Father and Son: A Study of Two Temperaments

13 min readJan 17, 2024

This book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments, two consciousnesses and almost two epochs”.

Edmund Gosse, 1907

New Zealanders are stereotypically quiet types. We live in a country where the news will mention the weather two or three times before it actually makes an appearance and where the weather is a legitimate conversation filler. No wonder, then, that after seventeen years of living with my father, I can not recall a single genuine conversation we had together. Normally, this would not be a concern in itself, given that I am in my late twenties and liable to want to break away from home. But I have cause for reflection because my father is one of the 582,000 New Zealanders suffering from a mental illness (and I imagine that number has climbed since I Googled this statistic).

But what does my father’s loose grasp on reality have to do with the weather? I talk about the weather; it has saved me from a number of awkward silences. I have even closely analysed the shape, colouring and density of clouds, all in an attempt to fulfil the minimum requirement for conversation. Why, though, did I bother? Did I merely wish to avoid awkward silences? Did I desire companionship with the sole aim of hearing another voice that was not my own? Or did I genuinely have a budding interest in meteorology? Certainly not the latter. But surely not all conversations about the weather are case studies for psychoanalytical, Freudian readings. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar. Sometimes, we genuinely want to know what the weather is going to do (if you are moving your priceless Monet to your new flat and lack a car, for example). Where do we draw the line?

I have four uncles and three aunts on my father’s side. Yet I know nothing of any relevance about my father’s early years. I have no reliable source that can comment on the origins of his illness. I know he attended the same high school I went to until he was fifteen, at which time he left to begin a trade in carpentry. What little I did know about my father’s childhood, for many years, stemming from one story he used to threaten us with as children, that the one and only time he ever spoke back to his father, he took him outside and beat him with a shovel until he bled. It is a horrific story, and I wish I could say it belonged to an age of parenting long since dead, but we are one of the worst countries in the Western world for domestic violence. I grew up hearing this story multiple times, and who was I to disagree with my father, a man many times my size and age? Edmund Gosse tells how his faith in his father as a superior being fell away when he pierced a pipe leading to his father’s water fountain as a child, and his father did not know it was him. Not that I wish to play a hundred-year game of top trumps with Mr Gosse, but I came to the same realisation when the police arrived at my house to arrest my father for growing marijuana.

The criminalisation of marijuana may seem like an arbitrary rule that is all part of the ‘nanny state’ policies that keep us from having things that we, as adults, should be able to decide for ourselves. It helps us, you know, relax (man) and chill. In several short years, we should have the freedom to choose whether to partake for ourselves. In light of all these positive marijuana vibes, my father is surely more of a freedom fighter than anything else, sticking it to the man. And to those who think that way, who live normal and happy lives whilst using the drug, I say well done. Well done on keeping your sanity whilst so many New Zealanders, so many people globally, are deteriorating mentally because of marijuana.

I say this not as a scientist or even a medical student. I only learned the other day what the dorsolateral area of the brain is and roughly where I could find it. What I have seen, however, is evidence enough to convince me that we are taking this revolution far too lightly. Those who take marijuana are risking nothing less than their brains. Taking drugs is like playing a game of Russian roulette with your mind. Everything, from that person’s perspective, is at risk. Their whole concept of the world, their grasp on reality, could be lost forever. And for what? What exactly is gained in taking marijuana? It is not a pre-existing need or craving; we are not born with an urge for the drug. As with smoking cigarettes, the craving only exists after taking the substance.

We are all familiar with the synthetic legal high scare a few years ago. But what really scared us? For well over a hundred years now, we have inhaled tar into our lungs, yet this no longer frightens us as a society because it is familiar. What was terrifying about the legal highs was that they were new. We saw clips on the news of teenagers freaking out and smashing televisions because they could not get their dose. It seemed like we were entering a brave new world, but instead of soma, kids were taking Bane’s super serum mixed in with strange little blue pills someone found outside a nightclub. Teenagers were out of control; it seemed like a near epidemic. The last we heard was that the government was locked in an endless battle with these drug manufacturers in which they would outlaw one chemical compound, and the drug companies would come back with another legal high. What happened to those kids? The epidemic became old news very fast. We banned substances such as K2 and saw a drop in drug use, which felt like a victory at the time. Yet now, hundreds of young lives have been affected by these compounds. The damage is done.

This is not an isolated incident or drug. The human race has traced the same pattern of addiction and mental derangement throughout history, whether the drug of choice is opium, heroin, cocaine, E or marijuana. To be fair, the first four drugs have horrific side effects which are too physically noticeable to ignore. Most sane people would not touch a needle full of heroin for a million dollars. But surely, a natural leaf such as marijuana is not as bad as all of these manufactured chemicals. The first-year college student with a stash in his bedroom might raise his hand in the objection; they have used marijuana since they were fourteen, and they are fine (if you wish to see a study on the effects of drug use on teenagers, there is hard evidence against its use at this period of a person’s life, and I recommend you follow the link provided here). A forty-year-old business person may raise his hand in objection as well to say they smoked with the best of them at college and occasionally goes for a quick puff now and again. They have a wife and children, live a normal life and have no cravings or side effects whatsoever. Again, I say to these people, well done. You made it. Good for you. But you are not everyone else. The science behind understanding our own neural chemistry is lacking in many areas, but we know enough to say that people’s brains differ significantly.

That being said, marijuana scares me because of the similarities I share with others who suffer from mental disorders. I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child and took Ritilian for five years. Ritalin is a street drug for most non-ADHD users, and it has the same effects as speed. For those who have ADHD, it has the exact opposite effect. It helped me slow down and work things out in a way I could not at the time because my brain was hyperactive. One of my uncles on my Mum’s side was also diagnosed with ADHD. He inhaled marijuana once. He now wears tin foil hats and tries to evade the CIA. This is no joke, however. He is gone forever. He played Russian roulette with drugs, and now he will never have a grasp on reality again. He is clinically insane for the rest of his life, and for what? Because someone told him marijuana was a safe drug.

