The Best Advice in the World on Freshman Drinking

The Best Advice in the World on Freshman Drinking

 

ON MAY 20, 2016 

 

I have a former student who I care about very much. She actually listens to me when I give her ideas. We were messaging back and forth about her recent graduation from high school and her excitement to matriculate into college as a freshman this fall. I closed a message by saying, “Remember to ask me the best advice in the world on drinking alcohol in college.”

This was her response:

Thank you Mr. Parsons! I definitely look forward to college, hopefully the distance doesn’t get me down too much. I will definitely stay in touch! Is your advice “don’t do it”?:)

I left her name out of my response to protect her privacy. This is my response to her question:

No.

That is typical, stupid parent advice that any college student who is going to drink in college will ignore. I know, I know, you are not typical. You don’t see yourself as being like other students, and you are right: you are not like other students. You are smarter, cooler, and have a brighter future than the rest of the pack.

On the other hand, there are college students, about a million or so, who are smarter, and “cooler” than you, and think they have the same future ahead of them as you have, but they will never have that future because they are well on their way to a life shrouded in alcoholism.

I have been to college; you have not. I know the “pull” of peer pressure, and the desire to rebel, and to just say, “F it, I’ll do what I feel like doing.”

You do not know that pull, or desire to rebel. Not yet.

Every year, millions of college kids unwittingly learn a lifetime addiction in college; they never recover from that habit whether they grow up and stop drinking heavily, or they continue to drink themselves slowly into a morass of apathy.

No one has to drink in college. For the first three years of your college experience, it is illegal to do so. But who follows the laws these days, right?

Feel free to not drink.

You might be lucky like me, and alcohol will have no allure for you. I doubt it. Alcohol is a magical substance the defeats even the most resolute of souls.

I have no idea why I didn’t drink like all the rest of my high school friends and my college cohort. It’s irrelevant why I didn’t drink. I missed the alcoholism bullet. My wife missed the bullet, and my daughter, so far, is dodging that particular bullet.

You may, or may not dodge it. You are a deliberate and contemplative person; you should at least hear some reasonable strategies to avoid a brush with alcoholism.

My first, and simplest advice is to drink if you choose, but just don’t drink your first freshman semester of college.

You will notice that a lot of the first semester heavy drinkers won’t show up the second semester. The whole point of first semester is to make it to second semester; you will be much wiser, and less impetuous your second semester because you will be a bit older, and you will think to yourself, “Holy shit, that was a bunch of people that flunked out, dropped out, or got killed. I’m glad I wasn’t one of them.”

If you think you have to drink, delay drinking until second semester. I guarantee you that there will be more booze available to you because those other guys will be drinking somewhere else.

My second piece of advice concerning responsible drinking is to drink slowly.

Drinking is not a “game.” Beer pong and chug-a-thons are games that are fun for awhile, but they promote irresponsible drinking. Students engage in those games because they don’t know how to drink. Learning to tolerate alcohol takes a bit of distraction to get past the taste and the uneasy feeling that you should not be engaging in this activity as a freshman. You don’t see thirty-somethings playing drinking games. There is a reason for that.

My third piece of advice is to drink in a same sex group: drink with the girls, and only with the girls: they will never rape you.

You have no idea how many girls get raped in college. Neither do I, actually, but it is way more than is ever reported.

Boys like to have sex; they want to have sex with younger girls because those freshman girls are more easily coerced. Freshman girls are frequently easily manipulated to do what boys want to do the girls are drunk.

There are ten thousand college freshman girls raped every school year to every college senior girl who gets raped.

Where did I get my statistics?

Nowhere; I just made that up. I’m not too far off, and the exact numbers are not germane to this argument when it is my cherished friend and student who might have to go through the rest of her life as a rape survivor.

If you want to drink with a guy, take your boyfriend to college with you; at least he won’t rape you when you are drunk. No other guy you’ve known for less than six months can guarantee that they won’t rape you when you are drunk.

Where do I get my authority on abstinence?

