Saturday, January 26, 2013


I've struggled with what to write for a few days.  I usually have only to set my mind and write, but being that January 9th is Wednesday, my mind is on one thing. MY FATHER.....

As far back as I can remember my dad was my hero. He was in and out of work while my mom put a career in with Verizon, Bell at the time. I was with him and his friends all day long.  

One thing that sticks out about my childhood in BK (Brooklyn, NY) was he had tons of friends and when they came over I had to stay in my room. Then after about an hour or so the pungent aroma of Marijuana would waft through the house. We moved to Staten Island from Brooklyn in October of 1980. I remember my dad hating it. 
He quickly developed a huge following again. We had a 3 bedroom apartment in the original Markham Homes. My bedroom being on the 1st floor of the apartment. I wondered early on why my dad put a latch and hook style lock on the outside of my door. I would find out soon enough. 

I was a problem student in 2nd and and the start of 3rd grade in Brooklyn. My parents never found out because mostly everyone in my BK school was. My first day of 3rd grade at my new SI school, my dad walked me to the school yard and left. I cried, I was so scared.

My dad still smoked his marijuana openly. When he lit his joints he would let me blow out the little flame on the tip. I thought he was so cool. He eventually bought a car and got an overnight job doing security. He would get off work around 8 am and make daily trips to Brooklyn. Sometimes more than one, with different people.
One day, I stayed home from school. All I had to do was ask and he would say "do you have anything important?". When I asked to stay home I would I never did have anything important in school so he would grant my wish. 

He had about 3 or 4 friends show up. I was told to go in my room and I did.  When I wanted to leave my room I noticed I was locked in my room. When he finally opened my door I was part angry and part suspicious. 

He never locked me in my room when his friends came over. Not that I KNEW of. Anyway, my school antics continued on SI. After getting our first report card, I had 15 Us on it. At that time that's how we were graded. 

U meaning Unsatisfactory.  There were a couple Fs too I was proud of. So proud, I told my parents they stood for FAIR. Needless to say, my dad, the disciplinarian, took that THIN belt to my ass. 
Next thing I know, Catholic School. I quickly straightened up. There were a couple neighborhood kids who went to school with me. It wasn't bad actually. Smaller classes. One class per grade and the teachers were great. 

The Principal ruled with a metal ruler, literally. My dad was locking me in my room with more frequency. His friends would call and come over all hours of the day, but come 5:30 pm they would stop. 

My brother would arrive home from his school in BK and my mom would get home from work soon after. She would be gone 13 hours a day. Its like I lived in two different worlds. 

I did my "asking to stay home thing" one day in 5th grade. This day my dad and I took a ride to Bay Ridge Brooklyn. He left me in the car for about a half hour alone. We rode back home. I went in my room. After about 20 minutes I could hear my dad calling me from his upstairs bedroom. 

I ran upstairs because it sounded like a painful cry almost. When I get there I notice my dad, laying in bed fully dressed, pale and sickly looking. He told me distinctly, "go get Mr. Dennis and tell him I od'd". At the time I wasn't sure what that meant, but I ran like a madman. 

He was still my hero, so I did as I was told. I knocked and knocked until Mr. Dennis popped his head out the window. He said, "lil Johnny, what you want?". I relayed my dad's message word for word. Next thing I know Mr. Dennis is busting out his door as we ran back to my apartment. 

I remember he put my dad in a cold shower fully dressed. Told me to get ice trays. Watched as he emptied 2 full trays into my dad's underwear. He was unresponsive. Gurgling. Finally Dennis got him on his feet. Walked him around the house and my dad slowly regained consciousness. I was 10, but remember it like yesterday. 

My dad was a dope fiend and this was the first time I saved his life. But not the last. He moved a little more freely now that I somewhat knew what he really was. I wasn't totally ashamed, but his image was stained. From this moment on though I slowly lost respect and trust for him. He pulled up to one of his buddies on the street and I recall him asking, with not hesitation, "let me get 2 Cs and 2 Ds. Me still naive to the drug lingo thought he was buying batteries. 

