Daddy Dearest

My father, publisher of herointimes.com

There's a place for everyone on the World Wide Web. There's the National Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA) and the needlework newsgroups. And there's Heroin Times (www.herointimes.com), a monthly website for the devoted (really devoted) smack community. And my father is the publisher.

My father has been trying for a while to get me to give some ink to his new love. In addition to his website for junkies, he plans to publish Cocaine Times magazine four times a year. And every time he talks about it, I'm very ungracious. I snap at him even.

The site is a mix of dreadful cover stories (a fictional "first-person" account of John Coltrane drew letters from the jazz great's friends, who pointed out he was remarkably eloquent and would never have sounded as uneducated as the writer wrote him; I told my dad that would happen if he tried to fictionalize a first-person!), an interesting compendium of global drug-policy news, a resource list of drug-policy think tanks, interviews with addicts on how they like to kick, obituaries posted by longing mothers and a useful clearing-house for detox programs combined with no-bullshit capsules on which drugs work to combat an overdose. In July, there was also an incredibly creepy "mommy's special little man" incest story by a self-described counselor who lingers too long over the whole sordid tale and should probably be reported. Gross!

Wanna hear something else gross? Here is the opening paragraph to July's cover story: "In a shooting gallery close to Chinatown, Janis Joplin gorged on the psychedelicatessen, using one needle after the next for a cocktail stick in her bloodstream. Tripping on Owsley purple dot until her habit expanded, as she did like Alice in Wonderland while the cocktail stick did the same in proportion, metamorphosing the needle into the fuselage of a rocket that dripped and spurted the sparkle of China White stars from the dropper at the slow-motion drama of the tease of a cowgirl's sensuous thumb in extended lysergic trails, as if a R. Crumb hitchhiker to flag down a space trucker (keep on truckin')."

Dad, there has never been a worse paragraph. Ever. I promise.

Though there's some pretty awful writing, it's an interesting site, not least because while it aims to help people get clean, there is no stigma attached to heroin or its ugly addiction. My father is a recovering addict, one who generally preferred uppers but would resort to whatever was around. It's a big, happy family—just one with an awful lot of Hepatitis C in its veins.

An acquaintance of mine recently suggested that there should be more shame; he was talking about single mothers and how society should frown upon them more. He did not stay in my kitchen long.

But there are heroic single mothers (like me) and then there are junkies, whom I tend not to like.

My dad thinks I'm snobby and elitist because I don't like his junkie friends. (In fact, I do my very best not to sneer at them to their faces.) He reminds me that Jesus hung out with thieves and prostitutes. I'm being un-Christian, he clucks. I do have a couple of recovering junkie friends who are among the brightest, most cultured, most interesting people I know. But I like them because they've been clean a long time and they stay that way. I don't have to worry that they're going to go on a mission and leave the baby in the crib for three days. I don't have to wonder if they're gonna book with my stereo, or my driver's license and checkbook.

My father is well again and stable, and I am so grateful and so proud. We see each other a couple of times a week, and we gossip and laugh at people. Once again, he works to get others clean. I still don't like his friends.

My dad can find a thousand silver-tongued ways to make me feel bad about not liking his junkie friends, or he could really listen to what I'm trying to tell him.

Here is what it was like growing up with an addict:

I am 8 years old, and I am in the front seat of my mom's black Mercedes. We are at the drive-through window at the bank, and my mother is crying and begging the teller—really imploring her—to let her withdraw a sizable sum because they are arresting my daddy.

Dad spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on coke and hookers, while my mom sits at home with three kids and no groceries in her big, beautiful house. My 14-year-old brother tells my dad that if he doesn't go to the hospital and get clean, he can't live with us anymore. The bank forecloses, and we move around the corner, where the fleas are. Now there are four kids.

My dad gets clean and stays that way for a while. He founds a rehab center. My parents are happy, and we move to a pretty house by a lake. Mom goes back to college and gets her degree.

My dad leaves my mom for a client, Leslie, who becomes my stepmother. They relapse together, he shooting crystal and she shooting smack. They have a baby, my little brother, Jimmy. For a solid week, my dad calls the cops to report people playing war games in the foliage outside his house. The cops don't suspect a thing. Dad comes to my little brother's birthday dinner so loaded that he tries to telephone my sister with the television remote. I have to button up Leslie's skirt for her.

Leslie dies of AIDS.

My baby brother, Jimmy, who is 18 months old, comes to live with me because Dad relapsed again and there are dirty needles on the ground at the rehab where they live. On Christmas Eve, Dad threatens to break my legs for taking his son from him.

I don't really like to think about those things. And I don't like to read my dad's very nice magazine.

I love my father. We have the same sense of humor, and we correct each other's syntax and word choices mercilessly. We have always been friends—I mean, except for that short time when he wanted to break my legs. But we got past that—and pretty quickly.

But he can't understand why I won't read his website. He e-mails each month's new link to me, and then every time I talk to him, he asks whether I've read it. I'm busy, I tell him. I'm very, very busy. Stop bothering me.

But he is so proud. He has always thought of himself as a novelist who just hasn't written anything, and he is a publisher now. When I deign to look at the site, I find some good things, and I compliment him. I try to gentle my criticisms, to make them constructive. When I point out the pitiful copy editing, he blithely suggests I help out. When I suggest he's opening himself up to a terrible lawsuit for some libelous story or other, he doesn't listen—even when I try to engage him in an interesting conversation in which he could actually learn something about libel law (he likes to learn new things) through the benefit of my fancy and expensive journalism degree. I guess it doesn't really matter. Nobody on the Web seems to care about libel law anyway.

But what they really don't care about—what nobody today but the religious Right cares about, with its constant blather about "restoring dignity to the White House"—is shame.

Here's what it's really like to recall a time when I was 6 years old and you were all zonked-out on tranquilizers, Dad: there's no shame anymore, and shame might not have made any difference.

This column originally ran on Aug. 25, 2000. Rebecca Schoenkopf is currently on vacation.
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