X Interview #9: Chris Zusi, Rockaway, NJ
Chris Zusi is pretty well-known in hardcore circles. With bands like xResurrectionx, Floorpunch, and The Judas Factor, he’s tallied up a lifetime of experiences, been a loud advocate for drug-free living since 1988, and probably antagonized a lot of people from coast to coast. But dredging up scene beefs from the 90’s is not what this interview or site is about. This site is mostly about me sharing urban gardening tips with other tattooed, vegetarian, teetotaling dads while basking in the glory of a hangover-free weekend. That, and finding smoke-free places to stay on road trips.
Anyway, even the hardest of the hardcore dads can demonstrate an openness and vulnerability, and I think this definitely comes through in Chris’s words here.
Name: Chris Zusi
Number and ages of children: 2 (6 and 3.5)
Location: Rockaway, NJ
Profession: Business Consultant
What are your personal drug and alcohol-free recreational outlets? What are your favorite things to do with your children?
I love mountain biking, not that I get to do a lot of it these days with 2 young kids, but I still try to get out when I can. As far as activities with my kids, we all love the beach. We’ve been taking them to the beach for a few years now and it seems like every year they enjoy it more. I grew up going to the beach every Summer, so I’m looking forward to sharing that with them. My oldest just started t-ball last year so we’re doing that again this year. I work from home, so I do the majority of day to day activities with the kids (getting them ready for school, feeding them, homework, etc). So, I see them at their best and worst daily. The things I most enjoy doing are the things that make them happy.
What pieces of art, music, literature, etc., inspire you at this stage in your life?
I still listen to hardcore and continue to be inspired by it. I’ve got a corporate job and live the suburban life, but hardcore still speaks deeply to me. I may look like an aging white, male, corporate stooge, but inside I still feel that fire. I also get inspired by reading about parents who are doing the best they can for their kids – I’ll see a story online or on the news and it inspires me to try harder…or makes me feel like a slacker for not doing more.
What does being a good father mean to you?
Good question. I’m lucky in that I get to spend a lot of time with my kids. Like any parent, there are moments when I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, and moments when I want to kill them. I think being a good parent (father) means that you just do your best to provide memories for your kids. I never appreciated how good I had it as a kid. Not that we were rich, but I had a great childhood. I don’t think I fully appreciated how good I had it until I got older and started working and saw exactly how hard it was for my mother to give us the life that we had. When my kids grow up, if they can look back to when they were younger and have those great memories I think it means that I did my job.
How does your partner feel about your drug-free choices? If single, how do your closest friends and family members feel about your drug-free choices?
Funny story, my first date with my future wife was at a bar! She asked me to go to a party with her and we met up at a bar near her house before the party. We ended up yapping it up and never ended up making it to the party. I think she’s comforted by the fact that I don’t drink or do drugs. She obviously never knew what I was like when I did, but, and to some degree, I don’t think she really understands it because her experience growing up was so different from mine. I was already straight edge for 17 years when we met, so in her eyes it’s always just been a part of who I am.
Why did you decide to be drug and alcohol-free as a father (or beforehand)? Are there other major life choices that complement your decision?
I last drank on January 16, 1988. It was the day before I turned 17, and even at that young age my life was a disaster. I ended up going to rehab for 4 months and it was there that I decided to change my life. I was already involved in hardcore so I knew about Straight Edge and it seemed like the perfect choice for me. About a year later I adopted a vegetarian diet and never looked back. Without a doubt, adopting a drug free lifestyle was the best decision I ever made. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not committed to changing. Like everyone, things are never perfect. But without drugs and alcohol I feel as though I can deal with anything, as a person, and as a father.
How do your experiences as a son influence your choices as a father when it comes to drugs and alcohol?
I feel as though I was a terrible son. It’s the single biggest regret of my life and something I try every day to make up for to my mother. My parents got divorced when I was 4 and my mother did her best to raise my brother and I. I never appreciated everything that she sacrificed to make sure that we never went without. When you abuse drugs and alcohol, especially at an early age, you become selfish and you have a very myopic view of the world around you. My kids aren’t old enough for me to really talk to them about drugs and alcohol, but it’s not something that’s really a part of our day to day life as a family so I feel as though I have some time before I need to have “the talk” with them.
As a son, what is something you would you like your dad (or mom) to know?
Again, just how sorry I am for the fact that I didn’t appreciate all that they did for me. I have a great relationship with my parents now – in fact, my mother lives with my family. I’ve told her on many occasions that I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to make up for my behavior. She is a saint in my eyes, and recently she told me that for her, seeing how I’ve changed my life is like winning the lottery every day.
How do/will you talk to your children about drugs and alcohol? How have/will you address drug and alcohol use among the friends of your children?
Given my history, I think it’s going to be a very honest conversation. For better or worse, I have seen firsthand what drugs and alcohol can do. It’s going to be tough though, because at some point kids start making their own decisions and parents can’t insulate them. I can only hope that my experiences and what I went through will help them make the best choices for them.
How do religion, political ideology, or other philosophies play a part in your choices as a father?
Both my wife and I come from religious families. I know that religion isn’t the most popular pastime within the punk/hardcore community, but I truly believe that it’s an important part of making me a better person. My wife and I have been very fortunate in our professional careers, and as a Catholic family we feel an obligation to try to help others whenever we can. With young kids it’s hard to volunteer as much time as we’d like, but we have started a tradition of picking a charity to support each Christmas in lieu of showering our kids with gifts (they get enough from their grandparents!). Not that either of us is Bill Gates, but we feel very blessed and feel a responsibility to try to give back what we can. We’re also at the age where we’re deciding on public or parochial education for our kids. My wife and I both attended Catholic schools on some level, but we want to see what the best choices for our kids are.
If you drank/used drugs, how will you address your past with your children?
I think I have to be honest with my kids. They are too young now to understand, but I’ve told them that I wasn’t a very good kid when I was younger, that I didn’t listen to Grandma, and I got coal for Christmas, etc. Just stuff that they can relate to at this age. I’ll let them know what I was like before I started drinking and using drugs and what happened to me afterwards. It changes you, and I want to make sure that they’re aware of that.
What pitfalls exist for drug-free fathers? How successful have you felt at overcoming them?
I think the biggest issue will be to trying to impart my beliefs onto my children. You want them to make the right choices, but again, you have to let them live their own lives and make their own mistakes. It’s going to be tough to go through that, but it’s not necessarily unique to drugs and alcohol. Every parent wants their kids to learn from their mistakes.
What are your greatest hopes for your children?
At the end of the day I just want them to be good people. Obviously, I hope that they find something that they are passionate about in life that makes them happy. But I think if they are truly good people that things will work out for them. They have a lot of advantages in life, I want to make sure that they take hold of those opportunities.
(Stay tuned for Part 2)
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