I noticed dude get in the car and engage my dad in a negotiation. He only paid for his Cs, but the guy came home with us. I heard them talking as I was locked in my room. My dad earned a free bag of heroin in exchange for injecting his buddy with his own bag. On top of heroin, my dad frequently used cocaine as well as marijuana. 

Then I found out the reason for his popularity was because he was known as a "30 dollar hitter". He was skilled with needles and could make a 10 dollar bag of heroin generate the high of 3 bags. This talent would earn him free heroin. They had no problem buying him a bag. This would take place everyday, 3 or 4 times a day.  He eventually lost his security job. 

We noticed things start to come up missing. Mostly loose cash and my mom's jewelry. Mom had some nice jewelry too. One day, I came in maybe 10 minutes after my curfew. I was welcomed in the house with a punch in the face. A bit much for an 11 year old. 

That coupled with the infamous thin belt sent me to a dark place. I felt totally different about him. He was no longer my hero. He lost the last bit of respect I had for him. I turned to the street.I always enjoyed time out with my friends, but it grew a lot longer given my home situation. Its crazy because kids can be cruel sometimes. 

Especially when "snapping". I had no idea my friends knew my father's habits. The only thing that saved me was becoming a better "snapper". One of the few things my dad taught me was how to fight. 

So those two things helped me a lot. I began smoking cigarettes and sneaking beer. At that age it was quarts of Private Stock. Eventually, by 13 I moved on to Marijuana. I was also heavy into sports. Being that my dad loved baseball, I played football. 

If I played 1000 games my entire life, he maybe came to 4. My brother and High School coaches became father figures. My brother saw I was heading for trouble. He and my dad had a fight themselves and I eventually lost his guidance because he moved out. At 14 I started as a look out. 

I would warn my friends who were maybe a year or so older when the police were coming. Sometimes holding drugs when they left the scene. Then eventually selling myself. Learning how to cook cocaine into crack expertly. I also started to refer to my dad as Big John.

No more dad from me. He was relegated to being my friend only. I took no orders or directions from him. Me being me I never hid anything from my dad. Through High School I paid for my own clothes and sneakers. I knew my mom paid everything on her own. So I wouldn't hit her up for anything. 

Eventually my dad landed another job as the janitor at Goodhue. He also got jobs for me and a few friends too. So I got a taste of hustling and working simultaneously. Life was sweet. Eventually I began to read books about heroin and the addictive power of it. 

I started to understand my dad a lot better. Renewing a respect and almost responsibility for him. Stealing ultimately cost him his job and my Part-Time Job as well. My nights in the streets grew longer, my weed habit picked up and so did my finances. I also had success in HS sports. 

Earning an academic scholarship and athletic grants to attend CW Post LIU.

The football coach there would be the reason I gave up college football. He took the fun out of it for me. He even had the audacity to tell me, "you play football to go to school son". I was offended. I told him, "I'm here on my own merits, academic money I earned". 

I eventually played in intramural games with the soul intention of making the football team take notice of what they lost. I succeeded there too.   One particular game in the snow, I made the entire football team look like Pop Warner players. Afterward, the coaches would approach me and try to talk me into coming back. 

No need to mention I took pride in laughing at them. Not as long as coach Marshall is still here. My attention turned to being the school weed dealer. I also had a work study job as party security. I landed my brother's mobile dj business the weekend party gig. So it was pretty sweet.
I came home after the first year and fell in love. I also stayed with a job. This one, a Summer job working with Nynex now Verizon. It was good money. One day, I stayed home from work, sick. I spent all day in my room. No one checked on me, brought me water, anything. I called my girlfriend. 

She took a cab to the house, but wind up calling me. I asked what happened, I thought you were coming? She said, "I did, your mom told me you couldn't have any company". I lost my mind.  I went on in detail about how I felt they left me to die in my room. My dad, ran up on me because he felt I was yelling at my mother. 

