Kevin Cronin: You Need to Fall to Rise

On May 14, 1977, at the age of 25, I became a father. Although REO Speedwagon was having some success, the truth is I was still counting my change to pay the rent. But my world was about to change in ways I had only dreamed of, and the band was on the brink of rolling with a whole new kind of change.

By my son Paris's 4th birthday, I had the No. 1 record in the world, REO was touring nonstop and my life was moving at warp speed. By his 10th birthday, Paris's mother and I were divorced. By his 14th, my ex-wife had unexpectedly packed up and moved to Europe. Paris's grades were slipping, and when I smelled tobacco on his breath, my son assured me that he would never get hooked on cigarettes.

As the lead singer in a rock band, I was one of the fortunate few. I'd had quite a run of partying but eventually realized that it was overshadowing my music and my family. I promptly made a 180-degree turn, began eating healthy, working out and cutting my alcohol consumption to acceptable levels. My intention had always been to protect my boy from the very lifestyle in which his mother and I had been so overindulgent. But Paris had seen it all, and before long his cigarette smoking was morphing into far more dangerous habits. One night, as I relaxed after a concert in Denver, I received a horrifying phone call from Prague. My ex-wife explained that Paris had confessed to using hard drugs and was reaching out for help. She would fly back to L.A. the next morning. My body was trembling when I hung up the phone. How could this be? What role had my lifestyle, my career, my parenting choices played in my son's dire circumstances? I was filled with fear, guilt and remorse.

With unfailing emotional support from my new second wife, Lisa, we moved quickly to get Paris checked into a nearby rehab facility. He completed the program but, admittedly, was not ready to let it sink in this time. After being discharged, I expected that Paris would hold a job, although I continued to supplement his income. My relationship with Paris had become ripe with deceit on his part. And feigned naiveté and denial on mine.

The turning point for me came one cold, dark winter's night, as my wife and I rested in the peaceful mountains of Ojai, Calif.

When the telephone rings at 1 a.m., it is rarely good news. The voice on the line that night was that of a fearful, obviously shaken Paris Cronin calling from the Burbank city lockup. My head pounded and my stomach sickened. He had been busted for possession of heroin, and would spend the next four nights in jail ... unless someone bailed him out. The thought of my son's sitting in a cell scared and alone, going through narcotics withdrawal, was unbearable. My immediate instinct was to drop everything and run to his aid. How could I leave him in such horrible circumstances? But a deeper part of me knew that if I really wanted to help my son, I must turn him down. When a parent is racked with guilt, it helps to have someone with a more detached perspective by one's side. One look into my wife's eyes reassured me that this heart-wrenching decision was the right one. It was time for some serious tough love.

Paris would survive the ordeal. But from that point on we would no longer enable him in any way. And after a five-year battle, complete with relapses, alienation, hitting his "bottom," a final trip to rehab, family therapy and sheer determination on his part, Paris is now a sober young man.

He looks great, and his passion for life grows daily. He is playing his music with newfound power and precision. He is dedicated to his 12-step program, and working with the MusiCares Foundation, which provides recovery for the music community, in Los Angeles. He has launched a new venture called Sober Soldiers, whose goal is to provide drug-free companionship for recovering musicians.

The most important component of Paris's recovery is his own desire for and commitment to his sobriety. But I believe that another integral part of the recovery puzzle is the unending support of family. Even through the worst of times, Paris always had our love. We never stopped believing that he would find his own way home. On July 4 of this year, he will have been sober for two years.

It is no coincidence that the new REO Speedwagon CD is titled "Find Your Own Way Home." I wrote the songs during the journey through, and emergence from, the darkest, yet most fulfilling, chapter of my life. Perhaps the emotional centerpiece of the album is this simple lyric: "I needed to fall, and come back stronger. I needed to crawl, to find my way." I believe we all need to fall, and allow our children to fall, as well. Falling is inevitable. It is an essential leg of the journey to adulthood. Only through falling do we learn how to rise back up.

I now have a second shot at parenthood, through my 11-year-old daughter, Holly, and my 8-year-old twins, Josh and Shane. I hope that other parents can benefit, as I have, from the lessons of Paris's and my story. In sharing this struggle, my son has shown amazing courage. As in the song I have sung to audiences thousands of times now, he was tired of the same old story, and he finally turned some pages to start a new chapter. He now serves as a fine example to his little sister and brothers. And I have my son back.

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