Do as I say, not as I did

Parents, kids and the big drug question

Brian Baker, Rick Cole and Ananta McSweeney (above) agree that parents must be honest about their own pasts in talking with their kids about drugs.

Brian Baker, Rick Cole and Ananta McSweeney (above) agree that parents must be honest about their own pasts in talking with their kids about drugs.

SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

To help bridge the gap between the “Have-Gods” and the “Have-Nots,” SN&R brings together faith leaders each week and pitches them the real-life ethical questions that spring from their communities. Venturing beyond biblical references and high-minded philosophies, our hope is to give voice to the complexity, insight and compassion inherent to any spiritual calling. And while we’re breaking bread with the godly, we might also shed light on some unfounded stereotypes.

When Brian Baker’s 14-year-old daughter gave him the ultimatum, “I’m willing to tell you everything I do, as long as you agree not to interfere,” the Episcopalian priest told her he wasn’t comfortable making such a risky deal. Then he did what any responsible 21st century parent would do: He bought a home drug-testing kit.

Though the old drug-test-in-the-cupboard method may seem extreme to some, for the naturally laid-back Baker, such diligence is just a necessary part of parenting a highly precocious teenager. And when it comes to drugs, some kids need more policing than others.

“The older our kids get, the less absolute control we have in their lives,” said Pastor Rick Cole of Capital Christian Church. Relinquishing control may prove especially disconcerting to parents worried that their own drug histories undermine their authority to preach “Just Say No” to curious adolescents. But whether a parent opts to “tell all the horror stories,” like Ananta McSweeney of the Ananda Society of Sacramento, or chooses a less dramatic approach, the important thing, according to our roundtable guests, is avoiding hypocrisy at all costs.

When I was in college, I experimented with drugs, but I do not wish for my kids to do the same. If they ask me about my drug history, what should I say to them? I don’t want to lie, and I don’t want my children to see me as a hypocrite.

“I definitely don’t think it’s healthy to lie,” began Cole. Raised in a pastor’s home, Cole doesn’t come across as harboring many skeletons in his clergical closet. An unassuming man who, growing up, saw himself as a “quiet, shy follower” in contrast to his “strong, leader-type” father, Cole pastored in Omaha, Neb., before returning to Sacramento to take his father’s place at Capital Christian 12 years ago. However, filling his father’s 17-year-old pastoral shoes was no easy task.


SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

“It was a discovery process,” Cole admitted, noting that his time ministering in Nebraska helped him emerge from his father’s shadow to feel “more secure in my own identity … and comfortable in my sense of calling.”

Cole’s approach to parenting is a study in selective openness. He recommends some guardedness in sharing details of a parent’s drug exploits, but “I don’t think it lowers the bar to say to your child, ‘I went here in this situation, and it was a mistake. I would rather see you not go here because it can be really harmful and open the door to a lot of struggles you can face.’ I think a child can deal with that reality better than if they get a sense like I’m hiding something. That breeds rebellion. Openness and honesty leave the relationship intact, and then [kids] can reason it out.”

McSweeney, whose mellow demeanor is proof that Pranayama yoga is at least as effective as pot, offered a voice of firsthand experience.

“Our relationship with God is personal and private. We don’t have to tell everything to our kids,” he said, before adding, “I do have a history with drugs, obviously.”

Born in San Francisco, McSweeney left the devout Roman Catholic faith of his childhood to seek a personal relationship with God. He found the teachings of Indian guru Paramhansa Yogananda while attending Stanford in the ’70s, which led him to his spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyenanda, a direct disciple of Yogananda. After living as a monk for some time in India, McSweeney and his wife, Maria, accepted Kriyenanda’s proposition that they move to Sacramento and pastor the newly opened Ananda Center. Now, 22 years later, McSweeney and his wife teach a blend of mystical Hinduism and mystical Christianity through yoga, meditation and Sunday services.

“Personally, I needed to find a way to see all my brothers and sisters as seeking one ultimate goal, which is God, which is realization,” said McSweeney. With an emphasis on meditation and the unity of all religions, the Ananda Center is not out to convert people. “Different paths are suited to different temperaments,” McSweeney said simply, “and that’s what makes the world go round.”


SN&R Photo By Larry Dalton

As a teenager experimenting in the ’60s, McSweeney wasn’t yet privy to the long-term effects drugs can have on the body and spirit. Now that time has exposed the myriad dangers, McSweeney, who has no kids of his own, is determined to use his experience as an “expert witness” to tell the young people in his congregation the truth of “how many people I saw die because of drugs … all the horror stories … to hopefully save them from going through what I went through.”

Shaking his head despairingly, he added, “I’m so tired of doing funerals for people under 20. It’s sick. And it’s horribly painful for me because it was supposed to stop. We were supposed to get wiser.”

Baker, a recent Sun Valley, Idaho, transplant to downtown’s Trinity Episcopalian Cathedral, and a return guest to our roundtable, pointed out that an underlying question in our hypothetical seems to be, “If I do drugs as a teenager, then it’s not OK for me to set boundaries for my own children.” In Baker’s eyes, however, “The lack of vigilance in my parents is not an excuse for me to lack vigilance in my parenting.”

“The issue of hypocrisy is huge,” Cole acknowledged—and it’s one that kids pick up on. “Because I may have failed in some area of my life, if I teach that others shouldn’t go there, I don’t see that as hypocrisy. I can say, ‘What I did was wrong, and it’d be best if you didn’t go there. But, I admit, I did.’ So to me, that maintains my integrity. I’m not appearing to be something that I’m not; that’s the reality of who I am and what I did.

“Anytime we leave a feeling of hypocrisy with our children,” he continued, “it sets up a lot of opportunity for a bad response on their part. However we communicate what our past was, to me the key is [to] avoid hypocrisy at all costs. What it takes to do that is going to give you more fruit than trying to skate around something, if it makes your child feel like you’re not being real.”

Our guests agree that the real issue of hypocrisy comes in if the parent is still doing drugs.

To illustrate this point, McSweeney related an anecdote about a mother who brought her child to Mahatma Gandhi to get her son to stop eating sweets. Gandhi told her to leave and come back in a week. When she returned, Gandhi said to the child, “Young boy, please do not eat sweets; they’re bad for you, they’ll rot your teeth.” The mother said, “Gandhi, thank you, but why did you tell me to come back in a week?” Gandhi replied, “A week ago, I was eating sweets.”