Does F. Scott Fitzgerald sound like the voice of authority when he wrote: “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, and then the drink takes you”? He spent the last third of his life writing to earn enough money to keep his dearest love, Zelda in an asylum. (Zelda invented the verb “to party” by the way.) Fitzgerald’s goal was to get Zelda out of the asylum and back into his life, but neither of them could stop drinking long enough to make that happen. It makes for a good romantic story if that is how you want your life to read.

Incidentally, F. Scott was smarter, better looking, and a better writer than you are now, and look what happened to him.

Fitzgerald could have learned something from me: “Nobody ever starts drinking with the intention of becoming an alcoholic.”

My dear student, if you never start drinking, then it follows that you will never become an alcoholic. That is logical. Logic is great, but it can’t hold a candle to the maelstrom of emotions that will drive you to drink in college. Logic is a pitifully weak ally against the pressure to drink in college, but it is all you have got.

But what’s the fun in going through college without drinking?

I’ll offer my life experience:

I have lived a riotously fun life, an extraordinarily fun life for the last sixty-five years. I have another thirty years of fun ahead of me. I did not drink in high school, or in college. I am sure that I have drunk less than one thousand bottles of beer…in my life.

In closing, you and I are not close to each other yet; we can barely even consider each other true friends. So what’s my personal interest in you?

You are unique in the world. There is nothing that you cannot do if you set your mind to it. Steve Jobs said that he wanted to “put a ding in the Universe.” You are smart enough, magical enough, and have enough of the right karma to put a freaking dent in the Universe if you have a mind to do so. It would be an unforgivable shame, a crime against everything that is good and right in this world, if your energies were diverted by alcoholism, or rape, or dropping out of college before you had a chance to see your true destiny just beyond the horizon of a college education. Trust me on my perception of your uniqueness; I am always right when I identify extraordinary students like you: students who will go out into this world and change it for the better.

Okay.

Closing for the second time: Your mother, or even your goofy father would never ask you to do anything illegal, immoral, or self-destructive with your body, or your life. Be the guardian of your body, the defender of your life, and the advocate of your destiny, by never doing anything illegal, immoral, or self-destructive to the wonderful person who may one day call me her close friend and valued advisor. “______________ and Jeff Parsons are friends.” Such a sweet sentence.

If you read my blog post titled “Using Math and Modeling to Defeat Alcoholism,”  I quote my daughter Samantha asking me why I would ever drink again when she reaches 21.

What she really was asking is, “Why would anyone ever drink?”

 

Dear reader, I would be happy to hear your comments on this essay!

 

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Career Tech High School Class of 2016 Commencement Speech

As I promised, here is the text of my speech to the CTHS Class of 2016, as delivered on May 10, 2016:

Good Evening Honored Class of 2016, Parents, Family, Teachers, Administrators and Board Members.

In the space of little more than a month, through happenstance, I have experienced a most devastating event and a most gratifying event. I am grateful to be here to speak to you tonight; I feel a balance from being invited to speak to you.

Thanks to you, the members of the Class of 2016, I have the opportunity to address you one last time This is the most energizing and exciting opportunity that has come my way since I had most of you as Freshman.

Thank you.

Let me catch my breath a moment.

This evening, I want to talk to you about life and death.

Settle down. We aren’t going to visit dark places.

I am going to talk mostly about life because I have some authority on that subject.

First let’s do a quick review. I wrote the Class of 2015s speech last year with you in mind as my audience.

You weren’t here last year so I will do a quick review to bring you up to speed.

First, I regaled the Class of 2015 by suggesting that their parents buy them a Tempur Pedic Memory Foam mattress for their graduation present. There was a point to my request: I reasoned that if a person is going to spend the next third of his or her life in bed, parents might as well spring for a great bed in order that their dear children might spend that time enjoyably.

Second, I offered the advice to make a point of becoming a conscientious person. For those of you who don’t have a ready definition at hand, to be conscientious by my definition is to do what is expected of you:

You perform you duties promptly.

You embrace your responsibilities every time you are called upon to be responsible.

You are cheerful in executing your duties.

And you always complete your tasks without being asked a second time, or better yet without ever being asked.

What do you get out of this?

You will be a stand out parent.

You will be loved and cherished by your spouse.

