Cocaine's Son: A Memoir
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With sharp wit, self-deprecating humor, and penetrating honesty, New York Times journalist Dave Itzkoff turns a keen eye on his life with the mysterious, maddening, much-loved man of whom he writes, “for the first eight years of my life I seem to have believed he was the product of my imagination.”
Itzkoff’s father was the man who lumbered home at night and spent hours murmuring to his small son about his dreams and hopes for the boy’s future, and the fears and failures of his own past. He was the hard-nosed New York fur merchant with an unexpectedly emotional soul; a purveyor of well-worn anecdotes and bittersweet life lessons; a trusted ally in childhood revolts against motherly discipline and Hebrew school drudgery; a friend, advisor, and confidant. He was also a junkie. In Cocaine’s Son, Itzkoff chronicles his coming of age in the disjointed shadow of his father’s double life—struggling to reconcile his love for the garrulous protector and provider, and his loathing for the pitiful addict.
Through his adolescent and teen years Itzkoff is haunted by the spectacle of his father’s drug-fueled depressions and disappearances. In college, Itzkoff plunges into his own seemingly fated bout with substance abuse. And later, an emotional therapy session ends in the intense certainty that he will never overcome the same demons that have driven the older man. But when his father finally gets clean, a long “morning after” begins for them both. And on a road trip across the country and back into memory, in search of clues and revelations, together they discover that there may be more binding them than ever separated them.
Unsparing and heartbreaking, mordantly funny and powerfully felt, Cocaine’s Son clears a place for Dave Itzkoff in the forefront of contemporary memoirists.
to his bed and fell fast asleep. His mysterious benefactor phoned our house for three straight days to make sure he was all right, until he finally took the hint from the unanswered messages and stopped calling. In the meantime, I was woken early the next morning by my father, who was already out of bed and crashing hard after his previous day’s intoxication, lecturing my mother loudly on a subject that I soon deduced was me. “You have raised an awful, awful child, Maddy,” he hollered. “Who
shoe were on the other foot—if I were the one with the debilitating dependency and he were the one with the sober clarity—wouldn’t I want him to do everything within his power to get me cleaned up? To turn his whole life upside down to make sure that mine was straightened out again? Forsake his business and the whole world he knew, if he needed to? If I was such a good kid, what was I actually doing for him? All I was doing today was sitting with him in a cab, and as soon as it reached its
from the fear that he would be ripped away from his loved ones a second time, my father resumed his drug habit. Within months he was institutionalized again, this time by his own volition, at the Long Island Jewish Hospital, a live-in facility that he was free to walk away from at any time. At least one of his fellow patients did that during his stay, skipping out in the middle of the night, but my father fulfilled his commitment to the program, contented by the freedom that came with wearing
something is coming apart—the harder the plane seems to be tugging on some sort of safety net, and the faster it feels like it’s unraveling from underneath me. A delicate web in which I always knew my place is coming apart strand by strand, and soon I won’t have any framework to exist in at all. I’ll just end up drifting in empty space, like the plane currently carrying me, with no origin and no destination. A hole is opening up in the fabric of my familiar world, and I dive in headfirst. Now I
stared at the ground, pretending he hadn’t heard me, shuffled his feet, and took another snort. For months I had been priming myself for total, catastrophic change, attuning my senses to their highest degrees of receptiveness, raising my defenses to their highest levels of readiness, but the upheaval I expected did not occur. The war games I had been running in my mind were a waste of psychic energy, and now I could not dial back my state of readiness. I was misreading signs, leaping at false