By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Rising Laguna Beach radio star is a patron saint for parents of drug addicts
Leyla Fatima’s topic on her KLSX “97.1 Free FM” show, Parenting the Addict Child, Nov. 30 is “Adolescents and Marijuana,” a topic the single Laguna Beach mom chose because callers the previous week accused her of making such a big a deal out of the devil’s weed that it would turn her two boys “neurotic.”
A few calls after she dresses down a grandfather named Brent who dares to blame the longtime drug addictions of Fatima’s 18- and 21-year-old sons on her lax parenting (big mistake), she takes a call from Gene, who confirms the obvious: “Brent’s a lunatic.” But Gene still takes the host to task.
Gene: Let me tell you, how do your children feel about you speaking about this on the air?
Fatima: They are very proud of me.
Gene: How do they feel about you speaking about this?
Fatima: I don’t know how else to say it. What do you want me to say?
Gene: They are proud of you? Have you asked them?
Fatima: Yes. And this is about my life, too, Gene. I’ve gone to the jails and the rehabs. Are you saying I don’t get to speak about this? When I leave the house, I get hugs from my sons. They say, “I love you, Mom. Have a great show.”
Gene: It sounds like it’s more of a therapy session for you than you helping your guys.
Fatima: Hell, yeah!
She’s much more relaxed over coffee at a Laguna Beach café, where she ticks off her life story: Born in the Midwest. Grew up in Illinois. Spent time in London, Turkey and the Middle East. Married at 21. Had first son at 22. Divorced at 27. The kids’ father, still in Chicago, is barely involved in their upbringing. She and her boys have lived in Southern California the past 10 years, first in Corona del Mar, now in Laguna. Paramedic and sales careers in her past. Lost everything and started over two or three times.
Now things are on the upswing. She parlayed her journal about her sons’ addictions into a column that ran weekly from January to March of this year in The Orange County Register to her own Internet radio show to the launch in May of a one-hour Sunday-afternoon show with the CBS Radio-owned KLSX. It quickly expanded to two hours and, in October, beyond LA to Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.
Jud Bardwell of Wells Media, the LA agency that sells airtime for the show, could not believe how quickly it caught fire after expanding. “The calls began coming in from throughout the country the moment Leyla began giving out the phone number,” he says, “and the response has increased every week.”
According to Fatima’s publicist, Claudia Schou (who, in the interest of full disclosure, is married to Weekly staff writer Nick Schou), there is now talk of possibly adding more hours to the show and national syndication by the middle of next year.
And to think it all began with a boy who started abusing alcohol and drugs at age 13. In between sips of her latte, Fatima says she and her oldest son had the kind of relationship where he told his mother when he first smoked pot with friends. “He said something addicts do: that he did not like it,” she says. “This is my multi-felon.” He eventually graduated to prescription medication, mushrooms, Ecstasy, cocaine, misdemeanor arrests, five felony charges, drug court and mandatory rehab. He just graduated from drug court this past October.
While dealing with him, Fatima discovered her then-8-year-old was smoking pot, which would turn into a daily habit and include stronger substances.
She doled out groundings, took away cell phones and forbade sleepovers, as many other parents would do. But Fatima is one tough 5-foot-1 cookie. She was also the one who first called the cops on her oldest. “I did it to save his life,” she says. When the youngest was in high school, Fatima staged an intervention in his classroom before shipping him off to an eight-week wilderness camp in Utah, followed by 10 months in a 12-step program for teens in Arizona.
But nothing has broken their addictions, not even the sight of blood gushing out of the cocaine-abusing oldest’s nose in the middle of the night. Fatima has entered both into the drug rehab at Hoag Hospital (“an excellent, excellent facility”) so many times, she says, she wonders why banks do not issue credit cards that earn parents points toward return visits for their addict children. “I have a sense of humor about this,” she says.
The volume of letters Fatima received from her Register gig convinced her there was a huge audience of parents dealing with addiction. With no radio experience, she started the Internet cable show, then two months later cut the CBS Radio deal.
“We get a really good mix of calls,” she says. “I get parents calling, crying and thanking me for the show. I get parents of kids who got sober saying they wish I’d been there for them. I love this: The people who call saying, ‘I respect your point of view, but you don’t know what you’re talking about.’”
An off-air caller asked, “How dare you compare addiction to cancer. If you walked into a cancer ward and said that, I hope they’d punch you in the face.”
“This hits home with a lot of people,” Fatima says. “A lot have grown up with absentee parents, and they only see the negative side. They are so hateful toward alcoholics.”
As for the feedback from her boys, she says, “They think Mom is a rock star.”
Parenting the Addict Child airs on KLSX-FM 97.1. Every Sun., noon-2 p.m.