Your employer and your customers will always look forward to engaging your company.

You will always feel good about yourself because dependable, loyal people always feel good about their service to others.

My last directive to the Class of 2015, and now to you is:

Every day, every hour of every day, ask yourself the Laken question:

“Is this the best use of my time now?”

If the answer is “no,” you’ll know what you need to do.

If the answer is “yes,” you probably won’t be asking the question.

The best use of your time is different for you than it is for me, and anyone else. But you and I will spend a large part of our lives doing the exactly the same activity if you listen to me carefully for the next five minutes.

I want to teach you something I have always known, but something that has just re-entered my life in the last four months.

I want to teach you to live and to know you are alive while you are living.

How will I teach you to be aware of living in five minutes?

Let me show you.

Stand up.

Follow my instructions:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in and this is the most important part:

Smile.

Okay. Once again for the slow guys:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in, and this is the most important part:

Smile.

And again:

Breathe in deeply.

Hold that breath for two or three seconds.

Now breath out slowly, twice as long as it took to breath in, and this is the most important part:

Smile.

Breathing is life. Intentional breathing is living and paying attention to your life as you live it.

You know you are alive when you are breathing.

You appreciate your life as you live it when you breathe intentionally as we all just experienced.

Breathing is the miracle of life.

We all come into our lives on an in breath.

We leave our lives on an out breath.

In the meantime, we never stop breathing, we just stop paying attention to the beauty of our breathing until now.

Breathing intentionally will inform your life about everything you need to know and do with this gift of breath.

Our breath is central to our lives:

We hold our breath when we are excited and joyous.

We laugh. And laughing is the most joyous form of breathing.

To cry is to breathe: crying is breathing to help us catch up with our overwhelming emotions. It is done in the presence of god if you think about the tears and the symbolism of water being the presence of God.

We breathe harder when we live harder. Running. Skiing. Basketball. Baseball are all breathing sports.

When we play sports like baseball, we breath!

Watch me: Pitch. Bat. Catch. (I act this out.)

We hold our breath when we think we are about to die.

Maybe we do that to keep from dying. Who knows?

Now I will make my point.

I know of a man, Thich Nhat Hahn who breathes intentionally and smiles with every breathe all day every day and he has been doing this for the better part of his ninety-three years. I think he must cheat a little by smiling continuously during his waking hours and in his sleep. He does smile and he does emphasize every breath he takes.

I want you to take sometime to breathe intentionally every day. It should become a livelong habit to breath intentionally. We may not become Thich Nhat Hahn, but we will all be better for breathing intentionally.

Ten minutes every morning would a good start for you.

I wake up every morning and breathe intentionally for sixty minutes. I roll out of bed. I touch the timer on my I Phone, and assume the down dog position and start breathing intentionally.

I don’t stay in down dog for an hour in case you are wondering. It is fast way to wake up.

Sixty minutes is a really, really long time to dedicate to breathing. However, the upside is that every hour of the rest of my day is shaped by that first hour.

Every minute of intentional breathing reminds me that I am alive and that I am enjoying my life.

Ask yourselves if you have ever seen me not vibrating with excitement and exuberance in the last four months.

Let me shift gears here for a moment.

Addicts have negative triggers in their lives: a Bic lighter, the television remote, the VISA card, you know your negative triggers. They live lives of negativity and aimlessness; they are hungry ghosts in search of more of something to fulfill their lives and they never find that something.

We will not become hungry ghosts; we will breath our way though a full and rich life regardless of what comes our way because we are intimately in touch with life itself through our breathing.

Let me show you my positive triggers.

I use my I Phone in the morning to trigger my intentional breathing.

I use the key fob to my Volvo to remind me to breathe intentionally while driving all the way to Anchorage, or to Carrs, if that is all the further I am driving.

When I feel fear, or anger, or sadness, I stop, I focus, and I breathe intentionally.

It’s kind of like that “count to ten before you explode,” but better because it works and it lasts longer.

Okay. Let me catch my breath.

I want to tell you two stories before I close.

