Christopher Shulgan’s Superdad: A Memoir of Rebellion, Drugs and Fatherhood is an infuriating, moving, and terrifying memoir of self-destructive hypermasculinty and a journey to a kind of uneasy truce between the idea of “father” and “real man.”
Shulgan, an accomplished Toronto magazine writer, was raised in a small Ontario town, and wore his ideals of masculinity on his sleeve: drinking his ass off, fighting, partying, snorting coke, smoking crack. His binges tied into an idea of wildness, of being “alternative” and authentic and not settling down to become a boring adult. At the same time, Shulgan was attaining many of adulthood’s prizes: a wonderful wife, professional recognition and acclaim, and, finally, a baby.
The news of the pregnancy galvanizes two conflicting urges in Shulgan: on the one hand, the urge to settle down and step up to his responsibilities; on the other, the need to prove that he is still young, wild and free. Neither urge wins, and Shulgan manages to do both: acting the role of a sober dad-to-be while sneaking away to score crack, to go on all night, guilt-ridden binges that he almost completely hides from his wife, who is complicit to the extent that she never seems to look very hard at his excuses for his absences.
When the baby comes, Shulgan’s commitment to his family redoubles — and so does his need to get high. What follows (the meat of the book) is a painful account of someone who can’t break off his love-affair with self-destruction; who doesn’t really want to, not in his heart of hearts. With wrenching honesty, Shulgan spells out his ambivalence toward sobriety, making a case that would be convincing if it wasn’t for the equally honest account of the pain he’s creating for himself and his loved ones.
Love, ultimately, is the answer: the writer’s love for his family shines through on every page, even as he narrates his betrayals. And in the end, that love — tender but blazing — gets him through his troubles.
Shulgan is a fine writer. As a writer, I found myself awed by Shulgan’s tale-teller’s facility; as a dad, I found myself wanting to smack him until he stopped destroying his family and his life. SUPERDAD is a brave memoir that humanizes the self-immolating urge of the crack addict.
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