I drink, not to prove a point. But I occasionally get asked how it is that I can bear to drink alcohol considering all the pain and suffering it has brought to my life.
But truth be told, I enjoy the taste of alcohol. I often say that I drink for taste, not effect. It’s about good company and conversation. A glass of scotch or bourbon, slowing melting over ice and enjoyed with a cigar. A gin and tonic, served chilled and sipped over conversation. A whiskey drink, perfectly complemented by a medium-rare steak on a Saturday night. A Bloody Mary, relished over a Sunday brunch. Or an ice-cold beer on a warm summer’s night.
I remember my first taste of beer. I was in grade school. One day while fetching a beer for my dad, I must’ve seemed inquisitive because he then permitted me to sample his. After a look of shock, as if to say “Is he being serious?” I took a sip, unsure what was about to hit my palette. I remember the unsatisfactory, overly bitter taste. “How can anyone drink this?” I thought. “Moreover, why would anyone willingly choose this over the sweet, delicious flavor of soda or juice?”
Of course, my taste buds were not yet refined enough to handle malt liquor. Today, a trip to the liquor store to select my beer, the perfect beer, is an excitable occasion. I’m a kid in a candy store. So many choices. A wall of options. So I carefully read labels in search of new and different flavors. I tend to opt for local microbrews and small-batch craft beers in which you can almost taste the craftsmanship in each hop and the pride in each bottle.
On top of taste, some of my favorite pastimes include alcohol, but alcohol doesn’t drive those moments, it complements them. There is the image of a baseball game, complete with tailgating, peanuts, and cold beer. Or the backyard barbeque. Spiked cider around a bonfire on a chilly autumn night. But my personal favorite is the tiki bar.
Every summer, I make a point to visit a small lake in Wisconsin; there, we spend all day in the clean waters, before heading to a nearby tiki bar, where we enjoy a picture-perfect Wisconsin sunset, gentle breezes, the band playing our favorite tunes, and the type of refreshing cocktail that only tastes OK in the summer. Since it only happens once a year, I usually make a point to look around, surveying the landscape and creating a mental snapshot that will carry me through the harshness of the upcoming winter. To this day, that mental image is my definition of summer.
You could chalk drinking up to geography (it’s Wisconsin, and drinking is what we do) or my heritage (I’m part German and Irish). Simply put: There is no agenda in my drinking. To some, the fact that an addict’s son would drink at all may seem odd. Like why wouldn’t I swear off booze altogether and embark on a lifelong crusade to raise awareness? I am empathetic of other victims. I believe in alcoholism awareness. I celebrate the work of organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous. I hope and pray for others recovering and daily battling.
But I choose to live my life and raise awareness in a different way: by living responsibly. Looking back, I wish that my dad and I could’ve enjoyed a beer together, perhaps while fishing on a calm lake as loons docked in the distance. While waiting for the trophy fish, we’d sit back and talk about sports or life or family, all the while never receiving so much as a nibble on the line. But it’d be all about the moment, the bonding, the company. I never got to experience that. Even if my father had outlived his drinking problem, we never could have because, deep down, I’d know that each gulp was feeding his addiction.
But one day, I want to enjoy precious moments like that with my son.
I want to show my future children (and everyone around me) that life can be lived with balance. We must understand and acknowledge our limits. Alcohol can be enjoyed without it controlling you. I have seen the horrors of alcohol and drug abuses, and those images are forever engrained in my mind. And from those images I have accumulated lifelong lessons by which I live. And I hope to pass those lessons onto my offspring.
If I’m ever blessed with children, I want to be to them the father I always wanted. I will never let alcohol be the center and sole purpose of my life. My love for them will always be greater than my love of life itself, never letting simple pleasures get in the way of or shortening our time together.
Life is short — that much my father proved — so I vow to live my life in a way my father couldn’t. I will not let his lifelong mistakes ruin the time I have been given. I am the man I today, thanks to my father and also in spite of him (I attribute some of my character flaws to my time with him). But while alcoholism was my dad’s undoing, I not let it be mine.
For many reasons, I drink. While some may abstain from drinking to prove a point, I do not. I’m not better than you, whether you are a recovering alcoholic or someone who has zealously sworn off drinking. Lord knows I have my own vices, imperfections, and daily struggles. I’ve even drunk to excess; hell, I’m human. I think that is the whole point of this blog: that no matter how addicted my father was, I am no better; my life has been tarnished by my own mistakes, of which I do not boast.
Every time I lift a bottle or glass to my lips, I’m not preaching to the world. I never intended to be the poster child of alcohol awareness. I merely want to live a well-rounded life halfway between both extremes. I want to lead by example, not by swearing off alcohol forever but by embracing it in moderation and healthy doses, controlling my intake, and being responsible. Mind over matter. And if these words, my testament, give others hope along the way, I’m happier because of it.
Some claim that alcoholism is genetic, even citing scientific research to prove the point. I don’t know if it is. I have my doubts. But to be honest, I don’t care if it is. Could be nature, could be nurture. Regardless, life is about choices. I am not my father. His mistakes are not mine. His life is not mine. But his lessons are mine. So I choose to drink, ever conscious of his life and how not to live mine.