I learned that life was breath from my chocolate Lab, Duke. Duke lived ten great years by my side. I biked with him, sailed with him, and read the Bible out loud to him. Twice. He loved it. The day that my wife Eva and I put Duke “to sleep” as the euphemism goes, we took him into the exam room, watched as the vet gave him a sedative to calm him, and then we petted his chest as he breathed in and out and in and out and then stopped.

My moment of awareness was realizing that when he stopped breathing, his life was gone. Forever. It could never be started again because he was dead. He had stopped breathing. He had stopped living. That was the moment that I knew the secret to life:

Life is breath.

My second breathing story is about my daughter and my wife. My wife had lost consciousness about ten days before she stopped breathing. My daughter, Sam, spent every minute of every day with her mother almost until her last breath. About five days into unconsciousness, Eva was breathing so slowly, about four breaths a minute, that Sam had to crawl across the bed, put her face close to her mother’s face and listen to see if she was still breathing. As Sam was leaning into her mother’s face, Eva said, BOO!” Sam jumped back, scared breathless and listened as her mother said, “Just messing with you.”

Her last words.

 

My last words to you:

I will always think of my wife, Eva, my daughter, Samantha, my dogs, too numerous to mention, and you, the Class of 2016, every morning as I practice intentional breathing

Until

My

Last

Living

Breath!

Good night! Good luck! Thank you for this experience!

 

Here is the video of the Career Tech High School Class of 2016 Graduation.

My speech is introduced at 58:44. Maximize the screen and turn up the sound

http://thecube.com/event/career-tech-high-school-commencement-ceremony-643038

 

Christopher Drick (a former student) suggested I and this video to this blog:

 

 

 

 

Alone.

Alone. Irrevocably, irreversibly, incontrovertibly, and utterly alone.

My wife, Eva Parsons, died after two and one half years of being afflicted with metastatic breast cancer on Thursday, April 7, 2016, at 8:00 a.m.

Eva and I had prepared for her death almost from the moment she was diagnosed. Eva generated a great storehouse of equanimity to deal with her cancer. She was not angry about getting the disease; she was not afraid to die; she was not sad that her life would come to an end at 65. She accepted her death, and taught many of us about dying without the typical drama that surrounds a cancer death. She managed her life effectively until her last breath.

On the morning she died, I was with my daughter, Samantha. We stayed by Eva’s side for a while, hugged, checked in with each other, and then went on with the day as it unfolded. For a while, I felt like I was in a vacuum, but that passed almost right away. Sam stayed in Alaska for the next day, and left Saturday morning; I took her to the airport for her six o’clock flight to Nashville.

On the return drive home from Anchorage, I practiced my intentional breathing, and managed to not think about what I had lost, or to think about what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Eva directed me to live a long life, to be kind, and to set a “good example.” I think the “good example” part was her humor; I’ll never know; there’s nobody to ask.

I arrived home, let the Labs out of the car, and into the house. They ambled to whatever part of the house suited them and left me alone, standing in the kitchen with shafts of early morning sunlight coming through the window and splashing on the kitchen floor.

As I stood just inside the door, alone, I had a long moment of awareness: from that time on, I was utterly, irrevocably, irretrievably, and completely alone for the rest of my life. I stood there for minutes while I absorbed the feeling. I have never been completely alone in 65 years. Everything had changed forever, I realized. I think the word for this feeling is “bereft.” It seems like the right word.

Of course, I have lots of support. Now. Many friends say, “If you need anything, just call.” I appreciate their gesture. Eventually, everyone returns to their routine because their lives have not changed.

I, on the other hand, have changed, or rather, my world has shifted: I am alone.

I am okay with being alone for now; I’ll be okay later, also.

It is just an unsettling feeling to be alone without reprieve, and not be able to return to the companionship I shared with Eva for 44 years. She is gone forever; I will continue without her for a very, very long time. Sad. Bereft. Alone. At least for now.

The trouble is, you think you have time.

Today, Samantha and I were watching videos I shot of her when she was a baby. It is always fun to look back and enjoy those moments forever frozen on the video tape.

One segment struck Samantha as funny; Sam named it “What Rhymes With Duck?”

https://youtu.be/Khd-LZTomxM  (click the link and then click the link below this link.)

