Daddy tokes up: Should we tell our teen?

My husband smokes a lot of pot. Shouldn't we at least admit it to our son?

Published August 13, 2009 10:16AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

My husband smokes (not just tobacco) frequently. This occurs throughout the day and continues when our son is home from school or on the weekends. This habit has made me uncomfortable for a long time, for what I perceive it does -- that it contributes to the feeling that there is a barrier in our relationship. I have stated in the past (maybe a once or twice in the last couple of years) that I am uncomfortable with the frequency, but he usually says little when I raise this subject. I don't know what he thinks of my position. One day I will have to come to terms with what it is I am willing to accept or what the alternatives could be. I can't make that conclusion now because I want to keep the peace for the sake of our teenage son.

Which brings me to the next concern. I feel it is time for us to speak with our son about this and that I should be part of the conversation. I'm not sure what we would say to him, but nonetheless, I want him to know and have the opportunity to ask questions.

I suggested my husband speak with a friend in a similar situation to compare notes. Apparently the friend did not raise it with his son but the son blurted it out one day that he knew. My husband seemed to think that that was an OK way for it to happen. I would not want to count on the same thing happening within our family as I don't have any expectation that our son would speak up like that nor do I think the task of starting the dialogue should be his responsibility. I do feel strongly that is is not a good idea to do nothing, to pretend the situation does not exist. Friends have told me of the distress, confusion or fear caused by the lack of discussion or acknowledgment in their families when there was an alcoholic parent. If we continue to "hide" or pretend the situation does not exist, would this not be dangerous to his emotional health? I feel we are being dishonest with our son.

Am I being too fearful? Should i just relax about it? Am I opening a can of worms? Or do you think I am just acting out my anxieties and projecting it needlessly on our son?

Fearful about the Conversation

Dear Fearful,

Yes, it is a can of worms and therefore I beg you to open it up and show your teenage son that you are courageous, decent, thoughtful people and not so in the dark as he must imagine so he does not wonder, What the fuck is it with my parents who tiptoe around when with all I've seen among my own friends and on the Internet and at school tells me more than they can ever know, What is it with my parents that they think I've got no clue, why don't they talk to me at least?

I can hear that kid's thoughts because I am that kid, and your husband is that kid too, if your husband would only stop to think about it and stop avoiding the many stark, loud truths buzzing in his head and all the other things he is no doubt masking in anxiety ... but your husband is probably too much in a fog of pot to have the needed emotional clarity so you are going to have to do this, so please ...

please, please, please just take a risk for me, just get it out in the open without judgment or hysteria or precondition or control, just tell him what is up, just confess what's going on, and ask for his understanding, and make a pact with him, just

somehow somehow somehow just talk to him and make room for all the emotions that are swirling around this problem which does not admit of a rational solution and is not solved by just one decision but is a state of being that you have to be honest about so your kid doesn't go around feeling like he's living in an insane asylum, so 

please please please just royally freak him out if necessary because being royally freaked out by your own parents is better than enduring the slow, deadly drip of silent repression which is poison to a young man's mind, which creates anxious monsters (I know, I can attest, I have been that lonely creature going crazy in the silence and the cold) ...

and I don't care so much about royally freaking him out as I do about the poison of keeping so many secrets, and anyway I figure he's already royally, royally, royally freaked out because it will drive you crazy living in the family Frigidaire of circumspection and secret medication that adults indulge in with their stupendous ignorance thinking we kids don't know or have a clue ... because even if we kids don't know exactly what that smell is we know that some secret life is being lived right in front of us and it drives us crazy with anxiety and fear and eventually we come to loathe the people who are doing it because Who the fuck do they think we are?!  They're supposed to be our parents, for Chrissakes, they're supposed to be the grown-ups who maybe have some faults but at least by statute and tradition are the ones who call the family meeting and make the big important gestures, not us kids, we can't call a family meeting, we can't compel the opening up of the sacred box of hidden but obvious family truths, we don't have that kind of power ... it's the job of the adults ...

but no, the adults are hiding, and

What the fuck are they hiding? You don't even know, all you know is they're just

Hiding something and it drives you nuts with anxiety and anxiety is the hidden, deadly problem that leads you so unspokenly to drugs and lying and all manner of "acting out" because holy shit! your skin is crawling and prickly with fear and all you really, really need is some real, real, real contact with these people who suddenly act like creatures from Mars, tiptoeing around you from the bathroom to the backyard and being untrue to themselves  ... and all you need is for them to be just frigging real for one second or two, just so you know they're still human ...

So would you please, please, please, just for me be honest with this kid and tell him that maybe you're not perfect but you're going to take care of him and tell him that

He most importantly doesn't have to worry about being loved or being cared for and
you will help him with stuff and will be there for him and that you
know how much bullshit there is in the world and how 
90 percent of most everything is a royal crock of shit but how you
try to live with it anyway because what other world is there but you
blame him if he thought sometimes that
everything completely sucks because
if you think about it long and hard
(and he has the time to do that thinking,
while you don't, with your jobs and such, which is
how you get sucked into the system and drowned anyway)
everything does pretty much suck, and we lack all
courage when we greet each other on the street, and the
kids know pretty much how false we are and scared, so

Would you please just for me set him down and tell him everything:
the fears and exultant victories of adulthood and its woes, the
reasons you every now and then take a toke or maybe a shot or even a
line it's not unheard of in the world, he's
getting to be a man, he
will soon enough be learning things he can't possibly understand so just
tell him he's not going to be alone through any of it, just
tell him it's a big world out there but you're going to be there for him and you're
going to make mistakes of course, so
is he, big surprise, but you're going to be a family and you're
going to be looking out for him and you're
going to be on his side and there is
anything he must
keep to himself and hide from you because
whatever the fuck happens
you are with him
you are his parents
you will come get him, you will
help him fill out applications, you will
do whatever he needs.

Would you do that?

Just talk to him. Talk to him honestly. Talk to him from the heart. Tell him what is going on. Take him into your confidence. Be real with him. Be real and let him be real with you. Let him tell you what he is feeling, if he wants to.

It's your big chance.

Write Your Truth.

What? You want more advice?


By Cary Tennis

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