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One Saturday morning about a year ago, I woke up to the sound of my younger daughter begging me to play Frisbee. She’s 10. “Pleeeeeeease, can we go? I’m so bored! It’s like noon, why are you still in bed?” She had already gotten her older sister to agree to go, and now she was trying to get me. “Dad, did you sleep in your shoes?”
I tried to open my eyes, but the universe felt too small for my head. My band had played a show the night before, and clearly I’d had too much to drink. As a professional trumpet player — that’s my day job, because you have to not make money somehow — one of the few ways I am compensated is in green-room beer. The tubs of PBR are like a weird backstage low-income subsidy program.
Being an excellent father, I felt obligated to take my kids to the park, but there was simply no way I was going to go outside — where THE FU–ING SUN hangs out — without something to blunt the onslaught of light and sound. I had a choice to make. I could either tell my daughter, “I’m sorry, honey, Daddy lives in bed now. Maybe we’ll go to the park next summer,” or I could do the right thing: put on a pair of garbage SXSW “gift”-bag sunglasses, secretly smoke a joint in the backyard, and walk to that park and sling that disc like a respectable father. (And what — I was supposed to play Frisbee not high? I think that’s considered bad sportsmanship.)
On the way to the park, I was walking next to my older daughter, talking and laughing, when she suddenly began sniffing the air around her. “Dad, is that your breath? Why does your breath smell so weird?”
“I’m sorry, honey, Daddy lives in bed now. Maybe we’ll go to the park next summer.”
I know what you’re thinking: BUSTED! Right? But what you’re forgetting is that I’ve been doing this parenting thing for a long-ass time and I can maneuver with the best of them.
I said, “Well, sweet child, I had a show last night, and I had to play the trumpet A LOT, and when you play the trumpet A LOT, it makes your breath smell weird for a while.” NAILED IT. Not only did I provide a perfectly reasonable explanation of the current situation, I also retroactively contextualized any previous instances of weed breath that might be rattling around her 12-year-old brain. Top-notch, genius-level parenting.
Or, it would have been, if that same daughter hadn’t herself started playing the trumpet in school this year.
The other day, she tugged on my sleeve and said, “Dad, when I was at Mom’s house, I practiced for a really long time, but for some reason it didn’t make my breath smell like yours.”
BUSTED, right? WROOOONG.
“That’s because you suck at the trumpet. You can’t play for two months and expect to smell like a professional trumpet player. Gotta pay your dues, kid!”
“Well, sweet child, I had a show last night, and I had to play the trumpet A LOT, and when you play the trumpet A LOT, it makes your breath smell weird for a while.”
Now, before you pass judgment on me as a parent, it is important to know that I made most of that shit up just now. My daughter never pointed out my pot breath. I never told her she sucks at the trumpet. (I did play Frisbee while high, but only because IT’S IN THE CHARTER.) But that story is just one of many scenarios I turn over and over in my mind — a fantastical projection of my fears and insecurities about how my children see me, how they digest what they see, and how I still, 12 years in, don’t feel like I’m living the kind of life that a parent is supposed to live.
Regardless of my support for comprehensive legalization and de-stigmatization of marijuana, regardless of the fact that I wouldn’t even think twice about sipping a couple glasses of wine at any family dinner, regardless of the truth that my strengthened connection with marijuana in my 30s has made me an indisputably calmer and more measured human (and, arguably, a better parent) who no longer has constant, debilitating panic attacks, regardless of all of this, some stupid corner of my brain still buys into the puritanical nonsense that parents aren’t supposed to smoke weed.
I’m not sure if my daughters know that I smoke pot. It’s one of the few things we don’t talk about. (And no, I’m not particularly worried that they’ll read this article. My daughters don’t read The Stranger, because they don’t care about tunnels or aPodments. But girls, if you are reading this, please stop and read “What Smoking Weed Does to Teen Brains.”) It’s hard to explain why something is okay for me but absolutely not okay for you. So we talk about it in an oblique way. I say, “It’s not illegal for grown-ups. It’s not worse than alcohol, but you shouldn’t drink or smoke weed until your brain’s done growing.”
I don’t like hiding things from my kids, but I am also not so naive as to assume that someone who literally thinks Supernatural is a good show would be capable of digesting the complexities of an adult world. It’s obvious that their brains aren’t developed. I would be devastated if I found out that one of my daughters smoked pot — not because pot is inherently bad, but because every day I watch in amazement how quickly they’re growing and learning, and I would never want anything to slow that down.
Fortunately, I know that I’m a good parent. I know because I’ve met my daughters before, and I know what they’re like, and I know that they have amazing futures ahead of them.
So, I don’t know if my kids know about me smoking weed, or if they should know. But when I was a kid, I knew.
I vividly remember, on multiple occasions, my mom waking me up in the middle of the night, shoving a spoon in my groggy face, like, “You HAVE to try this. It’s the BEST THING EVER.”
She was clearly stoned.
“Mom, is that just Cheerios mixed with maple syrup and peanut butter?”
“Yeah, but you DON’T UNDERSTAND. Also I need you to fix the Nintendo.”
Those aren’t bad memories for me. They carry no trauma. And why should they? My mom took care of me. She was a single parent. She worked 3 jobs just to keep the electricity on. She’s funny and smart, and she loves me. I was thinking the other day about how my mom never pays the cover at any of my shows, and I realized that it’s because my success is partially hers — she alone pulled us through inconceivable adversity, like that guy who pulls a semi-truck with his testicles. She paid her cover a long time ago. And I’m supposed to be traumatized that she sometimes woke me up with a hilarious cereal treat? Are we going to deny that testicle-man an ice pack, too?
A few weeks ago, at a show, I smoked pot with my mom for the first time. Or, more specifically, my mom ran up to me, grabbed the pipe out of my hands, and yelled, “THANKS!” And there we were. After 32 years, we’ve crossed that barrier. And it just feels … normal. It’s not even a relief. Because it’s not a big deal. But it is a big deal. But it’s not. We both knew. We just never talked about it. Can you imagine never talking about, like, wine?
But parenting is terrifying, because you just can’t know how your specific actions will manifest in your kids. Trying to engineer them, as though their little human lives are a simple input/output circuit, is like throwing a bouncy-ball in a kitchen and expecting it to land in a coffee mug. Fortunately, I know that I’m a good parent. I know because I’ve met my daughters before, and I know what they’re like, and I know that they have amazing futures ahead of them.
That’s really the most you can ask for — to look forward and be like, “Oh, you’re going to be okay.”
They’re going to be okay. And if, when they grow up, they discover that part of “being okay” means smoking pot, I will probably never, ever talk to them about it. Because that shit is awkward.
Ahamefule J. Oluo is a musician, composer, writer, and comedian. You can visit his website www.nowimfine.com. You can find more posts from The Stranger here: