This story was a collaboration between WLRN’s youth project and Urgent INC, and Youth Radio.
By: Shenika Morrison/ WLRN
Recently, my mom Sherolyn Harmon and I were going through childhood pictures of me. There’s one photo from when I was like eight, with these ugly pink hair bows my mom forced me to wear. I looked like a Pepto-Bismol bottle. There’s another picture of my mom kissing my cheek on my sixth birthday. Through these old family albums, you can basically watch me grow up. In the more recent pictures, some people go missing. There are fewer photos of my mom, because she got cancer. And there are hardly any pictures of my dad.
I was thinking aloud as I went through the albums, “When I was a baby I had all these pictures of my dad and then like when I grew up I don’t see them anymore. Because maybe he wasn’t there…”
“Sometimes,” my mom said.
My dad, Ronald Morrison has always lived in Homestead, Florida. And we’ve always lived forty miles away in Liberty City. When I was younger he’d come around, but eventually that stopped.
I really don’t remember ever seeing him without a beer bottle in his hands, or a pack of cigarettes in his back pocket. He smoked a pack and a half a day of his favorite cigarettes, Craven A, which he used to get back in Jamaica. And he drank Heineken.
“I mean a lot. If it’s beer I would drink like, like a dozen beer you know a day, and the liquor I would drink like a bottle, one bottle a day,” he said. I talked with my dad on the phone because he kept cancelling my interviews and giving me lame excuses for it. But he remembers I always hated that he smoked.
He said, “When you were small, you said to me, ‘You smoking, you’re gonna die.’”
He hated that I kept telling him he was going to die. The last time my dad was around regularly was when my mom had cancer. I was nine. My mom says she got sick because for 20 years she was addicted to drugs, starting when she was a teenager. She smoked crack cocaine and cigarettes. I can’t imagine her touching that stuff now. She’s been sober all my life.
But it’s a time that still haunts her. She told me, “Emotionally I went through a lot because it affected my family as well as my kids. Physically I had developed lung cancer at the age of 49.”
Here I was facing the possibility of losing my mom to cancer. And there’s my dad, at the same time, smoking and drinking. I was scared of losing them both.
I always wondered if I wasn’t good enough for him to stop. Why he couldn’t he give it up for me? Finally, three years ago, my dad’s doctor told him he needed to quit or else. So he did.
There was a part of me that was like, “Why couldn’t he quit when I was little, all those years when I was asking him to stop?” But my mom understood, because she had beaten addiction.
“You’ve got to want to stop, and you’ve got to want to stop for yourself,” she said. And I’ll just have to live with that.
I always thought him giving up the alcohol and smoking meant he would be around more, but I still don’t see him much. But one thing I do think about is that now he’ll probably live a longer life. I don’t worry as much about him getting cancer or anything. So seeing him more is something we have time to work on.
He said to me on the phone, “I love you and I will always do, and I will never ignore. I never leave you yet. I always check upon you, I always do. You don’t know, girl.”
Maybe I don’t know the struggle of addiction, and I never plan to. But now being able to work on my relationship with my dad is one thing I will keep in my prayers.