I don’t drink because my father drank. A lot. In fact, he spent a good amount of my high school years in jail for drinking and driving. I remember him showing up to my high school graduation, drunk and stumbling up the auditorium stairs. I remember bailing him out of jail with the money I earned making pizzas. He died at 49, and I suppose that really hit me hard. At the time, he seemed pretty old. I was only 19, but now in my 30s, I realize just how young 49 really is. He missed out on my kids. He didn’t see me graduate from college or get married. He really should still be around, but he’s not.
This isn’t to say that I haven’t drunk — I have, just not since I got married. And when I did drink, it fit me like a stiff suit coat, and all I could think about was my father.
So when I got into parenting, my wife and I both decided we weren’t going to drink. Period. We started practicing Mormonism just before we got married, and I will admit, that has helped us find other parents who don’t drink. But honestly, as I’ve gotten further into being a father of three and being a parenting writer, I am often the odd one out. I have a coworker who, each evening, drinks his “papa juice.” Gin — he says it takes the edge off getting his kids to bed. And I will admit, I can see the appeal. There are times when I could use a drink. I could use something to help me handle the stress of supporting and caring for my children.
I see it in memes. I hear a lot about moms drinking wine. There’s that line in Christmas Vacation when Clark says, “Our holidays were always such a mess,” and he asks his father how he got through them. His father replies, “I had a lot of help from Jack Daniels.” Sometimes I’d like some help from Jack Daniels, particularly around the holidays. Sometimes I go out with other parents, and I’m the only one sitting at the table with a white straw. I’m the only one with a straight smile.
I’ve lost friends because I don’t drink. I’ve had people try to force alcohol into my hand like if I’d just take a drink, my life would be better, or easier, or we’d finally be able to talk like adults. All of it to me as the sober parent is silly, and often aggravating.
I get a lot of questions, asking me how I parent without alcohol, as though sobriety is my super power. And I spend a lot of time explaining why I don’t drink. I tell them about my father. I tell them about my religion. They ask if it’s for health reasons, and I say, “no.” I tell them about how I live a perfectly normal life without drinking. Some parents get it. Most don’t. It feels like there simply isn’t a good enough reason to not drink for some people. And honestly, those people frighten me just a little bit. I had one friend ask if I were a monk. I often get told that it must be boring not drinking, but being a parent in general, to me, is far from boring.
I can say with absolute honesty that I haven’t missed a beat of my children’s lives. I come at everything with a straight sober face. I can remember it all — the good and the bad. I feel the stress 100% and I feel the love and snuggles without inhibition. I don’t long for a night out with alcohol. I save a lot of money, and I don’t have to worry about my children sneaking into the liquor cabinet like my father did with me. I don’t have to worry about alcohol ruining my family like it did with my parents.
And perhaps that’s what this is all about. Perhaps it’s mostly about my own personal baggage with my father, and if I’d just cut loose and have a drink, I wouldn’t need to worry about all that. But I can’t. I won’t.
The truly sad thing is being the parent who doesn’t drink makes you isolated. Sometimes it feels like other parents don’t trust you. Or that they can’t invite you over because you will be the sober boring-ass person at the party.
But honestly, if you have a non-drinking parent friend, realize that they made a personal decision. They decided to not drink, and you should respect that. They are not strange, odd, or untrustworthy. You don’t have to try to trick them into drinking because you are 100% sure that if they just tried it, they would see the light and loosen up. They don’t have a stick up their ass. They don’t think they are better than you. They are not a person who doesn’t know how to enjoy themselves. They simply don’t drink. It’s all cool. Invite them out. Be their friend. Don’t comment. Don’t gawk. Don’t offer to buy them a drink over and over again. Just accept it and move on. The fact is, they have their reasons, and whatever they are, they are good enough.