the 60’s?” I asked, hoping to connect.

One of the better qualities about my father is his openness and passion about things he loves. He has this wonderful ability to express himself through storytelling. He started off by saying that he understands more than anyone the curiosity to do drugs and that it’s natural at my age. But he warned me to be careful, that drug experimentation can be a slippery slope (yeah, no shit). But then he went on to tell me about some of the drugs he tried and the experiences he had had with each of them.

He told me a story about how he and one of his roommates back in the 1960s decided to smoke crack cocaine together out of a pipe the guy had made while teaching himself to blow glass. They accidentally lit their apartment on fire and ended up running down the streets of Manhattan naked because they thought their clothes were on fire. Then they got arrested. Now the roommate is a famous glass blower and my dad is a chef (you think they could have cooked together better).

Then there was the time he was a rookie in a San Francisco restaurant and the bus boy at this place was, according to my father, the funniest guy he’s ever met. This kid would have the entire kitchen in stitches all night. So my dad and the other chefs would do lines all night just to stay awake and get a front seat to the shenanigans. That bus boy turned out to be Robin Williams.

He told me about how he was in San Francisco in the summer of 1969 and he and his friends went to see one of the free concerts in Golden Gate Park. Afterwards, they ran into the band as they were packing up and started talking to them about music. They all ended up dropping acid together. One of the band members and my dad bonded over hanging on to the same tree for three hours because they were tripping so hard. That band turned out to be The Grateful Dead.

I realized that while my dad had very little capability for remembering personal details about his family, he had an amazing capacity for remembering the good old days and that his brain is full of cool and crazy stories. I guess there just wasn’t much room left in there for stuff like birth dates and what I was majoring in at college.

When I wasn’t captivated by all the fascinating tales of my dad’s youth, I would occasionally interject and share whether or not I had tried the particular drug he was talking about. I would tell him about my experience with it and then we would discuss the stuff we liked and didn’t like about it.

As weird as it may sound, it was one of the best and longest conversations I’ve ever had with my father. We were laughing and discussing our lives and how our experiences were similar or different. We talked for a good two hours and when the conversation was winding down, my dad’s tone changed from happy nostalgia to serious and focused—something I hadn’t often seen. He told me that while those years were some of the greatest times of his life, they were also some of his darkest times. He confessed that he was always in a fog and couldn’t concentrate. He recalled not being able to sleep or eat most of the time and behaved so recklessly that he nearly died on several occasions.

Then my father admitted to me, sitting across the table at a Thai restaurant, that his drinking and drugging had been the demise of both of his marriages and his failure to be a parent to my sisters and me. Before I could respond, he said something that shocked me. He said that he knew I was doing drugs and he guessed that I was having trouble stopping. Trying to lighten the mood a little he added, “Your old man may be stupid and crazy, but he’s not blind.”

I started to cry and couldn’t look at him. It was the most connected moment I’d had with my dad up until that point. He said, “Honey, you’re more like me than you may realize. I’m not going to try and stop you or say anything to anyone, but if you start feeling like it’s getting out of control, I know you will do something I never did; you will make the right choice and ask for help. Because you’re much smarter than I ever was. Must be something you got from your mother.”

I will remember that night and what he said to me for the rest of my life.

A month later, I came clean to my mom about my drug use (she, like my father, already knew; I guess I wasn’t the covert coke ninja I had always fancied myself to be). Although I attribute a lot of my decision to quit cocaine to my mom, my dad—and that night with him at the Thai restaurant—was a big part of it as well. And he is still a part of my recovery process. I didn’t want to go to any meetings at first, but my dad was the one who suggested it and even went with me to my first few meetings. I go to meetings by myself now; instead of coming with me every week, instead my dad and I have a weekly dinner.

And we don’t even need to talk about drugs to have a good time.

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About Author

Tiernan Hebron graduated from San Francisco State University with a BA in Psychology and minor in Anthropology. She lives in Los Angeles, where she writes for Elite Daily, Feministing and Skirt Collective.