I was scared and it all happened too fast. I found myself repeatedly punching my father about the head and face. It all came to a halt when I realized my mom was in between us. I called my sister. She is the oldest. Older than me by 17 years. I told her what happened. She wasn't a fan of my dad, but he was only MY dad. 
So she tolerated him for my mom's sake. She came in, came to my room and checked me. She asked, "Johnny, what did you hit him with?". I said "my hands". She said "he is fucked up". Now I was really scared. She went on to let them both know I was really sick. I had a 102 degree fever. My mom felt bad. 

My dad was understandably angry. He just got his ass kicked by his 18 year old son. It was bound to happen. Tired of the beatings, stealing, and never coming first since day one.  My relationship with my father changed to a certain degree. The beatings stopped. But not much else. He found a new respect for me though. 

I don't know if it was fear or actual respect. I began to have live in girlfriends. As long as they contributed to the house, it was ok. Mom was about to retire, but she would soon start a career teaching for a company across the country. My dad was like a kid whose parents left him home while they went on vacation.
One night I slept at my girlfriend's house at that time. She was actually my first love and would later have my first born. I got a call from my dad, well a "Beep". That was the Beeper age still. I returned his call. He sounded terrible. 
He told me he thought he was having a heart attack and fell. I ran home. It was actually about 2 and a half blocks away. 

I got in to find my dad in the hallway unresponsive. He was blue in the face and gurgling with a white foam coming from his mouth. I called 911 and told them what was happening. I cleaned his mouth and performed CPR on him. His color changed and he was breathing. I then did a quick clean in the bathroom. 

He had an empty bag of heroin floating in the toilet and his bag of "works" in plain sight. I put his bag away. Actually I hid it from him. But I saw something inside that made my blood boil. The same thin leather belt he used to beat my brother and I was the belt he used to "tie off". Instead of the rubber tube they use in doctor offices and hospitals, heroin addicts use belts sometimes.

Ems arrived with the police. They revived him and took him to the hospital. He stayed for about 3 days. Come to find out he had a minor heart attack from his overdose. He always had an irregular heart beat and as I read, heroin addicts come close to death every time they "shoot-up". You would hear about someone od-ing off someone's product and they would flood this particular dealer. The allure of heroin.
See, I don't know if I told you... my dad started snorting heroin at 13 years old. He skin popped at 15, which is injected it anywhere, but only into his skin. Then he main lined at 17. Main lining is injecting it into a major vein or artery.
My dad, being the "30 dollar hitter" he was known throughout the island. 

As our relationship slowly repaired itself and as my involvement in selling all kinds of street drugs grew, he shared a lot of useful and old stories. I read so many drug novels I knew he was telling the truth. How he would have women strip so he could inject them in their veins near the vaginas. 

Women didn't like visible tracks unless they were hardcore addicts. How he would inject "friends" in their jugular veins because they had so many abcesses and collapsed veins that was the only place they could hit. And him being who he was who better to do it?
I was home asleep one morning after being out all night hustling, then seeing my newborn son, Alyjah was born in 96. I heard a crash that woke me. I opened my bedroom door to find my dad. He fell and hit his face on the sink. Badly bruised and bleeding. I was fed up. I saw the empty heroin bag in the toilet. Called 911 again and he went to the ER again.

When he came home we had a serious discussion. I told him that for all the wrong he has done to my mother and I, I had an idea how he can make it right. I always felt my dad wanted to die... that and I nor my mother ever came first to him. That "Boy" (slang for heroin) did. So I told him... you know how you can make things right with me, because you can't fix what you already broke. 

The street had a tight grasp on me. I said "love my son like you never loved me". "And from this day on, be a husband to my mother, she needs you here, to do things a husband is supposed to do". "If not, I'll kill you myself". I've never seen my dad so serious. I told him how I shouldn't have seen what I saw as a child. 

How I remembered at 3 years old how he was fiending and how I was crying in the subway station when we lived in Brooklyn and how I remember how he raised me over his head when the train was coming in. See, I was almost lost at 3. 

