I lost my father not once, but three times.
The first time was when I was just two years old. My dad, Warren Fellows, was arrested in Bangkok, attempting to bring 8.5 kilograms of heroin into Australia. Subsequently, he faced the death penalty, made international news, and destroyed the stability of my whole family. Most of all my father broke my heart. Choosing to be a drug dealer is like making a deal with the devil, and the devil always collects.
How do you tell your child that his dad is a bad man, locked away rotting in a Thai prison? Mum tried but I manufactured this image of a heroic alpha male in my mind while he was absent. Then one day I saw my father on TV and finally faced the truth, but couldn't process it. When Mum told he was never coming home I suffered a nervous breakdown. I was only nine years old.
This set forth a mental condition known as OTD: obsessive thought disorder. I was stuck in a tortuous loop of destructive thoughts. I wasn't expected to recover or at least grow to be healthy. Not only was my father lost, I was too.
The second time I lost my father was when he received a royal pardon, and was released to the notorious Bangkwang prison or the Big Tiger, as the Thais call it, because it eats men alive. Warren returned a deeply affected man. In a sick irony, which he later called poetic justice, the drug he trafficked ended up trafficking his soul. During his 12-year incarceration he became a heavy heroin user.
When my father and I finally met face-to-face at the aptly named Judgement Bar in Sydney, I knew—though I didn't want to admit it—that he'd lost himself to addiction. There was 16 years of social, mental, physical, and family tribulations between us. The possibility of a so-called normal father son relationship was hopeless.
As soon as I was old enough, I hit the road. It wasn't long though before I was walking on thin ice, experimenting and testing my limits. Call it youth, or call it covering up a damaged past, I was tasting the world's offerings.
At some point it became clear I needed to let my father go. I was living and working in the media in London I decided to kill him off, metaphorically speaking. He was dead to me. The problem was this was just another form of suppression. Shoving more baggage in an already cramped compartment in my emotional system.
Years later, I received a call out of the blue from a private number. Usually, I never answered private calls but this time, for some reason, I did. It was my father. It had been at least five years since I'd last heard that croaky voice. Bolts of anxiety shot through me.
There we were, father and son standing again face-to-face, only this time a role reversal. I felt like the father and he the son. He looked terrible, perhaps not long for this world. I knew we could never take back the lost time. I was apprehensive and skeptical as a result of his past behaviour. I couldn't just turn my back and walk; he needed my help.
My father wrote a book called The Damage Done, read by millions of people around the world. I hoped it would be a way to glue us back together. Combine this best-selling story with my media skills to produce a movie to rebalance the family chi. Maybe this time we would walk off into the proverbial sunset together.
But some damages can't be undone. Drug addiction is too powerful and too all-consuming. My father slipped again, leading him down the dark path towards psychosis. In and out of psych wards for years, the mental strain on the family led us all to breaking point. Sadly the bond could never stick. Heroin poisoned any chance of a healthy and lasting relationship. The hardest and only choice to make had to be done. I lost my father for the third and last time. The cord was cut.
I recently wrote my own book, Milk-Blood, about growing up as the son of a convicted drug trafficker. Writing it was something I had to do. To conquer my demons, uncover the truth, and most importantly face up to reality. So I bled my feelings and experiences onto paper.
One thing I've learned through all this is the sad fact that the media and society see the issue of drugs through a narrow lens. The focus is always on the addicts, the dealers, the cartels, and the war on drugs. What about the mothers, fathers, siblings, and loved ones who are continually picking up the pieces? They too are suffering, in ways that are lifelong and immeasurable. There are many unheard voices from the other side.
I spent my entire life expecting to become a washed up junkie, or a hardened criminal like my old man. The shame of my father's actions motivated my every move. But fuck that, my genetic coding wasn't going to dictate my existence. Though fuelled by an unnatural determination I pushed myself into near extinction on several occasions.
Heroin, at its core, is evil. Indomitable in its nature and completely unforgiving. I've heard many philosophical analogies used, but this one rings loud. My father, the drug dealer, holds the gun to an addict or user, but doesn't pull the trigger. Instead, they do. But what if my father had flushed the drugs? Who knows, I stopped dreaming about sliding doors a long time ago.
Adrian Simon is the author of Milk-Blood, read more about his story here.