I was 9 when my dad got me started. First it was beer. Then it was marijuana. Then it was meth.
It’s hard to remain composed when you hear this sort of thing. I hear it often. Men and women whose lives have been at least partially damaged, devoured, destroyed by drugs and alcohol and who can trace their paths in this regard back not just to the examples they witnessed in their parents, but by their parents actively leading them into that lifestyle. It makes me want to vomit. It makes me burn with a white-hot rage against the power of evil and how it corrupts and twists people God created in his image into mangled walking corpses. I try not to hate the parents of these people, but I certainly hate the sin and evil that worked through their words and actions.
And I want to make sure I don’t do the same thing with my kids.
It seems like a ludicrous concern, but it’s a reminder that what I consider to be harmless may not be. Because I work with people in recovery from various substance addictions, they often ask me what the Bible has to say about drugs. It’s a complicated question to answer. We have decided that certain substances are illegal and others aren’t. Those decisions are arbitrary. When people want to argue that pot isn’t any more dangerous than alcohol, I have to point out to them that the logical ramifications of such an argument are not that we should legalize pot, but that we should criminalize alcohol. We tried it once and it didn’t work very well. It seems as though we’re going to give the other direction a try now.
I enjoy cocktails. I enjoy the social lubrication they provide, the way they give my hands something to do as I talk with people. Perhaps that’s part of the appeal of smoking. I can’t say, I’ve never tried. But I have to recognize that sometimes we start down roads not because they’re self-destructive but because they are comforting. I’ve heard smokers say that they started smoking to be socially accepted. I can certainly understand that motivation, even if smoking never appealed to me.
I look at my kids and realize that they are growing up in the presence of alcohol. I argue that this can be a healthy thing. It isn’t a mystery, isn’t something forbidden and hidden away. They like to joke about my margarita-fetish, Dad’s happy juice. And I’m pretty positive that it’s a healthy kind of joking, both in terms of my enjoyment and their awareness of it. But I can’t know for sure it will always stay that way. I’m not worried about becoming a lush, but I do need to remain aware of actively teaching my kids about alcohol, not simply discussing recipes with them or joking with them about it. As they get older – and my oldest is nearly at that point – chances increase that they’ll be faced with opportunities to drink with friends. I want them to be able to handle that pressure if and when it arrives. To understand that there isn’t anything inherently cool or necessary about having a drink, and that having a drink doesn’t make you a better or cooler person.
I hope that by being frank about alcohol, by answering their questions and hopefully setting a reasonable example of moderation, they’ll be well-situated for dealing with it when they are old enough. But I can’t know for sure. I can’t know for sure that they won’t have the personality that latches on to this with a vengeance and never lets go. At the back of my head I have to wonder, fearfully, if someday they’ll say to someone trying to help them rebuild their lives that My dad got me started on alcohol. I had my first sip of wine when I was nine.
It’s a terrifying thought. Then again, most of parenting is terrifying if you stop to think about it long enough. Maybe that’s why some people drink.