Dave Itzkoff on Cocaine's Son
Whatever the circumstances of our childhoods, we all grow up to become adults with questions about our parents and how they shaped the trajectories of our lives. What lessons were our mothers and fathers trying to impart to us? What pitfalls did they want us to avoid, and what mistakes of theirs did we end up repeating anyway? And how might we treat our parents differently if we were given a second chance with them?
These are all questions I confronted when I wrote about my relationship with my father, except that we were dealt a further challenge: for the first 25 years of my life, beginning in the 1970s, my father was addicted to cocaine. He was outwardly a successful man with a wife, two children, and a thriving business, but he struggled privately–-and sometimes not-so-privately-–with his drug habit, attempting everything from psychotherapy to voluntary institutionalization to cold-turkey purges to kick his addiction. When he finally got clean, I was an almost full-grown man, desperate to know who my father had been in the time I had missed, and as fascinated to discover who he had since become as he was to learn the same about me.
Cocaine’s Son is as much my story as it is my father’s: my chronicle of growing up enthralled by a man I could not fully understand, of our sometimes painful efforts, after his drug problem was conquered, to remain in each other’s lives, and the unexpected twists and turns that invariably led us back to each other. Whether or not your life has been touched by addiction issues, I hope this is a story with something to say about your own experience as someone’s child or parent.
Itzkoff’s distress and embarrassment at his father’s behavior are tangible in this unflinching portrait of a troubled childhood. While the critics generally enjoyed this new addition to the genre, a few flaws hampered that enjoyment. Some thought that Itzkoff’s story, with its rosy, upper-middle-class veneer, lacks the edge of similar memoirs, while others raised objections to Itzkoff’s singular focus on his father, whose larger-than-life personality eclipses the other characters—including Itzkoff himself. He spends a considerable amount of time analyzing his father’s actions in an attempt to understand them, and these frequent ruminations, according to Entertainment Weekly
, can be intrusive and redundant. When a fellow journalist publishes a book, the critics often take it easy on him or her. That the reviews were not glowing means there’s less here than meets the eye.