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I Learned it by Watching You

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At the tender age of 8, I began discovering curious little items between the cushions of the couch: tiny cardboard boxes filled with translucent slips of paper, small metal clips with sharp teeth and red feathers hanging from them. I had no idea what they were (my mom told me the clip was an earring) until years later, when I came to a shocking realization: My parents were potheads.

They’d done a good job of hiding it from my brother and me, but I was bound to figure it out. It wasn’t long before I found where my dad kept his stash and began periodically pinching small amounts from him. Then, when I was 13, I came home from school one day and walked into a scene from an after-school special. My mom and dad sat me down and held up a makeshift bong that my friend Mike and I had fashioned from a one-liter soda bottle, a ballpoint pen and some electrical tape. Busted!

“I found this under your bed,” my mom said calmly. “I wasn’t snooping—I was just cleaning, and it rolled out. So you’ve been smoking pot?”

“No…” I stammered in a panic. “Mike just asked me to hold that for him.…”

“Listen to me,” she said. Her gaze was intense but not hostile. “We’re not mad at you; we just want to talk. But if you lie, then we’ll get mad.”

“Well… I might have tried it a couple of times,” I admitted shamefully.

“That’s better,” my dad said. “Now… I understand that you’re curious about pot, and that’s normal. But pot is like alcohol—it can be fun, but it can also hurt you. That’s why only adults are allowed to drink, and the same goes for pot. When you’re older, you can make up your own mind about it, but right now you’re too young to be smoking. You should be focusing on doing well in school, and this will get in the way. Do you understand?”

“Yeah, I understand.”

“I want you to promise us you won’t smoke anymore.”

“Okay… I promise.”

And that was it. I couldn’t believe it—no yelling, no crying… I didn’t even get punished! Most of my friends would have gotten their asses handed to them for an offense like that. And yet I didn’t walk away from the experience thinking, “Man, my parents are pussies! I can totally get over on them!” Instead, I came away thinking, “Wow, my parents treated me with respect—they trust me to make the right decisions on my own.” As a result, I gained a far deeper respect for them. Of course, I smoked again anyway. But it wasn’t out of defiance—merely that same curiosity that had, for better or worse, been awakened in me.

Throughout the rest of my school years, pot was rarely discussed. I kept my pipes and weed in a locked box hidden under my bed and never smoked at home. Sometimes, late at night, when my parents thought I was out or asleep, I’d hear muffled coughs coming from their bedroom and snicker to myself. Other times, I’d come home late, expecting them to be in bed, only to find my dad sitting in the kitchen having one of his notorious late-night junk-food binges, and I’d pray he wouldn’t notice me reeking of weed. But still, they never confronted me about it again.

When my 21st birthday arrived, my parents threw a big party for me at a bar in Brooklyn. All my friends were there, my girlfriend, my brother and my cousin. My mom beat my friends at pool, my dad bought us rounds of shots—it was one of the best times I’d ever had. Then, when it came time to open my presents, my mom came over and slipped me a card on the side.

“Open it carefully,” she said. I did, and inside the fold of the card was a slightly flattened joint. I turned and looked at my parents in disbelief.

“You’re a grown man now,” my dad said. “You know that we smoke, we know that you smoke—it just seems kind of silly to keep hiding it.” So, at the age of 21, I went outside and smoked a joint with my parents for the first time.

Shortly after that, I moved out on my own, but I still visited every Sunday night for my mom’s pasta. And every week after dinner, we’d light up a joint, get high and watch The Simpsons together. It’s a tradition that continues—though with less frequency—to this day. And while many of my co-workers have had to keep their employment here a secret from their parents, or had it be a source of ridicule, my parents brag about it to anyone who’ll listen.

So to all those DARE assholes who try to scare kids into ratting out their parents to the police, and to all those social workers who try to take people’s kids away because they smoke pot, while claiming to support “family values”—you should all be ashamed of yourselves. And to all the stoner parents out there, I say this: Respect is a two-way street. If your kids are smoking pot, talk to them like individuals—no bullshit, no hypocrisy—and they just may listen. And even if they don’t—kids will be kids, after all—they’ll still love you for it.

So Mom and Dad, if you ever look at me and think, “How did our son become such a polite, understanding guy?”—well, I learned it by watching you.

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