In his new memoir, Toronto’s Christopher Shulgan, a magazine writer whose first book, The Soviet Ambassador, was shortlisted for the B.C. National Book Award for Non-fiction, chronicles his descent into crack addiction (with a side order of binge-drinking) and how his addiction intersected with his becoming a parent. It’s a stirring, thoughtful account, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.
Shulgan, who had previously had a problem with cocaine and crack (and whose marriage hinged on his continued recovery), greets the news of his incipient parenthood with an internal explosion of self-doubt and dread: “The impending birth of my son,” he writes, “loomed for me like a kind of death.” That metaphysical torment – which I suspect most prospective fathers can relate to, although they don’t typically discuss it – serves as both a catalyst for his drug use and, initially at least, a limitation upon it. Employing an addict’s innate ability to bargain, he sets clear boundaries for himself – he’ll only smoke crack until the baby comes; he’ll never smoke crack in the house, etc. – each of which he inevitably transgresses.
True to the form of the substance abuse memoir, Shulgan hits a crisis point, which puts his infant son at risk. His ensuing recovery and personal growth unfold largely as readers of this genre would expect.
Superdad is well written and well paced. Shulgan has a strong, appealing narrative voice and a keen eye. (I’m reasonably confident that, based on Shulgan’s descriptions alone, I could track down a Toronto crack neighbourhood, score rock without being unduly vic’d, and make a serviceable crack pipe.) It’s a good read, and definitely satisfies, but the reader comes away with the sense that there are depths Shulgan was reluctant to explore.
It’s hard to fault a writer for not wanting to expose all of himself to the reading public (or to his intimates), and Superdad is refreshingly free of both histrionics and bald sentimentality. But the reader is left with a niggling suspicion that there is more to the story.