My son is a college freshman. He will, on occasion, have a drink or two. The occasion may be Friday afternoon. Or a Thursday evening when there is no class on Friday. Or Saturday night because Sunday. You get the idea. He's checking it out. Social drinking is a thing on his campus and he doesn't want to miss out. Part of me is okay with that. Part of me is not. Nobody said this parenting gig was going to be an easy one.
Here's the deal: If I wanted to forbid his underage drinking, then I would have to be responsible for enforcing that prohibition, and that requires a certain amount of tenacity. That amount would be somewhere in the range of "ridiculous" and "impossible." I understand that I also have not one leg on which to stand when it comes to the subject of underage drinking. My freshman year was a bit of a blur, mostly because of the binges brought on by what boys of a certain age see as appropriate. Hindsight tells me that there wasn't much appropriate about the behavior I exhibited if taken outside the context of a freshman dorm. There was an honor code, but there was no sobriety code. I had to pledge not to copy somebody else's paper, but I didn't have to promise not to get drunk and throw up on it.
Over the years, some of the stories about that year and others were shared in the presence of my son. He has always been a good audience for my reminiscences, and at a time when I didn't think a lot about what image I was presenting, I may have needed a filter at that time to keep me from embarrassing myself or appearing hypocritical down the line. For me, it would have been great if my son had simply made his decision to drink or not based entirely on his own experience. And that decision had been "thank you, no." That's not how things worked out. I don't blame myself exactly, since I know that teenage boys and girls who go off to college are tempted by all manner of enticements, many of which did not exist when I was an undergrad. I do wish that I had found just the right mix of confidence and innocence to impart to my clever boy. There was plenty of caution in the tales I told, but when you're eighteen, that's not always the way it comes through. Those cautionary tales sometimes turn into challenges, of sorts. "Do as I say, not as I do," rings a little hollow, but it's the traditional fallback for parents with character issues. That would be all of us, I suppose.
The solace I take is that so far my son had made better decisions than his old man. I can also be proud of the fact that as bad an influence as I might have been, I am still doing better than Andrew Frye's mom. Give them roots and wings, I was told, but to that I would add just a dash of knowing when to be ready with the towels.