Those who have ADHD are, however, a small minority. Does this then have no bearing on the rest of society? Should we just include a warning at the end of advertisements for marijuana telling us to consult our doctor if we are not sure? The trouble is, the brain is not black and white. Marijuana does not only affect those suffering from a previous ailment, although I do have a higher risk of ending up like my uncle if I even tried a joint. But the risk remains the same for all those who do try the drug. Conclusive evidence shows that a significant proportion of marijuana users are dependent on the drug and that a number of these people will experience depressed or suicidal thoughts or/and engage in criminal activity. Less conclusive evidence suggests a relationship between drug use and various psychological disorders such as schizophrenia, although the correlation has still to be studied in depth and separately to other drug usages, such as nicotine.

This is where I combine the two main points of this essay by saying that I wish I knew more about my father’s past because I can not say conclusively whether or not marijuana resulted in his complete mental breakdown. My father did not talk about his childhood other than to tell stories that only now, upon reflection in the early years of my adulthood, are obviously false. We were told that my father was a perfect child who once disobeyed his father and was hit until he bled with a shovel. To repeat my earlier statement, I have four uncles and three aunts, yet nothing was said. Throughout the drug charges, the arrest, the trial, the house detention, nothing. When my father kicked my mother, brother and me out of our house, still nothing was said. In fact, it was not until my father physically attacked one of my uncles and threatened to cut his car brakes that this uncle discussed my father’s mental health with the rest of the family. Even now, it is not spoken of. I visited them recently, and they asked about school, girlfriends and, of course, the weather. Nothing of any consequence, nothing that could have helped us, was mentioned to my mother until it was too late. Even now, most of them refuse to acknowledge anything has happened. I do not blame them, but the infamous refusal to speak up in this country, the idea that we should man up and decline to speak about our problems, is a significant issue.

I can not say how much of a role marijuana played in my father’s deteriorating mental health. Quite possibly, my father is a sociopath, and I say this because he seems to have no real empathy for other people. However, I saw how pale and sickly my father became after he was forced to quit the drugs following his arrest, the agony he suffered in his recovery and his slow climb to retaining some sort of sanity in his six months of home detention. But his offence was minor, and despite costing an enormous amount in legal fees, my father had done his time and was soon taking drugs again. He continued to get worse.

There are minor episodes in my childhood that only now occur to me as odd. For example, my brother and I were not allowed to buy presents for my mother on her birthday or Christmas; my father had to buy them for us. He would then go out and buy an expensive item that topped our terrible gifts. There was the time my father taped our mouths shut for talking whilst helping him clear the hedge trimmings when I was kicked out of the car for asking whether I could check my bank balance before I brought lunch, the time my father yelled at me to get a job on a dairy farm (of which I was dubious given environmental and animal rights concerns) and then yelled at me for the damage I was causing working for the farm I apparently loved so much. I should have realised his instability when he was arrested, but it was not until I was woken up in the middle of the night with my father’s fingers at my throat and his fist hovering over my face that I realised the degree of his deterioration. We were visiting my mother’s family in England. I had told my mother that day that my father had seemed angrier than usual. The whole trip, he had been fuming, seething with anger. When he woke me up, he had decided, somewhere in his deranged mind, that I was trying to split up his marriage. He did not hit me, but he left us stranded and took the rented car with him. We met him again on the return trip back to New Zealand. We did not talk about it, and we stayed with him for two more years until he kicked us out of our home because we were all plotting against him.

It is awkward to write this now, particularly for the purposes of publication, but it is impossible to explain my father without describing some of what happened. People do not believe you until you tell them. Before I began to talk to people, I did not even realise that my father was in the wrong during my childhood. Surely, however, he was an exception. I met a number of his friends, and I later found out which ones were the drug-taking friends and which were not. My father preferred his drug-taking friends over the others because they were like him. They were scary, rough-looking men who had little grasp on reality. They lived in broken homes and were unusually quiet until they suddenly became violently aggressive. I used to think this was the standard for all men, but I have since learnt otherwise. Before you start taking marijuana, I would suggest that you look at these men, born in the late sixties or early seventies, like my father, before marijuana was even tested. Only recently have I managed to find some conclusive research conducted in New Zealand into the negative side effects of marijuana, which looks at a group of over a thousand subjects who were born in 1977, with seventy-five per cent of subjects developing a dependency on the drug (links to these studies are provided in the bibliography).

I can not tell anyone what to do with their lives, and that is not the purpose of this essay. The real purpose is twofold: that we start to really talk to one another as a country, as friends, as family members and that we think about our drug use. If people like me are silent on this issue, then it is only the people who feel comfortable with marijuana that are going to talk about it. To avoid the issue completely because the worst of it seems over and because the issue seems too old to have any relevance to us today is no answer. Ultimately, society pays.

I wish I could be more conclusive and say whether it was definitely the marijuana that did the damage, but I can not, in full honesty, make that statement. All I ask is that we should talk these issues through. And please, if you take marijuana and you are completely fine, even if you have done so for years, consider that what applies to you may not apply to everyone else. Not everyone who drinks becomes a drunk, yet some people do. You got lucky. Even if you disagree, I would ask that you consider the possibility of how different you are from those around you.

Eventually, everyone must take responsibility for themselves, but if you are in a position to influence others, please take that responsibility seriously. My father and I were born in very different eras, and I hope this means that whilst I may have a very different viewpoint from some readers, we can all talk through this issue together as a country.





A literary student by nature (and training), with a splash of ad experience, I’m setting out to make passion my career — reading, writing and SF.