Cissy Houston Reflects on Raising Whitney

In her memoir, the pop star's mom describes the folly and frustration of witnessing her daughter's life.

Cissy Houston and Whitney Houston (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment)
Cissy Houston and Whitney Houston (Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images Entertainment)

In the book’s introduction Cissy’s niece Dionne Warwick writes, “But while Cissy was strong and loving, Nippy was always a little girl, even during her womanhood.” It becomes clear throughout parts two and three of the book that Cissy tried to give her daughter all the building blocks she never had. They lived in a nice home in East Orange, and Whitney attended a private Catholic school. But Cissy admits, “What I never anticipated was that, in trying to give my children a better life and shield them from hardships, they might end up less prepared to face the kind of trauma that life inevitably throws your way.”

Cissy never points the finger when it comes to the topic of her daughter’s increasing abuse of drugs. She does, however, in her consistent no-nonsense fashion, make it clear that she never liked Robyn Crawford, Whitney’s longtime friend and business manager. But Cissy also admits that Robyn was the first person to give her a heads-up about Whitney’s addiction. When Cissy asked her daughter about her drug use, Whitney brushed her off, claiming that Robyn was overreacting.

“I didn’t have much choice but to accept what she was saying — at that point she was doing everything she was supposed to be doing: touring, recording, making appearances and everything else … I had checked on her and made my concerns known — what else could I do?”

That feeling of helplessness carries on until the end of the book. As I read, Cissy began to remind me of my own grandmother, also a Depression-era baby, someone who made sure her children were fed, housed and clothed but who rarely delved into their personal lives unsolicited. “We just weren’t inclined to get in each other’s business that way — for better or worse,” writes Cissy, who also admits that her daughter began keeping her “at arm’s length.”

It wasn’t until Cissy actually witnessed Whitney high on drugs that she seemed to give herself the permission to press the issue. She showed up at the Atlanta home Whitney shared with Bobby Brown with two sheriffs and a court injunction forcing the singer into rehabilitation. Not too long afterward Whitney filed for divorce from Brown and moved to California. Cissy makes it clear, though, that Whitney “never, ever complained” to her about Brown.

“When she wanted my advice, she asked for it,” writes Cissy. “Other times she kept her mouth shut.” Such a blunt statement doesn’t help to soften the blow of the fact that the mother and daughter, once so close according to Cissy, who trained Whitney herself, would eventually drift so far apart. Remembering Whitney is obviously a book for fans who are undoubtedly hungry for any details of the singer’s early years. But it shines mostly as a cautionary tale for those of us who might allow the appearance of a loved one “having it together” to shade the reality of true pain.

Helena Andrews is a contributing editor at The Root and author of Bitch Is the New Black, a memoir in essays. Follow her on Twitter. 

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