Full Metal Parenting

This month’s Full Metal Parenting is all about drugs and alcohol, and I’ll tell you right at the start that the hardest substance I indulge in these days is an extra strong cup of Camellia sinensis.

green (heavy metal) tea

green (heavy metal) tea

For me, cups of tea are about as debauched as it gets nowadays, and I’m well aware that doesn’t sound very fucking rock ’n’ roll. Thing is, though, I used to indulge in drugs and alcohol, but I just got too greedy at the trough, and I ended up in rehab. I won’t regale with you tales of the ugliest episodes from my high-as-a-kite years (because we all know how unpleasant addiction can get) except to say that I was a reckless idiot that deservedly had his wings clipped.

Of course, I’m also an avowed metal fan, and as we all know, metal wholeheartedly celebrates hedonism. Still, there’s no conflict of interest there for me, because I just use metal as my preeminent ‘fix’ nowadays. Metal’s provided me with endless vicarious thrills since I got clean and sober, but more importantly, metal’s supported and sustained me through hard times. Just as it’s done for you.

My drug-and-alcohol-free life since rehab hasn’t all been skipping through fields of daisies. But I’m 15 years clean and sober now, and I’m never tempted to return to drugs or alcohol because halting indulging in both led directly to having my partner and son. And I’d never do anything to risk losing them.

So, that’s my experience of drugs and alcohol. I was an addict, through and through, and a lot of bad things happened that I deeply regret. One day soon I’m going to have to explain all that to my son, but even though my experiences with drugs and alcohol ended in a world of trouble, my views on them aren’t entirely clouded in doom and gloom.

Obviously, I know how pernicious and destructive drugs and alcohol can be—as do we all. But, that said, crank the stoner metal, acid rock, or whatever tanked-up odes you can find, and I’m there. I love that stuff, and there’s obviously plenty of great music inspired by drugs and alcohol. So, I’ll get on board with all that, albeit symbolically.

Just because my experiences with drugs and alcohol ended badly, doesn’t mean other folks aren’t having a whale of a time. I figure, if you’re an adult who is well-informed about the pros and cons, then it’s none of my business what you choose to do.

Except for one little thing.

I do think, when it comes to parenting, that if you’ve got kids then you’ve got responsibilities that are far more important than your desire to get hammered. I do think you should be attending to your kids and ensuring their safety first and foremost. So, if your drug or alcohol use gets in the way of that, or gives rise to any relationship problems, then I’m not going to pretend I’m cool with that.

That said, I’m far from a virtuous saint myself, and criticising others isn’t top of my to-do list.

The last thing the world needs is a hypocrite like me lecturing anyone on their moral choices. But part of my job as a parent is to do just that.

I do have to provide some semblance of guidance for my son as he’s growing up. I will have to explain the perils of drugs and alcohol to him because he’ll reach an age when he’ll be very curious about both.

I worry about that time a lot, especially because my son shares my genes. One day we’re going to have to sit down and have a conversation about those extra genetic and psychological factors that increase my son’s danger of addiction. And, in a sense, we’re already talking around that topic.

My son’s been witness to my never-ending quest to quit cigarettes, so he knows what being addicted means. Still, I’ve not been anywhere near 100% truthful with my son about my experiences with drugs and alcohol.

He asks questions, and I’ll often divert the answer from specifics to generalities, because I’m not prepared to tell my son about my misadventures. I don’t think, at 10 years old, that he is emotionally mature enough to understand the whys and wherefores of those stories. But the problem is, my son is a very curious guy. He’s always full of questions. So that puts me in a difficult position sometimes.

Just the other day, we were walking home from the pharmacy, and he was asking what separates legal drugs from illegal drugs. I had to carefully skirt around my own history to answer, but somehow we got to talking about pot, and he busily informed me all about the perils of marijuana.

the perils of marijuana – Reefer Madness (1936)

the perils of marijuana – Reefer Madness (1936)

Or at least, he busily misinformed me all about the perils of marijuana.

Thing is, my son had some wild theories about pot. I guess that’s to be expected, because he’s learning via osmosis. He’s picking up information from books, films, and schoolyard tales, and it’s all a mix of fact and fiction.

In the end, I see my job as a parent as being the guy to impart the correct information. Whether that’s about relationships, the dangers of the internet, or drugs and alcohol, I see my role as gauging when it’s time to tell my son the full story.

In the past, we’ve talked about the harmful effects of alcohol abuse. So he knows what alcohol brings to the table. But talking about drugs is going to be more of a problem because that’s where I ran into the most difficulties in life.

I was witness to some horrendous situations during my wayward years, and I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t do plenty of damage along the way too. So, my gut feeling about drugs is linked to their worst consequences. Even though I know that the vast majority of people who experiment with drugs will never end up where I did, I still can’t shake that terrified feeling I have about my son encountering drugs.

Somehow, I need to find a balance when talking about them. I’m not going to be downplaying the risks about drugs or alcohol simply because some people suffer no ill effects from indulging in them. But then, I can’t condemn them over and over because that’s sure to make my son even more curious about them.

All I care about is that my son is safe, and the only way I can phrase the inevitable conversation is to talk about living wisely, and living well.

All I can do is prepare him for the arrival of drugs and alcohol in his world, and the only way I can do that is to be honest and upfront.

I guess there’s still plenty of time left to think about what I’ll do when my son comes home reeking of beer for the first time. I hope I don’t freak out and think he’s going to fall into the pits of addiction like I did. I hope I’ll be a dad that goes with the flow. Really, all I can do is ensure that my son recognises his parents will always be there for him if he needs to talk to us.

Who knows what will happen, but confusion defines parenting anyway. One minute you’re changing nappies, and the next thing your kids are into their pre-teen years. It all goes by way too fast, and we all hurriedly try to find parenting strategies to deal with the new issues that seem to arise daily.