As we watched this video over and over again, we realized that what we were looking at was not a funny video, but a snapshot of Eva, Sam’s Mom, and my wife of forty years, when Eva was thirty-eight. What struck us was how young Eva looked. Her smile radiated happiness. She truly loved being with her daughter and sharing a few moments opening Samantha’s birthday present.

We watched the video and realized this was before Eva had wrinkles, or grey hair. She has just come home from teaching school. Her smile is so warm; she smiles so readily even after she frowns at her husband’s inane implication about the rhyming of “duck.”

This was a time of great joy for Eva. Teaching was going very well for her. She had a baby to come home to every day after work. The baby adored her Mother. Her husband was keeping the house in shape and cooking and keeping the baby entertained during the day. What more could you ask for?

We didn’t know it then, but if we could have asked for anything, we probably would have asked to live in that moment (remain young and beautiful) forever. But like the quote says, you don’t control time.

Everything changes. Samantha grew noticeably brighter every day, Eva and I grew a little more each day; we didn’t notice the slow transition for another twenty years. Life got better for us every day, every year. While we weren’t looking, time changed; we changed.

Samantha and I look at Eva in this video and we love her as she was. We love her as she is. We thought we had time. We don’t. Soon, we will have to love Eva only as she was. She will no longer be with us. Are we sad? Yes. Can we be happy again? Samantha and I find great pleasure watching Eva find joy in teaching Samantha words and rhymes. Teaching is Eva’s greatest joy in life. It is just a brief moment in time, but it reminds us of how innocent and how happy we were to live in that moment. The moment.

I remind myself to focus on each breath, each moment: it is the only time we have together.

“I’m So Excited,” or How Jack Met His First Porcupine

Team Labfam just jogged in from a seven-mile run! An hour and a half ago, Jack, Kenai, and I took off for a Wasilla, Alaska, run down Church Road, to Clapp Road, to Knik Road, and back home to the projects in Mission Hills. I started the run with The Pointer Sisters’ I’m So Excited blaring in my ears.  That song is just the right BPMs, about 92, for a quick run.

Church Road makes a nice running path on a bike path with a few hills thrown in to keep it interesting. As we passed the three-mile post, Jack (not Daniels, the dog) took off for something he discerned a thousand feet ahead of us. I couldn’t see what he was interested in; I thought he was just chasing a car that had slowed down momentarily. Actually, what he detected on our side of the road was a world-class size porcupine. We grow them extra big up here in Alaska: the really big ones look like Rottweilers with their legs cropped to six inches. Jack had the proper amount of “savoir fear” to keep him out of quill range and away from a $1,000.00 vet bill. I called him when I realized the hazard. He turned tail (beat the porcupine on that one) and struck a track back to us.

Had Jack made the wrong decision, the song, I’m So Excited would have been background music to another type of run. As it was, we continued while I replayed in my mind my other encounters with Mr. Porcupine.

I have had three porcupine encounters within the last forty years. The most recent skirmish was just about this time of the year. For some reason porcupines like swampy wetlands. Spring is when they come down from the trees to do whatever porcupines do in the Spring; I’m thinking breeding. On the other hand, the Home Show might have been an attraction. My good friend, Ron Jones and I were just completing a late evening (9:00 pm) walk we dubbed “The Long Trail.” Moose, my favorite black Lab of all time, decided to hang back from us and explore a small glade. After a brief space of time, a couple of minutes, he still hadn’t caught up to us. I called, and called him by name. No response. I yelled uncomplimentary things about his mother and their relationship. No response. Finally, Ron and I backtracked about a quarter of a mile to encounter Moose on the trail huffing, and chuffing, and pawing both sides of his face. I had seen this behavior enough times to know what had happened even though it was completely dark. I picked up one hundred pounds of wild dog and relayed him a mile to the Duramax truck. He was foaming and bleeding from the mouth; he was just wild with pain and shock. This event was recent enough that there was such a thing as an I-Phone. I dialed the animal hospital emergency room. The vet’s first concern was not with the dog; he wanted me to agree to provide him with a $1,000.00 charge on my VISA before treating the dog. I said, “fair enough,” and the race was on to the hospital. Ron drove, and I fought Moose all the way to the hospital to keep him from clamping down on the fifty, or hundred, or so quills in his mouth. The quills covered his chest, his forelegs, and bristled from his ears and around his eyes.