He had a moment of clarity during his need for a fix that made him pull me down and hug me so tight. He cried when I told him this so vividly. He looked at me with tears in his eyes and didn't know how I could remember that. I told him "I have scars daddy". I hadn't called him that in years.

From that day on he still battled his addiction. With my help. He never shot up again. He went back to snorting. His following died off. Although he would help me here and there. I was a hustler and I would hustle whatever drug I could get a good deal on. Sometimes hustling everything at one time. But I mainly had heroin to keep him close. 
It wasn't really my hustle. But it kept him from straying. Maybe I was wrong, but I had my dad back for periods at a time. I never liked the heroin game. It brought a lower level of consumer to you. Me being the smart one, 25 years hustling with no record, I had to drop that one. Although when I saw a market I picked it up here and there I was never constant with THAT.
My dad and I grew a lot closer. He was my best friend. His habit died down. I kept him with a few dollars. I kept gas in his car too. Its funny how roles reverse. I felt like responsible. I was now the father of two children and one adult. But all his activities taught me how be the best father I could. 

I realized kids do what they see and we make it ok when they see us do it. So I was involved with drugs because my dad was. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree. The sins of the father revisit the son. So I switched my game up. Although I had 2 jobs and a hustle, I glorified hustling. My kids were seeing more than they needed to see. 

I remember when I realized who my father was, how I lost respect for him. I didn't want my kids to go through anything my dad put me through. So my hustling days came to a halt. My using days came to a halt. My father days, well that's my life. I learned how to be a father by seeing my father not be a father. It was some reverse psychology, but it worked.

My father passed away on January 9th, 2009. He used heroin for 43 years. He was clean for the last month of his life. He fell down the stairs on December 4th, 2008. He broke 13 ribs. He lived, but never recovered. His blood began to clot internally while he bled out inside. He drank to stop himself from getting heroin sick. He lost weight and color. 

I told him one Tuesday, "dad, let's go to the hospital". He said, "no Papi, I'm tired, just don't cremate me". I was probably the only one who could have forced him to go, but he refused and I let him be. That Friday he died. He had went out the way he wanted to. He had bought Christmas gifts for all the kids and still had money in his bank account, which for him was never. 

He would get his check the 1st and by the 2nd he was broke. After being clean for a month he bought 2 bags of heroin... he used one the night before he died. Then when my mother left to go food shopping he used the other. The allure of heroin is when their heart almost stops, his heart stopped for good that afternoon. We miss you dad.




I urge everyone to turn off the television around you when looking for your hero.  Your everyday here is right in the mirror and right in front of your face.  You do not have to look very far to discover greatness.  

Look within yourself and within your life to discover all of the tragedies you have triumphed over to become greatness.  Only then will you notice that greatness has been right under your nose all along.  I have much respect for Juan Hernandez.  

It takes tremendous courage and strength to share your personal truth.  He is a hero to this children, family, friends and now perfect strangers who can step into his shoes and relate in some way.  
Juan Hernandez is most definitely the best combination of GREATNESS and TRUTH!!!!!!! -BINDU


John Reed said...

My amazing cousin, my soul is exploding with emotions - love, hate, sadness, joy.... What a journey you had to endure to make you the man you are today. But I have to disagree with you, you are not he - you have surpassed that and you are now you. You are amazing and the only one I feel really close to in our family. Your mom and mine, sisters, both in abusive relationships, and both such strong amazing and beautiful women. Thank you for sharing this part of your past as I feel you have forgiven yourself and have become whole. Our past is where we come from but we can overcome it all if we choose to grow. Sending much love and many hugs to you....


"My father days, well that's my life. I learned how to be a father by seeing my father not be a father." I think that is my favorite line out of what he wrote. I can't thank Juan Hernandez enough for blessing my blog with his personal truth. That to me is the definition of GREATNESS. He left me and many others truly inspired. *GRATEFUL*