I recently finished the 2008 memoir, "The Night of the Gun," by New York Times media reporter and columnist David Carr, and, once my tears stopped flowing, I realized what an important read it is for any parent.
You might not think Carr's story has all that much to do parenting, but having read it and been moved beyond my wildest expectations, I've come to realize that it perfectly reflects so much about parenting's harsh realities and painful struggles, as well as the heartbreaking mistakes and unequaled joys.
A gritty, compelling read from an equally gritty and compelling man, Carr writes in his inimitable, fluidly poetic style about his life, his addiction to alcohol and drugs, broken relationships, acts of violence and his notable career as an talented journalist who overcame all of these (often self-inflicted) obstacles to eventually land at the prestigious New York Times.
But more than this, he writes as a loving and devoted dad of three, who made many grave errors in judgment along the way — and he doesn't hide from this for a moment.
Carr's parenting journey began when his girlfriend went into premature labour with their twin girls. The pair was smoking crack when her water broke.
The little girls survived their ensuing health problems, but their parents — Carr and his on-again, off-again girlfriend Anna — descended further into the dark pit of addiction, retreating into constant IV drug use, while the twin girls endured a dirty, neglectful household.
The most difficult, yet intensely moving part of Carr's parenting story comes as he describes a late-night trip to a crack house to get his fix.
That cold winter night, he brought his twin baby girls with him, but not into the crack house. He left the babies in the car, parked outside, while he got high inside the house.
He describes his skewed thinking in such a raw and vivid way that it's hard not to feel some empathy, amid the pure horror.
"Anna was out, and I could not bear to leave them home, but I was equally unable to stay put. So here we were, one big, happy family, parked outside the dope house. Then came the junkie math. If I went inside the house, I could get what I needed in 5 minutes, 10 minutes tops. The twins would sleep, dreaming their little baby dreams where their dad is a nice man, where the car rides end at a playground."
Quickly, Carr describes this as his day of reckoning, when he realized he would never again be that man. Some time after, he brought the twins to foster care, where they would thrive while Carr and their mother struggled to stay clean.
The twins would eventually be returned to their mother, who continued to struggle with addiction long after Carr finally got clean.
He writes poignantly about the day he picked up his hungry, thirsty and wet girls from their mother, who was increasingly consumed by drug use, and decided not to bring them back, embarking on a new, six-year journey as a single dad (he referred to himself and his girls as "the power trio") and struggling freelance writer.
However, Carr's struggles — personal, professional and with substance abuse — didn't end there, but I don't want to give it all away, other than to say that his story is remarkable and inspirational, particularly for me, a single parent trying to survive as a freelance journalist, juggling multiple jobs and parenting responsibilities, while reconciling poor life choices.
But you don't have to have walked in Carr's (or my) shoes to appreciate this exquisitely told story, which so well captures the life of a flawed, complicated man and endlessly loving father.
The Night of the Gun is available at the Ottawa Public Library or buy it here: http://www.simonandschuster.com/specials/nightofthegun/