Ultimately, all I care about in life is keeping my family safe as that journey progresses. Lord knows how I’m going to do that, but plenty of metal and extra strong cups of tea will no doubt help along the way.

— Craig Hayes 

Sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll! That’s what it’s all about innit?

We’ve covered the sex part a bit already, and really depending on the type of metal, sex isn’t really an issue. I mean is some beardo who hasn’t showered in weeks all that sexy? But you can be sure (in a lot of cases) that beard has absorbed some kind of intoxicant at some point since its last hose down. Who doesn’t like to down a brew or take a puff and listen to/make some tunes? Well, Craig for one. But I’ll make up for his teetotalling.

Coffee Grinder – photo by Mark Rain www.azrainman.com

Coffee Grinder – photo by Mark Rain www.azrainman.com

I look at the idea of a “drug” from a wide angle. Anything that alters body chemistry can be seen as a drug. Legal or illegal. Medicines, cigarettes, booze, illicit narcotics, even coffee! Caffeine’s a bitch, man. And for people like Craig and I, heavy metal is a drug. I’m hooked bad.

Can I go a day without metal? Not without fits. Does it make me feel better? Most definitely. Do I use it to escape reality? You bet. Does it provide me with something that my mind craves even though my body can go without? Sure. Sounds like a drug to me. But we’re not here to talk about the addicting qualities of metal. This is about (primarily) narcotics and booze.

I’ve talked before about my struggles with alcohol. And for my family’s sake I’m sure glad I was able to get a handle on that. I’d hate to be that dad in a constant state of drunkenness or pissed off because I’m not. I was very nearly there. But I am prone to addiction and it’s sheer willpower that gets me through. I also smoked cigarettes up until my oldest was born. As my personality dictates, I’ll almost never turn down a drink. Turning down a second is a little easier but as soon as I feel a buzz my brain screams “MORE! MORE! MORE!” And not a day goes by when I don’t crave a cigarette at some point. But I resist. I resist because as Mike Scheidt said, I don’t want to model that for my kids. All (4 of) my parents smoked at some point. Only one has managed to quit. So that behaviour was always there for me. And guess what, I picked it up.

My parents are/were also no strangers to alcohol. I waited a little longer before I picked that habit up but it was bound to happen. And as my mom said when she found out I smoked, “Well, I can’t say anything. I’m not a good example.” Don’t be so hard on yourself, Mom. I didn’t drink, get high or have sex until I was about 18. Adult things as an adult. Or I was just a loser. Hahaha.

I made the choice to quit smoking before my kids were born to be a better example (and to be healthier). Drinking wasn’t so easy. It took some pretty bad incidents and a long look in the mirror for me to wrangle that beast. Although I didn’t really drink to excess right in front of my kids, they could feel the aftermath. Nor have I used pot or anything like that around them either.

My girls already know I like my beer and they think drunk people are “cuckoo” or silly. That’s fine with me. I don’t want to be an example of anything worse than that. (Hence, no whiskey.) Of course, I think it would be great if my girls could live a happy, fun, fulfilling life without alcohol but I doubt that will happen. My wife rarely drinks and I could be classed as a recovering alcoholic, so I’d be content if my kids found a happy medium there. Just be responsible.

Ah! There it is! That’s what it really comes down to. RESPONSIBILITY. My responsibility as a parent to toward discussion, education and guidance. Not policing. The “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” ideology didn’t work with me and I doubt it would work with my strong-willed girls. And I don’t believe in harsh punishment for experimentation. Unless it’s heroin or something. God forbid! I’d prefer they don’t use anything of course but kids will be kids. They’ll make mistakes. Get too drunk or whatever. My job isn’t to crack the whip and scare them into abstention. That’s likely to lead to the opposite as well as resentment and subversion. No, my job will be to pick them up, clean them off, let the lesson be learned and answer their questions. Or at least send my wife to go get them. If it’s a Saturday night, I might be under the influence myself. Nor will I keep them under constant surveillance to keep them out of trouble.

The school system is good at education about drugs and alcohol but they’re all about saying “no” and not enough about saying “enough”. I’m not naive enough to think they’ll be straightedge so as a parent I need to answer their questions, relay my experience and hope they make better decisions. While keeping my indiscretions discreet. Sneaky I know, but I don’t think I can be one of those parent what gets high or drunk with their kids even when they’re in their early 20s. It would be weird. And enabling. But I’d rather it be at home or a safe place than some skeezbag’s basement when his parents are away. I hope I’m raising them well enough they won’t get into that sort of situation. My step-brother would have parties at my dad’s with full knowledge and supervision. I had one “party” (5 people total) at mom’s without permission and I got caught.

I was so upset I never wanted to go back home. I broke my parents trust. I wasn’t responsible.

What it really comes down to is that responsibility angle. I need to be responsible with how I conduct myself and pass that example on. I need to be present and talk to them. I need to educate them on the dangers of excess and addiction. I need to be honest with them (when they’re a bit older) so they can be honest with me.

Sleep – Dopesmoker

Sleep – Dopesmoker

Until I start taking them to concerts, the whole association between rock ‘n’ roll and drugs/booze/sex may go completely unnoticed (We don’t have MTV). As long as I keep my vast collection of stoner metal media out in the garage. Buddha help us all if they develop a metal addiction like mine. Their taste will never be as good and I don’t want to hurt their feelings by being honest with them about it.

So yeah. Open dialogue. Realistic expectations. And the importance of responsibility. And don’t touch my Dopesmoker picture disc!

— Matt Hinch

Internationally published writer, columnist, and radio producer.

Keep up with all Matt's exploits on Twitter @Kingdomofnoise!