Just when I think I’m caught up with the popular culture, I find out I’m a throwback, a barely recognizable forebear who wore 4-dollar Levi’s in high school and could work on his own car up until about 1975.
I bring all this up because I’m living through my first—and last—high school prom-and-graduation season. Things have changed since I was in high school. When my junior prom time came, then-girlfriend Bobbie Ann Redd and I put in a 15-minute appearance at the school gym, then went back to my house to do things that we enjoyed more than dancing. The next year, we ditched senior prom altogether and drove up to Columbia, S.C., to catch a James Taylor concert, with special guests Carole King and Jo Mama.
Bobbie Ann Redd and I had our minor vices—like the M&M cookies she made—but we did not drink alcohol. Didn’t even consider it. You see, I started playing guitar in rowdy bars when I was 12 years old, and a little observation of the audience members taught me that people who drink think they’re having a good time, but they’re not. They’re inducing symptoms of stroke—slurred speech, double vision, balance problems, nausea, incontinence and poor judgment. None of these are fun. The people I saw drinking every night often ended up dead—or seriously damaged—before their time.
For example, my daddy, Jabo Jowers, went out drinking one night with his friend Frank Baker. While Jabo was googly-eyed, wobbly-legged drunk, he ran a stop sign, got broadsided by a pickup truck and was ejected from his Karmann Ghia. The impact made Jabo’s eyeballs pop right out of their sockets. Frank—who wore a glass eye—was ejected too. But ironically, just as Jabo’s eyes were popping out of his skull, Frank’s glass eye was getting knocked back into his brain. Frank died by Jabo’s hand and his own glass eye. Lucky for Jabo, his docs popped his eyeballs back in and he recovered from his injuries. I don’t know where Frank’s eye ended up. Not that it matters.
After that wreck, I became a one-man temperance union. I didn’t drink and I didn’t tolerate any drinking around me. When I was 13, I told Jabo that if he ever came home drunk again, I’d lock him out of the house. And the next Friday night, I did that very thing. Jabo slept on the porch.
My half-brother, Geames Talmadge Farmer, wasn’t a drinker in his high school days, until he went on his senior class trip to Washington, D.C., where he had his first taste of liquor. After emptying one bottle, Geames turned into a regular Friday-night drunken hell-raiser. He spent his Friday nights looking for barflies with “Born to Raise Hell” tattoos. When he found one, he would beat the guy senseless. It was his hobby. Geames slapped his wife around, cheated on her and wrecked all his cars and motorcycles. And don’t you know, he died with seven slugs in him—three from a barroom melee, one from a drunken pistol cleaning and three more from a man who got tired of Geames having sex with his wife. Half-brother Geames settled into his grave at the age of 31.
I learned the downside of drinking early in life and I learned it well. I’ve buried a drinking daddy, a drinking half-brother and one hard-drinking friend. Back home, there’s my old substance-abusing drummer, who crashed his truck twice in two days and ended up unable to move his right arm or leg.
So I was dismayed when I heard that one of the daddies at daughter Jess’ school set up an overnight post-prom party at his house. He promised that he wouldn’t serve any alcohol and that he’d take away all the kids’ car keys. But he didn’t promise that he’d keep alcohol out of the house. Didn’t want to get in the way of the kids’ fun, I guess.
Well, sure enough, some hairy-legged boy snuck in a bottle of vodka and poured it in the punch. And the daddy in charge told me that he actually saw the boy with the bottle of vodka and didn’t take it away from him. As a result of this grown man, afraid to take a bottle of liquor away from a teenage boy in his own house, a few kids who’d never tasted alcohol got their first exposure to drink.
So, I feel compelled to say: any of you “cool parents” who turn a blind eye to under-age kids serving and consuming alcohol in your house, and right under your nose, listen to me. Take a minute to consider the life-changing consequences of introducing kids to liquor. They’re all bad.
And keep in mind there still might be a few throwback daddies like me who will take exception to your putting our children together with alcohol. Such daddies are apt to come to your front door with more lawyers, guns and money than poor old Warren Zevon could conjure. As I told the blind-eyed daddy who hosted the post-prom party: the scrotum comes with some responsibilities. A man doesn’t let a boy run his house. And if he does let a boy run his house, that house needs a new man.
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