My Father’s Addiction Made Him A Stranger. Is It Too Late To Get To Know Him Now?


By Sebastian Johnson

Original Source:

‘Wow. This is really beautiful, son, thanks so much for this.”

I’m sitting in a Takoma Park restaurant watching my father thumb through a small silver photo album from my parents’ wedding. It’s the first time he’s seen the album in 25 years. And this is only the third or fourth time I’ve seen him in the past decade.

My mother, who raised me, passed suddenly in her sleep in 2016 — bringing me into possession of the album. My father was in a Maryland prison when she died. Now he’d been paroled, and here I was learning about a wedding she’d rarely talked about.

Like millions of Americans, I am a child of addiction. Research indicates that an annual average of 8.7 million children 17 or younger live with a parent addicted to drugs or alcohol. Drug deaths rose by 21 percent in 2016, the biggest annual increase ever recorded. Today’s headlines warn of the arrival of a new drug crisis, driven by a flood of opiates and alcohol. For the second year in a row, American life expectancies declined in 2016 because of the surge in the death rate from drug overdoses.

When my parents married in the late 1980s, Washington was on the verge of a coming catastrophe: crack cocaine. Cheap, highly addictive crack flooded the city, fueling drug-related violence and disorder that officials were ill-equipped to handle. Drugs, or the lucrative drug trade, entrapped my parents and many others in my family. I came along in 1988, two months premature and severely underweight — one of hundreds of thousands of children born to mothers battling addiction nationwide, according to a January 1991 General Accounting Office report.

For most of my life, all of this was a mystery to me. I was raised by my mother as an only child in Takoma Park, a leafy Maryland suburb north of the city known for political activism and stately Victorian homes, away from much of the havoc affecting families across the District. The change of scenery helped save my mother’s life; she used the distance from old habits and…click here to continue reading