At 6'8", I tower over my father today, who stands a measly 6'2". But before I hit puberty, my father was monolithic. I remember feeling his physicality in my bones, and it was terrifying and comforting, all at once. When I heard that voice roll down the hall like a boulder, and those big boots smack against hardwood floors, it felt like the first time I saw the T-Rex in the original Jurassic Park.Dad had this great big baritone voice. If he wanted me to do something, he would "make a deal" with me and shake my hand roughly, as though I were an equal partner in a business venture (that venture being something like 'don't hit your sister and you can have rainbow marzipan cookies later'). He would never use "baby talk." He would wrap us in fatherly platitudes at every possible moment—cliché's like, "every day above ground is a good day," and, "you only get the respect you demand." There's something to be gleaned from these, of course, even if they are endlessly repeated clichés. It's a good record, even if it is broken.
Dad had this great big baritone voice. If he wanted me to do something, he would "make a deal" with me and shake my hand roughly, as though I were an equal partner in a business venture.
All in all, I thought everything my father said was written in stone, and wrought from ages of experience and trial. But as I grew and he began to shrink, I started to see the cracks. I started seeing his pores, his grey hairs—those small flaws that made him human. I realized that he was a man, and like all men, he had (as Dr. Steven Novella put it), "a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative [his] brain is operating under."This epiphany came to me in high school, when I started learning about drugs. My father prides himself (read: brags about it to anyone who asks) on never smoking, drinking, or getting high in his life—save for one incident when some "special" brownies were mistaken for… well, normal brownies.He is still, to this day, profoundly anti-drug. Perhaps due to stressful encounters with drug addicts in the rock n' roll scene of the 70s and 80s, he resents drug addicts as people. In his experience, they made his life, and his work, more difficult than they should have been.
I knew people who smoked pot. Most people I knew drank. But I could not bring myself to conclude, as he did, that any negative health impacts of those choices were deserved. Life is risk, after all. I realized that I don't believe marijuana and alcohol should be treated the same as heroin and cigarettes. To group them as altogether harmful is a baby-and-bathwater situation. I believed, and still do, that most drugs should be decriminalized, and should be treated (for the most part) as a medical issue, not a criminal issue. I believe that if we own nothing else, we own our own bodies, and should be free to do with them what we wish, as long as we don't harm others. I knew my father would never agree, and I knew why: it ran against the narrative he was operating under. That had been my narrative, too—until I changed my mind and wrote a new one.Whether you agree or disagree with my opinion on drug use is irrelevant—the larger point is that he taught me a more valuable lesson, in disagreement, than he had ever taught me when we agreed: that no belief is sacrosanct. He taught me, accidentally, that our heroes can be wrong. If I had heard his opinion about drug addicts at a younger age, I would have agreed simply out of emotion, and because I considered him wise, and because he was my dad. It was the appeal to authority fallacy, and I was living within it, at least up until that moment. Even if I do turn out to be wrong about this, that feeling—that the authority mightjust be wrong—was an important moment in my development. If this godlike authoritarian figure could be wrong about something, then no one else, no matter how qualified or powerful they seem, could possibly be on such a pedestal either. It was the evidence that mattered, not the authority.
My dad taught me, accidentally, that our heroes can be wrong.
This lesson applies as much to my father's professional legacy as it does to his fatherhood. He is worshipped and surrounded by yes-men almost constantly now. But his greatest achievements, arguably, were during times of friction, before the yes-men. When he formed the band Kiss, he was a gangly, awkward kid in New York. No one said "yes" to him. He didn't do well with women. People thought he was stupid because he couldn't speak English well. My father and Paul had to fight for every deal and every concert, had to fight against bad reviews and debt and day jobs, had to fight everything, in order to achieve what they did. They had to disagree with everyone. They had to believe that everyone else, every authority, was wrong.So, it's important to disagree. It's important to kill your heroes. And, sometimes, you have to kill your father. Kill him so you can love him, and his flaws, better than one can love a hollow archetype. The most important thing he taught me is that—just like everyone else—sometimes, he is full of shit.Happy belated Father's Day, Pops.Follow Nick on Twitter.
It's important to kill your heroes. And, sometimes, you have to kill your father. Kill him so you can love him, and his flaws, better than one can love a hollow archetype.