The other day my wife noted – almost as a passing remark – that it is striking that I decided to quit alcohol only a couple of weeks after our teenage son bought his first beer. She suggested that perhaps I made the decision because I didn’t want my son to see me drunk during his…formative drinking years… She may be right. I don’t know.
But it is true that I really do feel weird about my son drinking alcohol. When we first discovered that he was drinking alcohol, we did the accepting-parents-trying-to-establish-an-open-dialogue-about-alcohol with him and a few of his friends. The open and accepting conversation didn’t last that long. The boys were tired and hungry. And they were teenagers. Since then I have been thinking about how we are tackling his teenage drinking and whether our approach is the right one. We have set up pretty well-defined parameters for his drinking, which he can then creatively navigate around: A maximum of 3 drinks and he has to be home at 1:00 am. I would imagine that it is a pretty standard approach to teenage drinking. But I must also admit that I feel a bit weird about trying to prepare him for a life of alcohol consumption: ‘My son! You obviously have to intoxicate your body. Herewith the precepts for how to do it in the least painful way. Off you go!’ I mean, isn’t that just a little bit weird?
But my son's entry to a world of alcohol also made me think about my own teenage years and, especially, my relationship with my father during that period. My father was a functioning alcoholic until he functioned no more. But during my teenage years, he was still relatively stable and was able to keep a regular day job. Which, by the way, was to manage a bar. It didn’t turn out so well. When I was around 13 or 14 years old, I had a huge conflict with my father and we didn’t see each other for some years after that. And when we finally reconnected, our interactions became more sporadic and our conversations distanced and awkward. Since then, I have prided myself of having confronted my father while I was still a teenager. I thought that the reason why I couldn’t really feel any emotional reverberations from his death was that I used the confrontation to establish a viable distance between him and me that later sedimented as an actual separation. He was no longer my father. And this separation, I thought, was built on my strength to confront my father with the vices that ruined more than one of the families that he was part of.
After having written the first few blog posts, I talked to my sister on the phone. She was genuinely surprised of hearing about my problems with alcohol. And she also reminded me that I never actually confronted my father about his abuse of alcohol. That is something that she did. My conflict with my father revolved around a really petty issue: He had lent me a video camera and a microphone and he was furious because I forgot to return the equipment on the date that we had initially agreed. I knew that he was wrong. But it was my sister, who confronted my father about his abuse of alcohol. And she has never had any problems with alcohol. Maybe those things are connected. Maybe not.