Why I Let My Kids Drink Wine
I'm having trooble righting this coz I've had too much to drunk. I can't talk ploply, I'm photocopying my privates and bumping into lampposts like a pin-ball. But I'm Australian, so that's funny, right?
Regardless of how you define it -- 'a few noisy ones' if you're a participant; 'binge drinking' if you're in public policy -- alcohol is a social lubricant in Oz. It's the liquid equivalent of loosening your tie. In most social situations we need a drink to kick things off. No XXXX, no party.
But according to the 2019 poll by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), the party has got out of hand and Australia has a drinking problem. FARE reckons 6 million Aussies now drink to get drunk, up from 35 to 47 percent. In short, we're a bunch of piss heads.
I met a trauma nurse one New Year's Eve who said if you took away the patients in intensive care at Christmas who were there due to alcohol and drugs, then most of the beds would be empty.
It reminded me of Australia's longest-serving emergency department director and Senior Australian of the Year Professor Gordian Fulde, who, in the wake of the one-punch attack on Daniel Christie, explained how weekends and public holidays saw a spike in alcohol-related admissions:
Especially like New Year's Eve when there's lot of alcohol, the vast majority is just solely alcohol where some people have lost control, they've lost the ability to inhibit animal behaviour by just viciously and really with a lot of force hitting another human being ... New Year's Eve was the night where more people drink than any other night, but on a Friday, Saturday night we see quite a few.
But it's not all bad news.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest National Drug Strategy Household Survey, fewer Australians are drinking daily, more teenagers are abstaining from alcohol altogether, and young adults (18–24) are less likely to drink to excess than ever before.
That is to be celebrated. (Not with alcohol obviously.) Sydney's controversial lockout laws are one example of a Government attempt to reduce alcohol-related violence. And Randwick City Council banned alcohol on Coogee Beach after 'a spate of alcohol-induced incidents from backpacker revellers'.
But if Australia is serious about doing more to drink less then we need to change cultural norms rather than tweak laws. And Australia's cultural norms have it all wrong when it comes to drinking.
I'm no Eliot Ness and this is no hypocritical rant. Drink was far from untouchable when I was growing up and I too overindulged with my mates. We'd go out on St Patrick's Day and come home greener than our highrise hats.
I never really questioned why we drank -- it was the done-thing, part of the culture, almost a rite of passage. And yet, drinking had been demonised. I remember the 'Alcohol: it's no good for growing bodies' anti youth-drinking campaigns on telly, featuring a group of kids trying to cross a river by tight-roping across a fallen tree trunk. The kid who drank fell in.
But when my sporting heroes triumphed and had microphones shoved in their winning grins, their first comments were always about having the famous 'few' to celebrate later that night. The change room was awash with champagne, and David Boon was a legend for drinking 50-odd cans on a flight to London.
In stark contrast to what the government was telling me, drinking was the stuff of champions. From the Fosters Australian Grand Prix to the VB Tri-Series Cricket, drinking almost seemed the patriotic thing to do. Indeed Boonie was 'drinking for Australia!'
Alcohol was as natural to this young Aussie as water to a fish. But then I moved to Europe and became a fish out of water.
The café culture was a sobering experience. I participated in sober singalongs with my Italian friends that would have taken my Aussie mates several cases of beer to attempt. And their city pavements on a Sunday morning were much less technicolored than ours.
I once told an Italian friend that at housewarming parties in Australia we fill the bath with booze. When I then went to his housewarming he led me excitedly to the bathroom and – "da-dah!" – standing proud by the plug hole were six bottles of Nastro Azzuro on an ice cube container.
Europe has a cocktail of problems at the moment and you'd think I was drunk if I suggested their way of life better than ours. But when it comes to attitudes to drinking, in my opinion they've got it right.
My Italian wife grew up with her father offering her wine at the table. Not a bottle, just a sip here and there. We now do the same with our 10 and 8 year old. A sip here and there. They used to ask. Now they don't. They realise it's not for them without me telling them it's forbidden.
My wife's parents never put her to bed early so they could get smashed with their friends. Alcohol never took on the allure of a banned substance that only their heroes -- mum and dad -- were allowed to consume. And my wife didn't hit the legal drinking age salivating for an illicit substance that her parents and the government hadn't inadvertently made more alluring by telling her how dangerous it was.
Do as I say, not as I do, is the Aussie way of parenting.
Do as I do is the Italian way of parenting, and when it comes to alcohol, I'll drink to that.