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Friday, April 27 Opinion

A Father's Journal / Alcohol education: The proof is in the pouring

My 17-year-old daughter was pouring a glass of beer for my wife the other day, and she was doing it all wrong. There was way too much foam in proportion to beer.

My daughter doesn't know how to pour beer, and that's not a bad thing. She will be leaving for college in about three months, and I have a feeling that by this time next year, she might be a little better at pouring.

We had some friends whose son was in a similar situation, so they sat the boy down and started drinking with him. They wanted him to feel alcohol's effects and know what he could do and what he couldn't do before they sent him out into the world.

Some other friends have always let their kids have whatever alcohol they wanted. They referenced French culture. "The French families all drink wine with dinner, and their children have none of the binge drinking you see in American colleges," they advised.

I don't know if it's true. We just nodded, just like when people say that the French love Mickey Rourke and Jerry Lewis. We can't prove them wrong, so we nod.

When I was just a few months older than my daughter is now, I was a bartender. The laws were more flexible back then -- I think they were based mainly on height. I was tall. I could pour a beer, and I had a Boston Bartender's Guide that I studied and used to experiment. I experimented right up until I was about 29 or 30, then I abruptly stopped.

My wife and I were at the wedding of one of her college friends. We had a room in the same hotel as the reception. No driving. It was in Long Island, and Laura had reserved the "Billy Joel Suite" -- Uptown Girl all the way. The bride and groom (I'll call them Melissa and Guy) took their time with the wedding pictures, and we got there early with the open bar wide open. I had my share of alcohol while waiting, and maybe one other person's share as well. It was a long wait.

Then a friend of Laura's who I'll call Gary said ,"Let's have pepper-flavored vodka shots." I don't like pepper or vodka, and if I was stone sober I would have thought it was an assinine thing to do at a wedding. I was not sober, so I thought it was quite possibly the most brilliant thing anybody had ever said. Gary was a genius.

I was sick for two days. Driving home the next day, Laura had to pull over several times for me. Everything was forcefully leaving my body. Two weeks later, Laura asked me to pick up some wine, and I didn't even make it out of the liquor store before I got sick. I have not had more than a few sips of alcohol since then. Just thinking about drinking gives me a headache.

Rumors soon circulated among my wife's friends about how I behaved that night at the wedding reception, until her friend Linda approached me quite a bit later. "I heard they found you in a bowling alley ... naked ... with a dude," she said.

That did not happen. Not that there is anything wrong with an occasional bowling outing. But Melissa and Guy have some footage of me on their wedding video that they have offered to show me. So far, I have declined. Guy's mother is French.

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When it comes to drinking, there are stereotypes about both the French and the Irish. I am Irish and my wife is Jewish. Someone took me aside just before our wedding and said, "Your kids will be half Irish and half Jewish. So, sure they will drink a lot, but they'll get it at wholesale." This person had also gotten to the open bar early.

Because I stopped drinking before my children were born, I have not modeled responsible alcohol consumption as the enlightened French do. I don't have much advice. All I have to offer is just the same advice my grandfather gave my mother when she was going out with her friends in college. He said, "Know your capacity and know your companions. If one fails you, the other won't."

Know how much you can drink, and know who you are drinking with. Maybe that's the best advice. He was Irish, from County Mayo, but he had a French last name.

Before my daughter leaves for college, should we drink with her so she knows her capacity. Or is that creepy? "Yeah! ... no ... not doing much ... I'm just home getting plastered with my mom, dad and Aunt Sue."

We read the police blotter, so we know that the majority of trouble at college involves alcohol. And we are sending her off knowing neither her capacity nor her companions. I am not sure that's responsible of us.

When she comes home, she will probably know how to pour a beer. Hopefully she'll get it at wholesale.

Thomas Lawlor lives in Southport with his wife and two daughters. His "A Father's Journal" appears every other Friday.