A Father’s Guide To Drinking

My dad was a drinker. It killed him.

My uncle and grandfather were also drinkers. It killed them, too.

Alcoholism runs deep on both side of my family. Growing up, my mother was always honest about it and from a young age I was aware of the dangers of drinking too much.

My mother was quite good at explaining to me that while drinking CAN be dangerous, it isn’t INHERENTLY dangerous.

“It’s fine to drink”, she would say. “But be careful if you find you like it too much.”

I found that to be such a succinct and simple way to put it. Sure, drinking is pleasurable. But you shouldn’t LOVE it. And if you do, proceed with extreme caution. That’s what I will say to my kids when they are old enough to have that conversation.

My five-year-old son brought up the subject the other day, actually, and I found that I had to walk a bit of a tightrope while discussing it with him. Our discussion was the catalyst for this article since I thought it would be helpful to share not only how to drink responsibly around your kids, but how to talk about drinking with your very young children.

My oldest son knows that Mommy and Daddy drink alcohol and we have explained to him what it is and why he should never drink out of our glasses without asking. He knows what beer and wine look like.

He also likes to ask when he will be old enough to do certain things.

“How old do I have to be to go to kindergarten?”

“How old do I have to be to drive a car?”

“How old do I have to be to get married?”

“How old do I have to be to drink alcohol?”

When I explained he needed to be twenty-one years old in order to legally drink alcohol he asked me why.

Here is the tightrope I had to walk: He sees me drinking alcohol almost every night. How do I explain to him that drinking can be dangerous, but not to worry about Daddy?

I told him very simply and directly that too much alcohol makes it hard to think and hard to move your body so the people who made the laws wanted to make sure only people who were mature enough to handle it could legally do it. I explained how doing things like driving a car is super dangerous if you have had too much alcohol.

He then said that his friend from school had a grandfather who died from drinking too much. I said that, yes, that can happen if someone drinks too much over a long period of time, or drinks way too much at once.

I then said that he will never see Mommy and Daddy like that because we know how to drink responsibly.

And that’s the most important thing I hope you take away from this article.

Never let your kids see you drunk.

I’m not talking about being a little more loquacious than usual after an extra glass of beaujolais at Thanksgiving. I’m talking drunk.

Don’t ever let your kids see you that way.

You might not think it’s a big deal. But think of how terrifying it would be for a kid to see the person they depend on for their safety and well-being not in control of themselves. Kids aren’t stupid. They’re not going to think, “Oh, Dad is acting so funny!” They’ll think “Dad is acting strange and it’s scaring me.”

Some years ago, an organization called Fragile Childhood put out a PSA showing what it’s like for children to see their parents drunk. It is from the children’s point of view and depicts their drunk parents as literal monsters. A grotesque rabbit, a disheveled clown, a zombie, a faceless doppelganger.

The video (which you can view here) is frightening and deeply unsettling. Unfortunately, it is 100% accurate.

You cannot hide being drunk from your kids. They will notice and it will scare them.

I’ll tell you what it feels like to be a kid around a drunk parent. It feels like being on a trapeze and having the safety net removed. You fear that something bad will happen and no one will help you. You feel alone.

Now, picture your own kids feeling that way around you. Heartbreaking, isn’t it?

That being said, I clearly don’t think it’s problematic to drink some alcohol in front of your children. I actually think it’s beneficial for children to see their parents drinking alcohol responsibly. It’s important for them to see what a healthy relationship with booze looks like.

It’s good for them to see that it’s ok to have a glass of wine with dinner. Or a couple beers at a barbeque. It’s critically important for them to see what temperance looks like. They need to see that Daddy may have a couple drinks AND THEN STOP.

It’s also important for them to see you avoid alcohol when necessary. Let them see you say, “No thanks. I’m driving.”

When your kids ask about alcohol, be truthful but age-appropriate. I have decided not to tell my sons yet about how alcoholism is so rampant in our family and how his grandfather died. I don’t feel he is old enough and that conversation will only scare him and make him worry about me.

I do, though, tell him that alcohol can be dangerous if someone has too much of it. I then tell him that neither Mommy nor Daddy EVER have too much of it and he doesn’t have to worry.

I can never break that trust.

The key here is reassurance. If your kids are young the reason they’re asking you about this stuff is they are curious AND they want reassurance. Be truthful with them so that their curiosity is satisfied, but reassure them so that they won’t be scared.

If your kids are older, tell them what my mom told me: be careful if you find you like it too much.

As fathers (and as parents, in general) we need to show our children we are always in control and we are always taking care of them. Show your kids that you are the master of your own body.

Being too loosey-goosey with alcohol has the potential to puncture the cocoon of safety your children should always feel around you.

Show them that they never have to worry.

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