When my son was 18 months old, my best friend from high school came through town on his way to California. He’s a respected physician and my most trusted medical counselor. We went back to my office and looked over my stash.
“I know,” I said. “With the kid around…”
“You need to buy a vaporizer.”
“You get really high, and you don’t mess up your lungs. Also, there’s no odor. It’s awesome.”
My 35th birthday was approaching, and I needed to get myself a present. So I went vaporizer shopping online. I found a website for a sleek, gorgeous ceramic contraption called The Silver Surfer. New terms entered my stoner lexicon: “heat source,” “mouthpiece,” “whip,” “wand.” It would be the greatest present I’d ever give myself. No more apple bongs for me. I had to consume my THC wisely. I was a dad now.
I’m a man of few vices. Alcohol doesn’t appeal to me, except in very limited quantities. I don’t play a lot of cards or smoke cigars, and I’m really not that into porn. My naughtiness all goes into the herb, and it’s as low-level as naughtiness gets.
Before my son was born, my hobby went like this: When I had weed in the house, I’d do it a lot, and when I didn’t, I wouldn’t do it at all. I could go two months without it, or go two months with daily use. Usually, it moved in cycles. It never really occurred to me to give it up just because I’d become a parent. It didn’t even occur to me that anyone would expect me to give it up. If anything, parenthood meant that marijuana became a larger part of my life. Whereas before the boy’s arrival I’d often leave the house after 9 PM for a party, or a bar, or a movie, now my social life had contracted. By the kid’s bedtime, I’m often exhausted, and even if I’m not, babysitters run $10 an hour these days. A hit off the Silver Surfer and a night of Turner Classic Movies has become, for me, an acceptable middle ground.
Then the morning comes, and I have responsibilities. I don’t Silver Surf when I have to drive Elijah somewhere, I don’t do it when I’m going to be alone with him for any extended period of time, and I’m very rarely baked before sundown. Since all that put together comprises 97 percent of my parenting time, there’s very little crossover with the weed. Occasionally, I’ll be stoned at the wrong moment, which will lead me to misjudge children’s entertainment, like the time I told my wife, “Dude, 64 Zoo Lane is so trippy.” But as far as I’m concerned, weed, in very limited quantities, just improves the parenting experience. Everyone knows that TV is better when you’re high.
Anyone who says it’s impossible to be a stoner and a parent has either never been a stoner, or never been a parent. The dominant attitude among stoner dads—and moms—goes like this: Consuming pot is something, like watching college football or masturbating, that you used to do all the time, but now will do only if it’s convenient and appropriate to the moment. Still, there’s a kind of secret, unspoken society. I’ve been to many backyard family barbecues where another dad and I will discover that pot is a shared habit. The discussion will quickly veer into the familiar. We discuss our favorite varietals. We recount great pot-smoking moments of our past. Someone tells a story about a dude he knows who’s got a medical marijuana prescription. Then things invariably wind down the same way:
Me: No. Do you?
Dad: Nah. I had some a few weeks ago.
Me: So did I. Give me a call if you ever get some.
Pot-smoking parents didn’t use to be controversial. My parents never consumed anything stronger than box wine; my dad was the only soldier in Vietnam, other than maybe John McCain, who didn’t do drugs. But even if my parents had stashed a half-ounce of Maui Wowie in the underwear drawer, I can’t imagine it would have been a big deal around the house. The country was loose about weed then. No one gave it much of a thought.
When I was a kid, a Time magazine cover like the one on Dec. 9, 1996, would never have been possible. An aging Michael Doonesbury sits on his daughter’s bed, while Garry Trudeau’s talking joint character stands in the background. The text reads, “You tried pot when you were young. Maybe you even inhaled. So now what do you say to your kids?”
Even though I wasn’t to be a dad for six years, and hadn’t even met my wife yet, I knew then that the culture had turned. Parenting, rather than just being a natural, if challenging, byproduct of biology, had somehow become a sacred act. And smoking pot was a violation of its sanctity. Well, I never bought into that, and I’m not alone. Society is right to demand that parents treat their kids with respect and love, and provide them with food, clothing and shelter. But sainthood shouldn’t be a requirement.
In a perfect world, or at least a better one, smoking pot would not carry any cultural meaning at all. My casual little habit doesn’t prevent me from fulfilling my parental duties, and no matter what DARE and the DEA might say, it has little or nothing to do with the crack epidemic or the spread of crystal meth. I think that weed should be legal, and I’m not going to lie about that to my kid if he asks me. Someday I’ll have an intelligent conversation with him about the pros and cons of legalization, and about the politics of prohibition. But he’s not ready for such a conversation yet.
In the meantime, I’m downplaying my marijuana use. There’s a little water closet off my office that I use as a peccadillo repository of sorts. The other day, Elijah used my bathroom because the other one was occupied. He spotted the Silver Surfer on the floor.
“What’s that, daddy?” he asked.
“Nothing,” I said. “Just something daddy uses to help him with his breath.”
“Good,” he said. “Your breath stinks sometimes.”
“Yeah, well, so does yours.”