One day, when I was eight years old, I lost my dad. On that day, my dad woke up and forgot who he was. He also forgot who I was, who his family was, and life has never been the same since. That was 31 years ago.
My dad had . He became like a little child and I quickly realized I had to become the man of the house.
Dad lost his ability to read and write and do arithmetic and his speech and vocabulary was very limited. Before, he had a very high level of intelligence and was very charismatic and well-spoken from what Mum and others told me.
A lot of it was very embarrassing as a kid. I didn’t want my friends to come around – I remember thinking, how do you explain to other kids that your dad talks like a simpleton?
Seeing the toll Dad’s amnesia was taking on my mum killed me inside, and made me really resent the whole situation, because at that point my mum and my little brother, Matt were all I had in life.
Justin with his dad in 1984. Source: Supplied
Two years after the accident, I was devastated when my parents divorced. Dad left to live on his own, eventually starting a new relationship with another woman who would become his third wife.
I was very angry about it. It hurt so much, and it was traumatising because he was my dad, but he wasn’t. He’s physically my dad and I have the same feelings I have for my dad but that was not reciprocated in any form because he didn’t know who we were.
It was so painful – I remember feeling sad as a kid, really wishing my dad could remember me.
Sometimes I equated it to him dying to make things cleaner for me. Sometimes I think it would’ve been easier if he had just passed away – it would’ve been cut and dry – you grieve and move on, but instead I lost my dad but I have this person in front of me who looks like my dad and I have the emotional connections to him as my dad, but he’s not.
By the time I was 12, I had begun to cope with the whole situation through taking and selling drugs. I ended up joining a gang and by the time I was 18, I had been in and out of jail a few times for minor offences. After a longer, 12-month stint in jail, I realised I had to change my life.
I stopped waiting for an apology that I thought I needed from him, and finally realised I had to accept the way things are and stop thinking of him as a malicious actor in some vicious game.
I’d been working in kitchens for a few years, so I applied to the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, where I was accepted. But by 24, I was a full-blown heroin addict.
It was around this time that my older brother, Rick decided to make a , which helped me come to grips with everything. It put my head into a better place, at least in regards to my dad.
I stopped waiting for an apology that I thought I needed from him, and finally realised I had to accept the way things are and stop thinking of him as a malicious actor in some vicious game. Seeing him getting older and withering away, I thought: What’s the point of hating this sick old dude?
By then I had started slipping off the edge. I lost my apartment and lived on the streets for the next two years. I was still using drugs but not dealing. I just stole the booze I needed and whatever else I could sell to get heroin. Then I realised it was too much. I couldn't do it anymore.
Justin now runs a large restaurant and has overcome his past addictions. Source: Supplied
One night, I had a talk with God because I was convinced I was having a heart attack. I made a pact to turn my life around if I was allowed to live. That was May 21, 2013. Two months later, while fresh into rehab, I held my niece Samantha's hand while she died in a hospital bed after an accidental heroin overdose. Her death really woke me up to how close I had been to losing my life, time and time again. After being given a second chance, I didn’t want to disrespect her memory by throwing away everything.
As soon as I got out of rehab, I held down a few jobs at little restaurants, and have been working my way up the ladder ever since. Now, I’m running a restaurant in San Francisco – the biggest restaurant I’ve ever managed and it's my dream job. All the hard work has really paid off.
Dad and I talk two to three times a year. They’re usually pretty heavy conversation. Sometimes when I’m struggling with something, it seems like he’s the best person to talk to. After all, he’s still my dad.
I don’t remember ever asking him for advice in my younger years; he was in no place to give advice. I felt wiser than he was.
I kind of like our relationship now. But no matter how disassociated he is from his old personality, he still seems to be a control freak.
I just want him to be happy. He pretends to be happy, but I don’t think he is.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the course of this crazy journey it’s this: sometimes you have to accept things and let them go. Just let it go, Dad! I love you and I want you to enjoy the time you have left. Please, let it go!
You can watch the full documentary about Richard's amnesia .