My experiences with alcohol changed when my father
became the bartender at the local Italian club. He was a coal miner and
bartending was a second occupation to help provide some needed additional
income. Mom would also tend bar so we could go fishing on occasions. She
had her own sad experience related to the abuse of alcohol, since my
grandfather took his own life while he was intoxicated. The death of my
grandmother, due to childbirth and the associated problems of rearing a
family during the Depression, probably contributed to his death.
My mother never liked the club, but, when I was in
the third grade we moved into the apartment above the bar and dance floor.
She could now be close to where my dad spent most of his spare time. I
have some pleasant memories of the Saturday night dances where I got to
polka with my sister. My bed was over the band and the bass drum bounced
me to sleep on many occasions. Later in life I played bocce with
some of the elder men in a league. For two decades I had an
opportunity to observe how alcohol affected the various patrons who were
members of the club.
of the people who drank did so responsibly. They came to play euchre or
pinochle and have an evening drink with friends. Those who drank too much
fell into three categories. The first group of excessive drinkers included
individuals who overindulged, causing them to doze off into never-never
land. The second group of excessive drinkers became the clowns of the
place, overly happy and sometimes a bit loud, but seldom a problem. The
third type of over-drinkers included the problem-makers. Excessive
drinking often made them abusive and searching for a fight. When my dad
had to stop their drinking he was often challenged and on occasion
physically attacked. All these groups would be a problem driving on the
road, but the final category would also be a major problem for many
families when they got home. None of these individuals were teenagers or
underaged drinkers, which leads me to the main theme of this column. At
what age should individuals be legally able to purchase alcohol?
Fear of my fatherís reaction was the main reason I
didnít even think about drinking during my high-school years. Plenty of
my friends drank. Now that I look back on those years, most of them
didnít have a strong father influence. Donít get me wrong; sometimes
Dad drank more than he should, but Mom always seemed to straighten him out
the next morning. He was never abusive.
When I graduated from high school the drinking age
was 21. During my first years in college, the drinking-age restriction was
less a problem than in my later college years. When I finished college and
began teaching at the age of 20, I was old enough to teach and influence
the lives of children, but couldnít purchase a drink. There were many
times before I reached the legal drinking age when I managed to sneak into
places serving liquor. Not being a well-known celebrity, I didnít have
to worry about anyone calling 911.
During the í60s and the Vietnam era, the drinking
age was reduced to 18. The age reduction seemed logical. If a person could
carry a weapon and fight for his country, he should have the right to
purchase alcohol. Since that time the drinking age has steadily moved back
to the 21-year-old level. When my children were going though this age
range I often contemplated what the drinking age should be ó it was 18
at the time. Weíd always had alcohol in the home for special occasions.
Although I was exposed to plenty of alcohol during my childhood years, I
personally prefer soda or water to alcohol. Iím happy to say they are
the preferred drinks of the entire family. As the death toll on the
highways associated with excessive drinking in the 18-to-21-year-old level
increased, I, like many others, believed that moving the minimum drinking
age back to 21 was the answer.
A License to Drink
Iíve now changed my view that the legal drinking
age should be 21 for all individuals. Some people, like that in group 3
above, should never be allowed to drink alcohol, regardless of age. Young
adults who have graduated high school should be able to obtain a license
to purchase alcohol if they have demonstrated certain responsibility
criteria. They can become a role model for others.
In my two decades of observing young college
students, I believe the majority would have acted responsibly in dealing
with alcohol. Certainly we donít want anyone at any age on the road if
his or her driving is impaired. Mandatory loss of driving privileges, for
a significant period of time, for all DWI offenders would be more a
deterrent than the 21-year-old minimum drinking age.
Those underage individuals who want to drink will
have little trouble finding alcohol. Unlike other drugs, it is everywhere.
Society has placed significant pressure on the young-adult population.
Just watch sports on TV and take note of all the alcohol-related ads. The
age-21 drinking limit is like locking the screen door to your house ó it
only helps the honest people remain honest. Whatís needed is a real
alcohol-awareness program. Maybe 19 is a more reasonable minimum age for
drinking, along with other responsibility criteria.