When recreational marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in Reno, Nevada, on July 1, 2017, at the stroke of midnight, my dad was one of the first customers.
A Queens-born, Long Island-bred retired grandfather, usually snoring on the couch by 9 p.m., never one to stand in line ― not even for a slice of his favorite New York pizza ― he’s not someone one would expect to be practically beating down the doors of a dispensary on its first day in business.
He told the man who sold him his first legal cannabis in the wee hours that he had been “waiting 40 years for this.” That admission earned him a free prerolled fatty (my word, not his).
My dad loves his family, ball sports, working in his yard, dense historical nonfiction, preaching the knowledge he acquires reading said nonfiction, driving solo on the lone desert roads of the West in his Prius ― and marijuana.
When I visited him and my mom in Reno shortly after the weed gates opened, it was expected that a visit to a dispensary would be on my agenda, and that Dad would be escorting me. No longer were the casinos and brothels the crown jewels of Nevada. Now there was legal weed, something to really be proud of, and the man was prime to show off the shiny new toy to his out-of-towner daughter.
Recently freed from the tethers of breastfeeding my first baby, I was more than game. So, on a sunny afternoon ― less than 24 hours after my flight touched down in Reno ― we set out for what would be an unusual father-daughter bonding ritual.
On the car ride over, Dad went over the dispensary menu from memory ― candies, gummies, cookies, energy bars, vape cartridges in various flavors and good old-fashioned flower (aka weed-weed).
He explained the difference between indica (calm) and sativa (active), and opened my mind to something I had never heard of ― a hybrid of the two. Though I was not a pot novice, I appreciated the lesson, and listened closely with a veiled smirk.
Dad was obviously excited to be taking his offspring to one of his favorite places, but this lecture, which could’ve been ripped from “Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle,” was also a deflection. We aren’t good at getting deep when it’s just the two of us.
The prospect of dancing with me during the father-daughter dance at my 2013 wedding gave Dad a panic attack so intense that he and my mom had to temporarily flee. They drove around, my dad’s head hanging out the passenger side window, sipping in the crisp Lake Tahoe air, until he was calm enough to return.
They missed my first dance with my new husband, and we had to cancel not only the father-daughter dance, but also the mother-son dance in an effort to avoid awkward questioning and side-eyes from our guests.
Honestly, I was relieved. Symbolic convention that purports to elicit a performative emotional response never felt right for Dad and me.
Just an hour before the dance debacle, having obtained a certificate of ministry from the Universal Life Church, Dad stood up in front of all our wedding guests and married my husband and me, using a Mark Twain-themed script that I wrote especially for our ceremony (an homage to Twain’s Tahoe connection). That task ignited not even the slightest ember of panic in him.
My husband likes to remark that Dad and I communicate by arguing about things we agree on. It is common for us to yell at each other as if we are debating two different sides of a heated case, while saying exactly the same thing ―“Kamala Harris WILL be our next president!!!”
At the dispensary, we checked in with our IDs to enter and walked into the main room, where the scent of weed was pungent, the crown jewel was on display and the sales were many. Dad’s attitude grew from excited to kid-at-Willy-Wonka’s-Chocolate-Factory.
Of course, it is a privilege for the two of us to be able to take this carefree approach, as if we were picking up a coffee at 7-Eleven (really special coffee).
Even before the legalization of marijuana sweeping the country, we knew that, thanks to the skin we were born in, the worst we really ever risked from indulging was judgment from our neighbors and peers, and perhaps a court date we could talk our way through. Never the big, life-destroying consequences like unjust incarceration historically affecting people of color ― a result of systemic racism and the war on drugs. We still have a long way to go until policy meets equity.
Dad approached the counter, and I hovered behind him, nervously. I felt awkward and timid, like a pipsqueak freshman approaching a group of seniors to bum a cigarette. But he was confident. Usually quiet around strangers, he was downright boisterous. And before I knew it, he was ordering for me in his Long Island accent ― a show of affection I allowed because it made him so dang happy.
Fifteen years before we found ourselves standing together in the dispensary, my dad’s corporate law career ended abruptly, and my family was uprooted for a fourth time. Though I was already out of the house, I was angry. I had spent my upbringing following him around the country for a fancy job he was eventually going to walk away from?
Corporate law was not right for my dad, but the gig he stumbled into after, as a tribal judge for dozens of Native American tribes throughout Nevada and California, turned out to be one he truly loved.
I, too, was seduced by a job because of the status I presumed it held in society, without considering whether it would be a good match for me. Dad and I had a few rough years as I transitioned out of that job at a big Madison Avenue ad agency (literally ― I worked on Madison Avenue) and into my passion as a writer and actor.
He didn’t understand why I would walk away from a promising career for something much less stable. And I didn’t understand why he, of all people, didn’t understand that it wasn’t promising to me.
Spending day after day behind a desk made me antsy and sullen. I needed to honor the parts of myself that felt most real to me, or I’d forever feel like I was moving through life in a straightjacket.
You can’t fit a square peg in a round hole. You can’t insist an emotionally private person be comfortable with a public father-daughter dance. You can’t keep a weed lover of 40 years away from a dispensary.
Last summer, Dad and his brother got stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains overnight in shorts and T-shirts, with no water and no cell service. They killed a vape pen and took a wrong turn on a hike they had previously made numerous times. They were forced to spoon ― teeth chattering, limbs shaking ― on the rough mountain ground, atop sticks, pebbles, and God knows what else ― to avoid hypothermia when the temperatures dipped into the 40s. Luckily, they survived and found their way down the mountain the next day, and hitched a ride back to civilization.
When I heard about this adventure, I was mortified ― how could a man with a big family who loves him and nearly 70 years of life experience be so stupid? A part of me was also proud to have a senior citizen father with a story like that.
Dad and I have our differences, but at our core we are strikingly similar — spirited, outlandishly goofy around the people who know us best, rebellious in our life choices to the point of tunnel vision.
Early on, he chased a career that wasn’t right for him so that he could provide for my siblings and me. That meant I could have adventures, fail, make stupid choices, without worrying about slipping into poverty or getting stuck, figuratively speaking, on the side of a mountain. And that allowed me to be something that it took him until retirement to become ― free.
That’s one of the joys of marijuana, lone desert roads, and long mountain hikes with no cell service, isn’t it? Freedom.
I recently watched my husband grieve his father who passed away suddenly. It got me thinking about legacy and which of my father’s values I’ll be passing on to my children. I don’t want them to feel bogged down by expectation or stigma. I want them to follow his lead and find their freedom. Whatever that means.
As more and more states legalize marijuana, the stigma around it seems to be slowly disappearing, hopefully to be replaced with overall acceptance. Seeing my father’s delight in marijuana firsthand allowed me to see, and accept him, as a full person ― not just a father ― with an inspiring sense of wonder, and hunger to experience his life his way.
The day we went to the dispensary, I walked away with much more than I could ever consume before boarding a plane back to the East Coast a few days later. When it comes to things he loves, my dad is either go big or go home. We both went big ― like two genies emerging from a bottle in a huge puff of (legally grown and legally sold) reefer smoke ― and then I went home.
I’ve never questioned my love for my dad, but now I wear my love with even more pride. And since we are who we come from, that translates into love for myself ― unconventional career choice, failures, embarrassing habit of yelling loudly about politicians ― and all.