My father is German and one of my fondest childhood memories is of his beer brewing effort that took place in our garage in Pretoria.
Every now and again my father would decant the golden liquid into rows of brown bottles that he would seal with a homemade machine. Sometimes they’d explode with tremendous force in the middle of the night.
We (my brother and I) were occasionally allowed sip this homemade beer at Sunday lunch. We were also allowed to taste awful sweet wine diluted with water if we preferred. We must have been pre-teens at the time and the glasses we used were tiny but enough to give us an idea of at least the taste of alcohol.
My parents are Europeans and their drinking habits differed considerably from my friends’ parents who tended to braai meat outdoors, listen to rugby on the radio and drink all afternoon. Drinking in our home occurred around occasions and not just because alcohol was available. Also I never saw either of my parents drunk.
But did this safe introduction into the rituals of alcohol make any difference when I was most at risk as a teenager?
While I have never enjoyed alcohol and today do not drink at all, peer pressure and influence played a much more significant short-term role than anything civilized my parents may have taught me about consuming alcohol.
I have never liked the taste of alcohol but that didn’t stop us – a group of high school reprobates - from consuming it, even if we had to pinch our noses and down it without thinking. The drinking was not about the alcohol but about the testing of boundaries.
The difference today is that alcohol is made much more palatable for young people, it comes disguised as fruit or pre-mixed. Of course there are also more dangers attached to risky behaviour as well, including HIV and AIDS.
Authorities globally are worried about the excessive consumption of alcohol by young people and South Africa in particular has hugely worrying statistics. A 2002 Youth Risk Survey showed that 15.8% of boys and 9% of girls in this country had their first drink before they were 13.
The thing about alcohol is that it is all in the luck of the draw. It’s about genetics, socialization, self-esteem, parental and societal culture and other variables.
Will I introduce my children to alcohol?
Not until they ask. Why awaken an interest where there is none? What I’m hoping works for the long run is that we provide them both with enough information, lead by example and hope they will be sensible and trustworthy when the time comes.
What is your policy on alcohol and your kids?