At three o’clock in the morning, I got a call to come pick Moose up; they couldn’t stand listening to him scream at the top of his lungs . He was feeling no pain; he  missed his main master: me.  He was quill-free, and I was grateful for that outcome.

As a side note: Dogs never learn to avoid porcupines after their first encounter with them; in fact, most dogs will go after porcupines even more aggressively the second time. If you are in porcupine habitat, it is always wise to have your pup on a retractable leash. Most of the time, my dogs are harnessed, and leashed.

Using Math and Modeling to Defeat Alcoholism

The words you speak become the house you live in. –Hafiz

Okay, you will quickly notice that this blog has only the slightest tangential connection to this quote. I just like the quote so much that I thought I would put it in a blog and remember it each time I revised this blog.

What I really want to achieve in this text is the retelling of one of my favorite parenting stories. This story actually segues from yesterday’s story: “Alcohol and the Bell Jar.”

Twenty-one years ago, while my daughter Samantha Anne Michael and I were enjoying ourselves on Sandy Beach, at Alcova Lake, Wyoming, on a late Saturday afternoon, we watched from high up on the slope of the beach, fascinated, as two heavily inebriated “lusters” rolled around on the beach below us, trying to pull off each other’s swimsuit. Sam was only seven at the time and didn’t understand the intricacies of the relationship between sex and alcohol.

She had a sense that these individuals were pretty passionate about something, she just wasn’t able to understand their behavior. She asked me, “Dad, what are those two people trying to do, get sandier?” “Well not exactly, Sam. I think they are drunk and expressing their lust publicly.” Okay, so I hadn’t effectively polished my explanation of public display of the sexual response.

I did take these people’s throes of passion as a teachable moment, however. She asked me why they would be drinking and drunk on a sandy beach on a beautiful day when they could be tubing. I refocused Sam’s attention to the fact that these folks were drunk and I wanted to address the time when she could start drinking alcohol.

Did I mention Sam was seven? It’s never to early to talk about responsible alcohol consumption.

I explained to Sam that alcohol abuse led to unhappiness and that I wanted her life to be a happy one. I had a simple plan that we could follow together that would assure that she and I would always be happy in our lives and with each other.

Sam was all ears.

I explained that when she was born, I came up with a plan to defend her against alcoholism. The plan was simple: I quit drinking beer when she was born. I had not had a beer for as long as she had been alive.

This is a fact that is only impressive to seven-year-olds. I continued that I would not drink another beer (or any other alcohol) for the next seven years, or until she was fourteen.

She asked, “So you are going to start drinking again when I am fourteen?”

I said, “No. I am going to point out to you when you are fourteen, and you are thinking about drinking and getting drunk like those folks in front of us, that I will have given up drinking for fourteen years which is equivalent to two of your lifetimes.”

She did the math. I think she was following my argument.

I continued, “When you are fourteen, you can easily make the choice to delay drinking with your friends until you are twenty-one. When you make that decision at fourteen, and delay your drinking successfully for seven years, I will have not had a beer in twenty-one years. You will have only sacrificed seven years of drinking to my twenty-one year sacrifice.”

That is three of your lifetimes. (Is this using ratios?)

“I made this sacrifice for you because it is that important to me that you get off to a good start, an alcohol-free start, and not end up on a beach rolling around in the sand, frustrated. When you are twenty-one, I can drink beer again.”

Sam’s response? “Why would you want to do that?”

“We’ll talk about that when you are twenty-one.”

When Sam returned home to Eagle River, Alaska, she made a video of her seven-year-old self instructing her fourteen-year-old self not to drink for the next seven years.

She kept her promise; I kept mine. I haven’t ever heard of her rolling around in the sand; it must have worked.

I think they call this “modeling the behavior we want to see in others.” Works, most of the time.

I think this comes under the heading of “Building your house with your words.”