Hunter S. Thompson was a literary force, a voice of a generation, one of the few great gutsy journalists and an absolute lunatic. That said, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine he probably wasn’t the best father.
Well, he wasn’t, but he managed to raise a pretty normal son considering he spent his life teetering on the edge. His son Juan has a new book out, Stories I Tell Myself, where he discusses growing up in the shade of his father.
Esquire interviewed the now 51-year-old about his book and asked straight out “how did you end up being so normal?” The answer isn’t that shocking. His dad scared him straight.
I think a lot of readers would be surprised to learn that after such a tumultuous childhood how stable you are. You have a family, a job, you’re not addicted to any substances. How’d you do that?
[Laughs] Part of it was a reaction to growing up with my dad and not wanting to be like him, not wanting the instability and the craziness. Hunter was a freelance writer his whole life. My mom, she didn’t really work while I was growing up, so here he is supporting a family as a freelance writer. That’s a hard way to make a living. And he wasn’t financially responsible by any stretch of the imagination. So finances were chaotic and that’s something I really wanted to avoid in my own life. And the same thing goes for the drinking and drugs. I did not want to be a crazy out of control person. It’s funny to say that and then being in Aspen in the ’70s drugs were easy to get and me and my friends experimented pretty early. So by the time I was a senior in high school, I was like, I’m done with my experimentation.
Not only did dad’s lifestyle scare Juan straight, so did Hunter’s warnings of what would happen if he got wind of Juan doing drugs.
I know in the book you mention you were 14 when you first took acid and you were with your mother, and that Hunter would have beaten the shit out of you if he found out.
That’s what he said. Someone asked him in one of his speaking engagements what he would do if I was taking acid and he said, “oh, I’ll beat the shit out of him.” I don’t know if that’s true. I think he would have been disappointed and worried. He was an alcoholic. He was a drug addict. He certainly didn’t want that for me.
Slightly hypocritical but maybe dad meant specifically acid.
The rest of the interview is a fascinating read, especially for fans of Hunter S., writers, fathers and people with slightly off center parents.