"His death was incredibly selfish." "How could he do that to his kids?" One thing I -- and a lot of other parents -- keep mulling over when we think about actor Philip Seymour Hoffman's drug-related death is that he was a father. And for many parents, that makes his death almost unforgivable. How could he do this to his children? At 6, 8, and 11, Hoffman's children were old enough to understand what drugs are, and what it truly means that their father is dead. It almost seems like the height of self-absorption for Hoffman to have "allowed" himself to fall back into addiction when he had these tender, vulnerable dependents who would need him for at least another decade of their lives.
We owe it to our children to give them our very best selves. Once we make the choice to bring new human beings into this world, and to be responsible for them, we have to give up self-destructive behaviors. It's time to stop your bullshit and get it together. But those are abstract ideas, and we are human.
I don't know what was going through Hoffman's head in the months leading up to his death. We don't know much about his family life, except that we've seen pictures of him walking his kids home from school, riding the subway with them, leaving for vacation. If he's like most ordinary parents, he probably knew how high the stakes are. And he probably knew how devastating his death would be for his kids -- not just his death, but any diminishing of his life due to substance abuse. (By the way, Hoffman's autopsy came out "inconclusive.")
Hoffman's kids may never get over his death. Hopefully they're surrounded by support and love, and they will get the help they need to continue thriving. But there's no doubt that the death of their father will leave painful scars. No one could ever wish such a thing on their children.
But I can't join the cries that Hoffman was being selfish in his relapse. For one thing, I don't think it's that simple. Addiction is not a choice, though there are many choices large and small that impact its power. That's not how addiction works. It's a terrifyingly powerful disease, and those of us who don't suffer its thrall can't really imagine what it's like. True, there are addicts who happen to also be selfish. There are addicts whose actions may appear selfish. But not all addicts are selfish.
This pact each of makes as parents to give our children what we owe them, our best selves, is tenuous. It's not always 100 percent under our control. That's one of the many terrifying things about parenting. Most of us survive day-to-day by pretending there's no risk of failure. But that's a delusion. Of course we could fail. Any one of us could fail, at any time, despite our best efforts. But we try anyway, because that's all we can do.
Do you feel like Hoffman's death was selfish? What about avoidable?
Image via Pacific Coast News