The Essay is a daily personal piece submitted by a reader. Have a story to tell? See our guidelines at tgam.ca/essayguide.
My love/hate relationship with alcohol goes back a long way. My name is Avram Mark Clarfield, and despite what you might think from the title of this piece, I am not an alcoholic. Though some in my family may think otherwise.
The first misunderstanding was on a family trip to Hawaii a couple of decades ago. I was at that point a very moderate drinker of perhaps five units per week.
I had stowed a six-pack of beer in the hotel mini-fridge – one for every day of our week-long vacation.
This was a busman’s holiday; both my wife and I were to speak at a medical conference on geriatrics. Since we were presenting during the same session, a babysitter was required for our then-young children.
The hotel put us in touch with an agency and we invited the sitter over to get to know her the day before the conference.
Stephi knocked just as we were finishing lunch. She sported a big floppy sunhat and a large bag of toys and books: Mary Poppins had clearly arrived.
She took one look at the kids and they at her, and both sides were hooked.
It just so happened that I had a bottle of beer in my hand at the time.
Stephi looked at me and an eyebrow shot up. I realized then that she might belong to some fundamentalist group that frowned upon the use of spirits.
Not knowing what else to do, I asked if she wanted one.
“No, thank you,” she responded archly. “I don’t drink.”
My six-year-old daughter looked up at both of us, and with a child’s keen sense of timing, offered helpfully: “My daddy’s an alcoholic, you know.”
Of course, all my attempts to get out of the sticky situation were to no avail. The more I tried to extricate myself, the more the phrase “the lady doth protest too much” ran through my head.
But let us go back a bit in history.
Growing up Jewish, a moderate amount of wine was always part of our lives. We drank a glass every Friday night to bless the Sabbath. A big drinker I wasn’t, but neither was I a teetotaller.
When I met my wife’s family, I noted they had an approach between the two extremes. They’d spent time in Europe, and came from la belle province, so a nice glass of cold white wine always went down well at her parents’ house.
My mother-in-law would raise her left eyebrow when I refused a glass of wine. My father-in-law would raise his right when I asked for a Coke.
But I guess I really learned to drink in Scotland.
On a walking tour with a great group of Lowlanders, I trudged up and down every Munro in the western Highlands.
Naturally, being Scotland, it rained incessantly, and when we came down each night, having burned off at least 6,000 calories, I was one hungry man.
However, my Scottish mates loved nothing better than to repair to the local pub to quaff pints while nibbling daintily on peanuts.
After a few weeks of this, if I hadn’t learned to drink I would probably have starved to death.
They say that alcoholism is genetic, and there may be something to this. My 105-year-old grandfather fought with his daughter, my Auntie Minnie, when she tried to dilute his daily ration of Canadian Club.
As well, one of his sons – Uncle Sam – in addition to being one of the best amateur boxers in Canada in the 1930s, became an alcoholic years later.
In the latter part of his life, he was famous in Toronto for his good works with Alcoholics Anonymous.
In my maturity I’ve cut back to maybe three drinks a week, and I still enjoy alcohol – partly because of the taste, but also because, being an evidence-based kind of doctor, I’ve been convinced by the literature on the role of a couple of drinks in preventing heart disease.
And being a fanatical recycler, I have a special place in our house where I store all empty bottles. Every few months I collect them in a couple of large plastic bags and drop them off to be recycled.
This combination of moderate drinking and obsessive recycling got me into trouble once again.
My son Aden was learning about recycling in school, and that institution had laudably invited the children to bring in all recyclables: batteries, newspapers and, of course bottles.
Thinking virtuously that we should contribute our part to this worthy campaign, I walked into the school one day sporting two bulging bags of beer and wine bottles, representing several months of tippling.
I didn’t think twice about our donation. But when my son came home from school that day, his face was ashen and there were tears in his eyes.
“What’s the matter, Aden? Did someone pick on you at school? Is anything wrong?”
“No,” he blubbered. “It’s worse than that.”
Perplexed, I insisted he tell me what the problem was.
“Dad, it’s very simple. My friends now all know the truth.”
“The truth about what, Aden?” I asked, more confused than ever.
“Dad, everybody knows. You’re an alcoholic.”
A. Mark Clarfield lives in Jerusalem.