Making Peace with My Dad and His Drug-Addled Past

Ivory and her father, Ivory Sr.

Ivory and her father, Ivory Sr.

My father and I share the same name, chocolate skin, nose, lips and deep-throated laugh. Still I’ve spent the better part of my life denying our similarities, erroneously believing that if I didn’t acknowledge them, no one else would notice. Needless to say, that tactic has failed me. Within five seconds of crossing paths with old family friends or long-forgotten relatives, they always point out the laundry list of things my father and I have in common. For years, this was a bitter pill to swallow as the an angst-filled teen daughter to a now recovering drug addict and alcoholic who still occasionally falls victim to his vices.

Being the child of an addict is an exercise in patience, resolve and forgiveness. My relationship with my father was at its worst during my teens and early twenties. From the outside looking in, we seemed to be the picture perfect family, a façade I worked hard at maintaining. My peers had no way of knowing that my high school years were bookended by fistfights with my dad or that I often returned home to find my most prized possession, my stereo, missing only to turn up days later with a pawn shop sticker on it. Or even that I often found myself on the receiving end of profanity-laced voicemails that sometimes included threats after I had refused to send him money.

But things weren’t always so contentious between us. As a child, one of my favorite pastimes was to spend time with my father. I’d anxiously anticipate a half-day at school just so I could ride shotgun with him, a taxi driver, as he drove around picking up cab fares. He’d let me start the meter when a customer got in his car. I’d sit in amazement, watching the numbers tick up until we reached our destination. Once there, he’d let me turn off the meter after the customer paid; sometimes, my eagerness would get the best of me and I’d reach over and turn it off long before the ride was over. Though he chided me every time, the anger would never reach his eyes.

I can trace my lifelong affair with music back to him and those evenings when he’d rush inside our New Orleans home, a new album in hand, before breathlessly ripping the plastic off like a kid on Christmas day. I’d watch as he would carefully place the vinyl on the turntable before placing the needle on the record in just the right spot. There we’d sit, reading the album cover while trying to memorize the lyrics so we could sing along.

Recalling memories like these has allowed me to move forward. Even today my father and I’s relationship remains complex, see-sawing between functional and flawed. Most days he’s the loving dad who relishes in my victories and encourages me when I think I can’t go any farther. Still there are others when he reverts back to the man I spent so much time trying to escape, pouting or turning belligerent in the blink of an eye when I balk at buying him more alcohol.

To say that my dad’s been less-than-perfect would be an understatement. The Huxtables, my family will never be; yet the older I get, I find myself in a place where I’m okay with that. We are the Joneses and as dysfunctional as we are and will likely always be, that’s finally enough for me.

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