Ask Your Dad…
My Finest Hour … or Not
By Shane Frazier
In the beginning, like many parents, we entered the child-rearing phase of life fully intending to be the model parents and the cover family for “we may not be perfect, but we’re going to do this thing right!” Well, for every parent reading this, you know the “model” parental intentions usually slam into the proverbial brick wall when faced with real-life scenarios involving your own children.
Because addiction is addressed in this issue of SAVVYkids, given my 21-year career in behavioral health, I want to share a story about a discussion I had on this topic with my son Corey.
We have two beautiful boys, Corey, 9, and Jack Campbell, 4 going on 16. They are as different as the sun and moon, but they each equally capture our hearts on a daily basis. Corey is a sensitive, loving, safe, inquisitive processor with a hilariously dry sense of humor. Jack Campbell is a rough-but-loving, risk-taking little general who is always looking for the next scene from “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in order to reenact a fraternity prank to garner cheers from his friends (remember, he’s 4)!
Working in behavioral health, I am acutely aware of the impact addiction can have on families. I have seen adults lose everything. I have witnessed adolescents basically leave the planet and fail to ever return to their previous state of wellness. I have worked with very young children suffering the ill-effects of exposure to substances in utero.
Our children are adopted. My spouse and I have held many conversations regarding how to introduce age-appropriate discussions with our boys regarding their family history, and answer their questions openly and honestly, including questions related to addiction. It’s almost as if I have been preparing my entire parental life for what could be my finest hour when the question comes from one of my kids, “Dad, what are drugs?” Or, “Dad, why are drugs bad?” What could possibly go awry?
Well, it went something like this. Corey and I were playing in the backyard a few months ago when he asked, “Dad?” “Yeah buddy?” “So, what’s going to happen to me if I take a drug?”
I think it must have been the way he asked, “… if I TAKE A DRUG,” versus a general question about the topic of drugs that made it far too personal. It totally changed the well-prepared professional, well-equipped parent into a scared dad who just wanted to protect his baby boy from the dangers of this world.
I would love to tell you that I took him in my arms, looked him in the eye, and shared some words of wisdom that transformed me from “Clark Kent” into “Superman” in that moment, or that we experienced “two roads diverged in a wood …” and my words would direct him down the substance-free road less traveled, but I didn’t. Instead, I panicked. I totally, utterly panicked!
In a moment’s notice, at lightning speed, a million questions and visions flooded my mind for some reason and I spiraled into the following string of thoughts: “What? Why are you asking me this? Why are you asking the question in this manner—are you considering using drugs? Has someone offered you drugs? You’re only 9!”
My Actual Response: “YOU WILL DIE, SON! And if you don’t die, we will ship you off to the desert somewhere where they make you live off the land and carry a 100-pound backpack in the scorching heat so that you never ever consider doing drugs again.” Corey just blankly stared at me for a moment.
Certainly NOT my finest hour. I had failed. Knowing that children have a hard time understanding and processing future consequences, I decided my “march through the Mojave Desert” tactic was probably not the best approach. Kids under the age of 10 understand simple rules, appropriate consequences and appreciate having structure and limits.
So I checked my emotions and said something more in line with the following, “Let me explain. Son, you can always talk to us about anything—anything, no matter how bad you think it is; even if it’s about drugs. What have we always told you is the most important thing to us as parents? Even more important than loving you?” Corey replied, “To keep us safe.” “That we keep you safe,” I said. “The best way for us to keep you safe from drugs is to teach you to make good choices and teach you that bad choices can put you in serious danger. Chances are good you will be offered drugs at some point. Some of your friends may try drugs. The reason I told you that you would die or receive a really bad punishment if you try drugs is because I want you to understand just how bad drugs can be. There are some drugs that could kill you just from trying them one time or mess up your mind so badly that you lose everything important to you. Everything. And I never want that to happen to you.”
The conversation was bumpy, but I attempted recovery and hopefully conveyed to my son that his safety is our top priority and should be his as well.
Moving forward, while our children are young, I’ll remain focused on age-appropriate discussions around good choices and bad choices versus fear-based scare tactics we know do not typically work anyway. However, when they become teenagers, I can make no promise our approach to teaching the kids about the dangers of substance use and addiction won’t involve a vacation in the Mojave Desert to show them just how hot it can get there!
Shane Frazier is the CEO for Pinnacle Pointe Behavioral Healthcare System. Being a Dad is his greatest joy and he enjoys helping families in the community through his career and his work on the board of the Children’s Protection Center. When he questions whether or not he is making the best parenting decisions, he ultimately shrugs his shoulders and thinks, “Meh, surely less capable people have successfully reared children in this world; mine will probably turn out OK.”