The Republic of T.

Black. Gay. Father. Vegetarian. Buddhist. Liberal.

Why Doesn’t Daddy Drink?

Five-year-olds, for those who don’t know, ask a lot of questions. No. Really. I mean a lot of questions. Questions about questions, even. My policy, as a parent, has been to answer the ones I can (age-appropriate answers, of course), and to say “I don’t know” when I really don’t know the answer.

Some questions are easy. Parker had noticed that Daddy is a vegetarian, and the stuff that Daddy eats doesn’t taste like the stuff that Papa eats. So, I just explain to him that Daddy doesn’t eat meat and Papa does. But after reading this Washington Post article, I realized that there’s another question coming my way sooner or later, and I haven’t really thought about how I’m going to answer.

“Daddy drinks wine. Why don’t you?” asked my son Nico at dinner not long ago. Taken aback, I considered my response: “Because I’d just guzzle down the whole bottle plus the two more in the fridge before passing out in the mashed potatoes” would have been true but probably not the appropriate response for a 3-year-old.

Instead, I lied. “I just don’t like the taste, sweetie. You know how you don’t like, um, corn?”

Nico wrinkled his nose with distaste, and we moved on to other subjects, such as why cats have mouths but still can’t talk and whether Hugo from school is in fact mean or whether he was just having a bad day.

Comparing wine to corn seemed to work in the short run, but I knew it was only a temporary solution. What do you tell your kid when you’re an alcoholic and a heroin addict in recovery? Or if you have other skeletons in your closet?

I had been sober for five years when my son was born, so he never knew me in the days when I used to walk around with smeared lipstick and a tendency to vomit.

I now have a life story to hide or reveal.

It’s been almost 16 years since I had my last drink. Do I have a story to hide?

There’s never been a lot of drinking going on in our house. When we entertain, people give us bottles of wine, which we put in the pantry until we’re going to a party or something, and then we take out a bottle of wine to give to the hosts. (Being careful not to “re-gift” wine or give wine that has “turned.”) I never touch the stuff. The hubby only has it when we have guests, and even then he’s done after two.

But eventually Parker, and Dylan a little bit later, will turn and ask why Daddy’s not having any wine. What do I say?

One of my biggest concerns is that if I tell my son about my own experiences, he’ll react much the way I did when I heard my stepfather talk about his experiences with cocaine. That is, if I tell Nico that I once drank so much vodka while babysitting that I tripped over a tricycle and knocked myself out, I worry that his primary response will be something akin to “Gee, that sounds really horrible, but here she is still eating pork chops and watching ‘Masterpiece Theater’ and whatnot. Maybe it’s not as dangerous as they say.”

Will I be able to prevent him from making the same mistakes that I did? I don’t know. My childhood wasn’t perfect. There was divorce and insecurity. I had a shaky relationship with my biological father and a mother who suffered from bouts of depression.

What can I take from this, though? That if I can give my son the perfect childhood, he’ll turn out all right? My parents made mistakes, because it’s impossible not to. Will I be able to prevent him from making the same bad choices that I did?

I hate to think that it’s all up to chance, but there are days when I feel that there’s not much more I can do other than explain the risks, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Doing the best you can, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best. Isn’t that pretty much the nutshell definition of parenting?

My first reaction is that the author’s description isn’t too far off the mark. I think of it as akin to a food allergy. When people ask me “Does it bother you when people drink around you, since you can’t drink,” my answer is “No. Look, what if we’re talking about something else, like corn. Suppose everyone around me is eating corn. But I’m allergic to corn. If I eat any, it might kill me. So it doesn’t bother me, because I’d rather keep living than eat corn.”

I think that’s how I’d start out explaining it to my kids. But when they’re older I might add that I stopped drinking because I knew my luck would run out sooner or later. Sure, I drove drunk more times than I care to — or can — remember, and lived to tell the tale. But if I’d kept it up, sooner or later my luck would have run out, destroying someone’s life, as well as my own.

