Indulge me, if you will, in something of a birthday rant.
Today my daughter turns 21. Although it has been legal for her to drive, vote, smoke and kill and die for her country for quite some time, she now is officially permitted by society at large to enter a bar and have a beer. As a father, and with this being my youngest child and only daughter, am I concerned that this will lead to some sort of binging behavior now that the forbidden fruit is within her grasp? Short answer: No.
If I could wave a magic wand, there would be no drinking age. I find the concept of it to be the largest single mass abdication of parental responsibility in our society. As a group, the American people decided we were unable to raise our children with the understanding that wine, beer and cocktails are foods, and so we asked our government to treat them as drugs. We erected a barrier between childhood and adulthood that kids could see over but were told they could not cross.
Of course, if I were to wave that magic wand today, there would be dead kids all over our highways, because most of them were not raised to appreciate a simple glass of wine with dinner. They were not taught that, like the rest of the food in front of them, there's a "just right" amount, and there's a "too much" amount. A single glass of wine has never hurt anyone, and actually can be a healthful (as well as delicious) addition to a meal.
Instead, they were taught the irreconcilable lesson: Authority says it's dangerous, while society says it's just about the most fun you can have and will lead to the stuff that's more fun. Doubt that? Go to a high school health class, then watch a beer commercial during a football game.
This applies not just to beer and wine but cocktails as well. Skill in preparation and moderation in consumption are the keys, but a vast majority of bars emphasize only speed and strength with a cheap price. Witness the prevalence of straight-alcohol shots of every flavor and description that get lined up on bars throughout Iowa City's downtown every night.
Kim and I taught our daughter that these things are foods and that overdoing any food is unwise. Try eating a full-sized package of double-stuff Oreos or a 32-ounce porterhouse and the way you'll feel afterward is not too dissimilar to a hangover. Did I always set a perfect example? No. No one ever does. But we did the best we could and we succeeded.
This evening I will take my daughter to a local watering hole (we're looking at you, George's), and indulge with her in her first (legal) drink. Probably scotch. Followed by a long and filling meal with the appropriate beer or wine. Just our way of civilizing consumption. After all, Kim and I raised a civilian, not a consumer.