Imagine the pitch to the publisher. “My 56-year-old Jewish dad tells me he’s gay, starts clubbing, gets into drugs, becomes addicted, starts selling crystal meth, sells his Elstree home, buys two plush Limehouse apartments, gets raided, goes to jail, comes out rehabilitated – and two weeks after my dad tells me he’s gay, my mum tells me she is too.”
If that were pitched as fiction, most publishers would dismiss it as outlandish, but for James Lubbock the story is 100 percent true.
His once-respected, international coin-dealer father, Richard, was likened to the meth-dealing chemistry teacher played by Bryan Cranston in the hit television series Breaking Bad, so there was only one title in mind as he penned a book about his experiences: Breaking Dad.
On his dramatic late-life shift from conservative heterosexual father to gay crack addict drug baron, Richard says: “In the best Jewish traditions, I was like ‘enough already.’ I was ready for something else.”
James, 40, says his childhood in north-west London was “run-of-the-mill” and his “Earl Grey” father, with whom he has a close relationship with, was a “mildly eccentric, but ultimately ordinary, clichéd Jewish dad who had a conservative approach to life, didn’t like smoking or drinking, and viewed drug-taking as one of society’s ills”.
On Richard’s moral and personal slide, James says: “It was a complex set of circumstances that led to this. That’s what seems to be fascinating people, how this could have happened.
“They see it as an antithesis to social media, where people put forward the best version of their lives. Everyone has skeletons.”
It started when friends suggested he take a pill before a party in South Africa in 2000, when he was then aged 53. Richard says: “I was a control freak. I wouldn’t do anything unless it was done properly.
“Then all of a sudden it was like the leads had come out of the plug. It was ‘anything goes’ almost.”
James describes his “anger and contempt” at his father, saying: “He was always the rock, the dependable dad, the sensible person, the principled person, and suddenly he’s a drug dealer. That switch was very traumatic.”
When police raided his flat, Richard was found unconscious, surrounded by £1.5 million worth of drugs and cash, wearing nothing but a tank-top – literally caught with his trousers down.
He was jailed for eight years but served four, thriving in prison and released early for good behaviour.
“I thought he wouldn’t last a week [in prison],” says James. “He was this small Jewish man and I thought he’d get ripped to pieces.”
Not a bit of it. “I got into it very easily,” says Richard, who now lives in Bow. “I liked the strict timing of everything. I told the others [prisoners] what I was in for, but I don’t think they believed me.
“I made friends, both men on the wing and prison officers, which theoretically isn’t possible.”
Being Jewish in prison “wasn’t a thing,” he says. “There was another Jewish guy in there. I got on well with him. I don’t know what he was in for, but in jail you take people as you find them. There was a kind of church at the prison.
“We took to going there every Saturday morning, just to chat. He found it reassuring. Before long other prisoners joined us. It was clear they weren’t Jewish, but we didn’t care.”
The book is funny, moving and filled with Jewish humour. James describes how his ping pong playing asthmatic father “helps perpetuate the stereotype that all Jews are sh*t at sport,” how “smoking weed is not an uncommon pastime in the community, because it helps with the Jewish neurosis,” and how he found himself worrying that his father wasn’t eating enough at the height of his drug addiction.
“Like a proper Jewish mum, every time I popped over I came bearing food.”
The book traverses the lives of both father and son, the latter navigating J-Date, stone-setting ceremonies and in-laws’ interrogations, describing how tall slim rabbis “buck the trend,” how it is “apostasy” for London Jews not to live in Barnet, how “every bl**** Jew on the planet seems to run their own company,” and how the point of the Tish is to officially sign the wedding contract, but is actually “just a big Jewish p***-up”.
Neither father nor son is particularly religious, but both say they are nevertheless proud of their Jewishness.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about the Holocaust,” Richard says. “I just don’t know how any God could allow that.”
I ask what Richard wants on his gravestone. There’s no hesitation as he devilishly smiles and answers: “Where’s the crystal meth?”
Breaking Dad by James Lubbock is published by Mirror Books, priced £16.99