Family & Education

My dad, the meth dealer

James Lubbock's dad lived a conventional middle class life - until he embraced clubbing and drugs dealing


I had a typical Jewish upbringing: I grew up in Stanmore, in a cul-de-sac filled mostly with other Jewish families. You could have described us as middle-class and we were comfortable in terms of income —my dad was a successful businessman having continued to grow his own father’s coin dealing business in Regent Street. My mother assumed the duty of doting housewife and mother to a slightly spoilt, only child — yours truly. I went to private school and then on to university and enjoyed a happy, stable and normal childhood.

My parent’s lives began to change after I went to uni — they separated in my first year. It was an amicable split though and they soon became closer friends once the stresses and strains of the marriage was over.

Then came the first real bombshell — Dad took me out for dinner and told me he was gay. I simply wasn’t expecting it — a complete shock. Two weeks later, Mum took me out to discuss the news except she also had some of her own — she was also gay. Within the space of a fortnight, my perception of both my parents had changed profoundly — it was a lot to take in.

My main emotion though, after I had got past the initial jolt, was happiness. Happiness that they could both be finally true to themselves. They seemed happier themselves, relieved almost, and Mum had found a partner, Ruth, with whom she was in love. And she was Jewish to boot!

I realised that if people of my parents’ generation had been gay and come out as young people, they would have been in an impossible situation, the laws making it illegal at the time. To compound the situation, the conservative, Jewish community had additional expectations around marriage, forming a traditional family unit and, of course growing the brood.

So, at first I enjoyed witnessing them exploring their new lives when they did finally come out. While Mum settled down with her partner, Dad took a very different route. He began clubbing, swapping classical music and opera for hard house. He started smoking and began experimenting with drugs. It felt like I was witnessing a happy mid-life crisis — if such a concept existed.

Things began to take a darker turn when I visited his flat one day and discovered a large bag of cocaine on his chair — he assured me it was so big because he could get better value for money, and that he gave some of it to his friends. Months later I visited again and saw yet more drugs, a variety of them splayed out on his office table. This time I confronted him, and he admitted he was selling to “friends of friends”. My principled, philanthropic, reassuring, stable and average Jewish dad had gone completely the other way and become a drug dealer.

Meanwhile, I had more terrible news to digest. Mum asked to come to my flat because she wanted to tell me something — I’d already had enough of surprises by this point. She sat me down, took my hand and told me she had terminal ovarian cancer — two and a half years at most left to live. There’s no love like that of a Jewish mother’s as we all know – and I had to face losing my guardian angel. I’d never been religious, but for the first time I yearned for a rabbi’s comforting words and prayers of consolation.

We made the most of the time we had, but it went far too quickly. Mum passed away a year and a half after her initial diagnosis. I took comfort from Chai Cancer Care, an incredible charity that provided therapy for Mum, Mum’s partner Ruth and myself. We were also supported by the same rabbi who had barmitzvahed me all those years ago — she knew Mum and me, which was special.

Thankfully, Mum died before finding out about Dad’s drug dealing, which was increasing in scale and seemed to grow exponentially after her death. Despite the separation, she had been Dad’s rock and now she was gone, he effectively threw in the towel. He took no precautions, in terms of his health — he was now a hopeless drug addict which was slowly killing him — and his discretion with his drug dealing. Subconsciously, he wanted an end to everything, and he was doing all he could to make that happen.

The end itself was as dramatic as the events that preceded it: a full blown raid with 30 police officers bashing down the door to his penthouse flat. They expected to find a drugs baron holed up with various weapons and ammunition. They found a small, frail Jewish man sitting in his chair watching his favourite documentary — The World at War.

I was terrified about his life in prison. I envisioned bullying, Dadstruggling to cope in the pressurised environment, and even worried about the food — he was a fussy eater who loved the smoked salmon and chopped herring from his local deli.

I had an additional dilemma —how to tell my girlfriend the news. I’d met Jo through JDate, and we’d only been seeing each other for two months before Dad was arrested. I hadn’t yet found the right moment to tell her in full about what he was up to — I admit, I had been putting it off.

To make matters worse, the arrest happened the day before we were due to go on our first holiday together for a long weekend away in Prague. After taking a phone call at work to be told about the flat raid and Dad’s arrest, I had to go back to my flat, call Jo up and tell her not only that my father was dealing drugs, but he was now in prison and facing a lengthy sentence.

I fully prepared myself for the worst . It would have been entirely reasonable for Jo to end it there and then. To my relief, despite her initial shock and horror, she stuck by me and suggested we stick to the original plan and go to Prague. Life is crazy — why not make the most of it even if tough times were ahead. It was an incredible reaction — one for which I’ll forever be grateful.

Somehow, we did enjoy the trip — though I’ll never forget half expecting to be turned back at the airport when we went through passport control — given the circumstances with Dad, that in itself felt like a minor victory.

The next hurdle was how her parents would react. I had total admiration for them too as they insisted the most important thing was our relationship rather than anything to do with Dad. Still, when we got engaged, they must have thought “What sort of family is Jo marrying into?”

The wider Jewish community reacted with a mix of shock and sadness. I’m sure there was a great deal of judging going on which is understandable, but before this episode, Dad had a reputation for being principled, upstanding and philanthropic. It was the complete about turn in his character which many were unable to comprehend.

How would Dad cope in prison? In fact, the arrest saved his life — he could now thankfully come off the crystal meth, his drug of choice. And not only did he survive — he thrived. It was a huge relief.

He missed my wedding and the birth of my first daughter, and that’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. But he also rediscovered himself— it was almost like a rebirth — and he was all the better for it. I had my Dad back.

Now he spends his time being overrun by his two wilful, naughty but loving granddaughters, and it gives me nachas every time I witness it. Thankfully, the end of the story is one of redemption. Dad is back to his normal self, can enjoy life again and of course spoil his granddaughters to the extreme.

So, why did I decide to write a book about my experience? I was aware that I was sitting on an incredible story, and this kept being reinforced to me every time I told a friend, colleague or family member by their reaction: incredulity and amazement.

I was also conscious of other films and TV shows on at the time that included elements of my experience. I Love You Phillip Morris was a film about a dad coming out of the closet — both my parents came out within two weeks of eachother. Breaking Bad was a huge TV show about a middle-class dad becoming a meth dealer — my dad was a true-life former meth dealer from a similar mould. Coming from a typical, middle-class Jewish family made the story even more unbelievable — Jews just aren’t associated with this type of behaviour, at least not in my experience.

When I wrote the book, I surprised myself on how often I referred back to my Judaism, using it as a reference point throughout the retelling of my experiences. Surprised because I have never been religious, but that’s the powerful thing about being Jewish — our culture, history and humour can supersede even that. I realised how proud I am of my Jewish identity and how it helped me get through some of the toughest parts of that period of my life.


Breaking Dad: My Life with Britain's Most Notorious Meth Dealer by James Lubbock is published by Mirror Books 


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