by Vivian McPeak
Growing up with my father was an unusual experience. He was a hard-working, zany wanderlust who loved women, cigarettes and booze. My dad served in the U.S. Army, and it was while serving overseas in Korea that he was given army ration cigarettes with his gear. It did not take long before my dad was addicted to tobacco, and he became a human chimney, smoking two packs a day for over 40 years. There are only a handful of photos of my father where he does not have a cigarette in his hand. I remember him having one in two ashtrays at different ends of the apartment.
My grandparents raised me about half my childhood, with my father living in the same apartment building. They were both chain smokers too, and I recall being in the back seat of their car on holiday trips with all the windows rolled up and the three of them chain smoking the whole way. When they ate dinner on TV trays, I ate mine on the living room floor so I could be below “cloud level”. I hated it so much that I vowed never to smoke a single cigarette in my entire life.
In 1996 I received a phone call from my dad. He called to tell me that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and it had spread to his brain. He was walking out in the middle of radiation therapy, and he needed somewhere to go to die. Naturally, I told him to come to me, to my home. Fortunately, I had an empty room.
My father was 6 feet tall, and although he had always been thin, I was wholly unprepared for the sight of my father when he arrived at my home. His hair gone from radiation burns on his head, my father weighed only 100 pounds. He looked like Skeletor on bath salts. I brought him in and got him settled. Later, at dinner time, I asked my dad what he wanted to eat. “Fry me an egg”, he replied. “Just one egg?” I asked. “Yes, one fried egg.”
I prepared my dad an egg, he ate it, and within minutes he threw it up. After three days of this ritual, my father had lost another 8 pounds. I called his doctor. “Just hydrate him, he has only weeks,” was the answer. So I got right to work.
I cooked up a batch of strong marijuana brownies, putting well over a 1/4 ounce into a small baking pan, making four mondo magic brownies that would tip any old saddle tramp into the trail dust. I told my father I was going on some errands, and that the brownies were medicine, not candy, and that he should take it very slow.
Upon my return a few hours later, I checked in on my pops. “Son,” he said, “I believe I am a little woozy, a bit tipsy, do you think it could be those brownies?” I lifted up the tin foil and saw that my dad had eaten the entire batch in one sitting. “Take me to QFC” he said.
I took my frail, wobbly, stoned dad to the store, expecting some kind of a let-down when we returned. My father selected some pasta, some spaghetti sauce made by a deceased movie actor, a berry pie, and some vanilla ice cream.
When we got home, my father ate an entire meal and held it down. I was stunned. I had been an advocate of medical marijuana, but I had absolutely no idea just how powerful and effective it could be at staving off, or reducing the symptoms of, cancer. I swiftly prepared another rather expensive batch of baked goods. My father continued to hold food down, sometimes three small meals a day.
Several weeks later, the hospice nurse was amazed. “Mac, you’ve been stable at 85 pounds for almost two months. You are an anomaly.” My dad chimed in, “It’s my son.”
I started subtly waving my hands to my father, as in “Ixnay on the ownie-bray, Dad.”
“My son has been giving me magic brownies, he puts marijuana in them!” my dad proudly announced. My face turned red. This was two years before Washington State legalized medical marijuana, and I was naturally concerned. However, the hospice nurse was more interested in learning about the dosage and what parts of the plant I was using than turning me in.
My father passed away about two weeks later. For the short months that my father was with me, he was in good spirits, ambulatory, never complained, and he had quality of life. He was joking, watching TV, and he was even designing a car with sensors that could avert a crash on the highway. That was my crazy dad.
I broke the law by giving my father marijuana when he was dying in my home. When you may not see your parent again, for eternity perhaps—we have no guarantees I believe—another couple of months can be a long, long time.
One thing my dad said to me always sticks in my mind. He said, “Son, do you want to know when I am going to die?”
Awkwardly, I answered. “Sure, Dad.”
He raised his toothpick arm in the air. “The last effing second, until then I am going live!”
And with the help of medical marijuana that is exactly what he did.
Vivian McPeak is a Pacific Northwest based musician and social justice activist. As the executive director of the world’s largest cannabis policy reform rally, the Seattle Hempfest, McPeak has helped influence regional cannabis policies. He recently wrote “Protestival: A Twenty Year Retrospective of Seattle Hempfest.”