I’d tell the the stories I heard people tell when I went into recovery. I sat and heard from people who’d lost their homes, their families, their careers, their relationships, their health, and in some cases everything they had in the world. There I sat — a twentysomething with just enough sense to know that if I kept drinking I’d get into some trouble that no one could bail me out of, and there wasn’t going to be any money to send my ass to rehab — listening to all of that, and asking myself “Do I really belong here?”

Over coffee, after one meeting, I expressed to an older drunk that I’d heard so many stories like that, I’d begun to feel like I hadn’t lost anything compared to some of the people there. Compared to them, almost nothing had happened to me. And then he added, “Yet.”

“Do you think, if you started drinking again, you could keep it under control, drink in moderation?”

I thought about the times I blacked out — at parties, driving my car, etc. I thought about the Thanksgiving I went home for a visit, and my dad told me to help myself to a drink if I wanted to. (I was 21 by then.) I thought about reaching into the cabinet and pulling out a bottle of Wild Turkey that had dust on it. It was that old, had sat there so long, and been touched so little that a layer of dust had collected on it. I thought about looking at the bottle and wondering to myself how someone could have a bottle of Wild Turkey that long and not drink it before it started collecting dust. I thought about how I knew no bottle of anything I had had or would every sit around that long.

“No,” was my answer to the other drunk.

“Well then,” he said, “when you hear those stories, just remember all of that and more could be yours. If you want to go for it.”

It was just that my luck hadn’t run out, yet. I just “retired” early in my drinking career.

So, maybe if my kids ask why Daddy doesn’t drink wine, etc., I’ll just say that I knew a long time ago that if I did, it would make me so sick that I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t have them. And I’d much, much rather have them than a glass of wine, a bottle of Wild Turkey, or a whole case of anything.

That’s it, really. Because I’d rather have here and now with them.

5 Comments

  1. I think most parents run into trap of being overly protective of their children — not that I’m referring to this particular instance, but rather, people in general. Everything in life (as in consumption of alcohol) needs a balance. Kids need to know how to balance between having fun and the boundaries of being reckless.

    It’s similar to sex-ed in the U.S. — many schools teach abstinence only — and as a result, they never learned to have fun, but take precautions and being responsible. That is why we see a rise in teen pregnancy and STDs — because invariably, teens will experiment and do what they are not supposed to — and because of the stupid abstinence-only policy, they never learned how to take precautions and be responsible. Same thing applies to alcohol, partying and such. While the “I don’t like it” answer is o.k. when kids are young — since they don’t yet have a concept of what alcohol can do, and really has no access to alcohol, yet.

    However, I think it’s important for them to see parents enjoy a glass of wine or beer, and to show them how to be responsible, and how to behave around such circumstances. Dirty laundry or skeletons in the closet should be aired or brought out into the open to bring reality back about consequences of losing control and being irresponsible.

  2. My boy is autistic, so it can be hard to know what he comprehends. But I have a guy in AA living with us to support my taking care of my boy, and I sometimes drop by meetings before and after when I’m out with him. So he is certainly aware, on some level, of the AA fellowship. He also knows that on Thursday nights, and sometimes Tuesday nights, I leave to go out, and come back late.
    Do I have any hesitation, at the point when I know that he comprehends, in telling him about why I don’t drink? None at all. After all, in my family, I am, at least 5th generation alcoholic. And when I look at how my son slams down a glass of water, or how he spins endlessly until he collapses, or how he never leaves a morsel of anything he really likes to eat, and immediately looks for more, I know I have a moral obligation to tell him. Just so he knows what to look out for.

  3. I think honesty is important and I believe children can handle a lot more then we give them credit for.

    One of the reasons I am the go to guy for my nieces and nephews is because they can talk to me about anything.

    Even when they don’t like the answer they know I’m telling the truth.

  4. I’ve only just found your blog today, forgive my just jumping in, but I thought this post was really interesting. Kids never appreciate adults who give them the run around and they always seem to figure it out, whether they let you know it or not. I think your logic is right on target. As soon as they can understand it (which as Tim said, pretty early) I’d work it right into conversation. After that, you can get on to the details as they mature, or ask.

  5. Pingback: mashed potatoes for babies

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