"Where's the pot?" my 65-year-old father asks me on a recent visit to my house in L.A.
He's always been regular smoker, but he lives in New Mexico where there's more meth than marijuana, so, understandably, he's keenly interested in what my new home state has to offer.
His question rings out and is followed by a brief silence. Him and I are sitting with a few in my friends in my living room. We're all drinking and having a good time, but no one's mentioned smoking yet.
Their stunned silence gives me the distinct impression this is not a question their fathers have asked them. This is not a question he's asked me either, at least in a long time.
They flash me a sort of uneasy "Is this okay?" look. The look that says, "Is it inappropriate to smoke with your dad?"
After all, that's the great uncertainty, isn't it? What is, and what isn't okay to do with your parents?
Around your parents, drugs carry the same awkward weight as the subject of sex or masturbation. Part of this is that drugs are illegal, and you don't want your parents to think they raised you wrong. But the other, less explicable part, is that it's uncomfortable to do or discuss anything hedonistic or pleasure-seeking with mom and pop. Anything where you lie back and let the sensation of another person or substance guide you to the brink of some sort of ecstatic experience is a one-way ticket to blushing and one of those "SO THE WEATHER HAS BEEN CRAZY, YEAH?" segues.
However, research shows that this discomfort is one-sided. Children — even adult children — feel much more squicked-out talking to the Mr. and Mrs. about drugs and sex than the other way around — approximately half of teens feel awkward discussing these things with their parents, as opposed to just 19 percent of parents who feel awkward talking to their children.
After all, we're programmed from birth to believe that our parents are authority figures. No matter how friendly you are with them; no matter how many happy hours you share together discussing the hilarity of your respective love lives, they're always in charge. You expect that they know what's best; that they've lived and learned enough to know right from wrong.
That's why, when the subject of drugs (or sex) comes up, it can feel a little fraught. Knowing they're capable of submitting control to people or chemical compounds in the name of their own pleasure in the same way you are means no one's in control. Or, at least you are, but you're 30 years younger than them and have no idea what the fuck you're doing. When they're just as high as you are, you have no one to call if you need help, no last-resort money bank, no comforting, benevolent parent spirit. Your security blanket is gone and it's weird. Even if you're one of those child-parent pairs that drinks and does much harder drugs than weed together, you still look to your parent for guidance and support.
Perhaps that's why I hesitate when he repeats the question.
"Pot? Anyone got pot?"
It's not surprising he's asking for it, given who he is.
I remember being a kid and always smelling a delicious, skunky scent on him. I was dying to know what it was.
When I asked him, he said, "Hand cream."
Hand cream? I stalked every jar of gelatinous cream-like substances in the house trying to find it, but no dice.
I finally broke down and asked him for some, and just laughed. "No. No way. Not this stuff."
I realized what that smell was after smoked a bowl out of a DIY coke can "bong" in sixth grade. It sure as hell wasn't hand cream.
But with that realization came the realization that my dad did drugs. To me, a 12-year-old, that was crazy. Here I was doing drugs, smoking weed, but I was just a stupid kid. He was an intelligent higher-up. Shouldn't he know better? Shouldn't he have passed his experimentation phase like 50 years ago?
I was acutely aware that what we were both doing was illegal, but being that he was the resident authority figure, I thought he'd know better. I was vaguely skeptical of him for it.
When I was in high school, we went to Vancouver, British Columbia, to look at a college.
Weed was somewhat legal there.
I remember him asking me if I wanted to go "find some pot or something with him."
Looking back, it was such a sweet gesture, a sort of coming-of-age "you're an adult now, let's do drugs together" kind of thing.
But, being the adolescent pipsqueak I was, I was still set on the separation between parents and me. So, I balked at him.
"I can't believe we're here to look at colleges and all you want to do is smoke weed," I remember saying to him.
It was the kind of mild, yet super-embarrassing fit that made him realize there was still a distinction between his role and mine.
Current me would like to drop-kick me then in the lady nuts for not being able to see he was only trying to bond with me, but unfortunately, I haven't been working out hard enough to transcend time.
But now, years later, armed with a California medical marijuana card and the type of insomnia that requires I put it to good use, I'm prepared to answer my dad's question in a different way. I've lived long enough to know that he's as much of a friend as he is an authority figure, and I'm suddenly ready to let him step into that role; to be relaxed in the knowledge that I can steer the proverbial car while he breaks the law. Shit, he's earned it.
"Where's the pot?"
"You're sitting on it!" I say, breaking the silence.
We all laugh as he pulls a squashed, yet salvageable joint from under his seat cushion.
I get a lighter, and we light up.
It's awkward at first, seeing him incinerate the length of the joint into this lungs. But. watching him do it with the manual aplomb of someone who's been carrying out the exact same motions for 60 years is both graceful and endearing at once. In the way he gags after he inhales and holds the joint like a cigarette, I see myself in him. I've seen myself in his nose and his long teeth and the way he makes hilariously unnecessary remarks at servers before, but this is a new feeling.
It has a curiously humanizing effect.
In the span of a few seconds, he becomes more than my dear old dad who's come to visit. He's become a contemporary; a comrade; me in my final form, except with six decades worth of better stories than I have.
He hands me the joint, and with it, the sort of mutual understanding and thoughtful familial bonding that makes my heart swell with pride. It's his way of saying "I'm done parenting you. Now, let's spend a few years where neither of us is dependent on the other enjoying ourselves before you start to have to parent me."
I take a puff, hold it in, then projectile cough it violently forth from my lungs like a Grade A noob. My boyfriend pats me on the back, which only makes me look more pathetic.
"Man," my dad says. "I still have a lot to teach you."