Thursday, February 10, 2005

Tragic, and ironic

Sandeep points to a moving piece by David Sheff in the New York Times called "My Addicted Son", in which Sheff writes about his son Nick's struggle with drug addition. At one point, when he ponders on what his own culpability in his son's addiction might have been, he writes:
When I told Nick cautionary stories ... and warned him about crystal [methamphetamine], I thought that I might have some credibility. I have heard drug counselors tell parents of my generation to lie to our children about our past drug use. Famous athletes show up at school assemblies or on television and tell kids, "Man, don't do this stuff, I almost died," and yet there they stand, diamonds, gold, multimillion-dollar salaries and fame. The words: I barely survived. The message: I survived, thrived and you can, too. Kids see that their parents turned out all right in spite of the drugs. So maybe I should have lied, and maybe I'll try lying to Daisy and Jasper. Nick, however, knew the truth. I don't know how much it mattered. Part of me feels solely responsible -- if only his mother and I had stayed together; if only she and I had lived in the same city after the divorce and had a joint-custody arrangement that was easier on him; if only I had set stricter limits; if only I had been more consistent.

As Sheff writes later, drug-and-alcohol counsellors routinely console the parents of addicts that it is not their fault, citing the three Cs: "You didn't cause it, you can't control it, and you can't cure it." Indeed, reading Sheff's account, one gets the sense that he was a concerned, sensitive father who did everything he could to save his son.

Now consider the irony of this: Nick Sheff, the kid in question, once wrote an article which won a 1999 Hemingway Writing Awards for high school students, and his piece was titled "Parents Do Matter". It was essentially a review of Judith Rich Harris's groundbreaking book, The Nurture Assumption, which Sheff Jr misunderstood as being "a cop-out for parents who don't want to accept the responsibility for their children." Sheff argued that parents are responsible for how their kids turn out, and wrote:
Parents influence their children by what they say and what they do. By building an environment of equal respect, parents can prove themselves trustworthy so their children can talk to them. If children can be honest with their parents, they won't feel afraid to face their mistakes. Parents should love without strings attached in order to build the self-esteem that will help their children make the best choices in life.

A pity, then, that young Nick's life went on to become an illustration of the opposite of what he had written. It is fashionable to blame the parents when their kids go wrong, but as Nick's story and Harris's seminal book show, there's only so much that parents can do.


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Anonymous said...

I think at the time the story was written, that may have been how Nick felt based on the information he had gathered/experienced at that point in his life. To berate him for later in life proving contradictory to his initial story is wrong as we all sometimes have to "learn the ropes" of an opposite life we didn't and couldn't see coming. The fact that young Nick has come thru both his past and present life more knowledgeable and experienced and that much more a better artist is what the focus should be on, not how his young mind saw something at the time and/or how his youth interpreted it.