Love, Dad Let’s Crack Open a Couple of Cold Ones
When it comes to how I experience Dad Culture, I have to admit I’m a sucker for beers.
While it’s true that I really love beer, my own father never touched the stuff.
I grew up in a conservative evangelical household in Central Florida. We were Southern Baptists, and one of the very serious tenets of our faith was that we did not, under any circumstance whatsoever, imbibe alcohol. There were endless pots of coffee and jugs of sweet tea and bottles of Coca-Cola at every church mixer. Caffeine was just fine, but you’d never see anybody with a can of Budweiser. Our communion included miniature shots of grape juice that represented Christ’s blood, instead of the usual red wine. No one drank alcohol, ever. It simply wasn’t done.
That’s not to say we weren’t friends with people who drank. There were men in my extended world who did. My uncle, who was part of a fraternity in college, absolutely drank, and so did a lot of my father’s coworkers. Whenever we happened to find ourselves out at functions where alcohol was served—usually weddings—I saw guys who were friends with my dad carrying around those icy-cold beers, tipping them back to take long pulls from the neck, clinking bottles with each other in celebration. There was a genuine sense of camaraderie among these men. They drank too much at the reception, drank so much that they danced a little too wild, laughed too hard, made one too many terrible jokes. They drank so much they didn’t show up for the free continental breakfast the next morning in the hotel lobby. My immediate family was always there, though. Bright and early. Hangover-free.
Despite everything I learned at church and from my parents—that alcohol was a hard drug in God’s eyes, that imbibing was considered a Very Big Sin—drinking always seemed like an all-around good time. Commercials showed men hanging out together at bars, camping with their buddies, or fooling around at the beach, arms slung around beautiful, busty women with long gorgeous hair while they clutched something cold in their free hands. Cookouts with friends at school generally had dads in the background flipping burgers on the grill and having a brew. At sleepovers, my friends’ dads sat in recliners, drinking beer and enjoying a game on TV, while we ran around the house trying to scare each other with ghost stories. Once, in high school, a friend’s dad greeted me from the driveway where he was busy cutting their massive front lawn. A pronged blade of grass was plastered to the middle of his sweaty forehead like a weird green cross. Even from several feet away, he reeked of musky, dank body odor. While I waited for my friend to emerge from the house, he talked to me about his wrestling match with an overgrown bougainvillea that had torn a hole in his T-shirt. He pointed at it, a rip right near his stomach, and managed to slop some beer down his front.
“Better not waste it,” he joked, and then he proceeded to lift the hem to his mouth, sucking the moisture straight from the fabric.
My friend came outside and hurriedly collected me. We climbed in her car and backed down the driveway. Her dad held his can of beer to us in mock salute and took a long, leisurely sip as she drove away.
“He’s so embarrassing,” she complained. “Such a dad.”
“No, it’s cool,” I replied. Because to me, it was.
I liked that dad’s ease with himself, his unruly Florida yard, his fleshy belly, his cold can. Shouldn’t he enjoy himself after a hot day spent outside whacking weeds? I wished that kind of future for myself, though I knew that it wasn’t what I was supposed to want. I was supposed to be inside, cleaning the kitchen, prepping a delicious and healthy dinner for my family. Definitely not drinking. Women took care of the house; men spent weekends cutting the grass. I’d seen it play out that way in my own life, though without a cold beer presented at the end. A beer, I thought, seemed like a nice way to end a long day’s work.
Growing up with TV as a social guide for life outside of the church, I learned that drinking beer was how dads could unwind after a stressful day or get comfortable with their friends, bonding with each other at sporting events and dinner parties. They drank and talked about all kinds of things. They opened up a bit. In this fashion, Dad Culture is an accord not just between kids and fathers, but also between dads. It’s about pride in yourself and what you’ve built, but it’s also about enduring support for the people around you. Sharing beers is a way to celebrate that bond. Growing up, I saw this idea everywhere in popular culture, from books to movies and TV. Beers were specifically masculine in a way that other drinks weren’t. Men didn’t order mixed drinks when they went to a bar. They got Miller or Bud. They asked for a Coors, or even a PBR—whatever was cheap and available by the pitcher.
As an adult queer person moving through the world, I’ve come to understand that beer is for everyone, regardless of gender. And there are plenty of dads that would prefer a glass of pinot grigio instead of a Miller High Life (God knows I love wine straight from the box; you can’t beat the value). But when it comes to how I experience Dad Culture—how I attempt to manifest kindness and provide unwavering support for those around me, how I gravitate toward puns, how I have trouble admitting my own vulnerable feelings and attempt to cover them with bad jokes, and how I enjoy a burger straight off the grill—I have to admit I’m a sucker for beers. I like cracking one open in the backyard after a long day, fizz bubbling against my tongue as a lizard scurries past on the patio; or sipping one on a porch swing, lazily swatting at mosquitoes; or even drinking one out on a beach overlooking the water. Much like my friend’s dad battling the bougainvillea, so much of how I enjoy beer has to do with how I engage with the outside world. I write about Florida a lot, because Florida is the kind of place that doesn’t let you forget about it. When I sit outside and have a beer, I’m interacting with nature in a way that reminds me how I’ve seen other dads in my life move through the world. It centers me; it reminds me of who I am and who I want to be.
Like many young people, I first started drinking beer because it was forbidden. The allure of the illicit was charged and exciting, especially because so much of who I was as a queer person in my conservative family meant that my wants and desires had to stay hidden. As I came out, my relationship to alcohol changed. I began associating it with how I interacted with other queer people: having drinks at bars and at gay clubs, sharing drinks out at dinner. Bonding with others over a few beers after work. As I’ve gotten older, my feelings about beer have changed yet again. I still associate it with socializing and being an extrovert, but I also think about drinking beer alone, contemplatively. After all, I’m the dad now; I decide if I can have a beer. And Dad, which is me, usually says yes.
Finishing up my tasks for the day and celebrating with an icy cold beer at “happy hour” in my home allows me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Far from my initial ideas about alcohol—as something that leads to a party, something bigger and wilder, a weekend mood—beers have become a way for me to ruminate on myself and my relationship to my work. Some of this shift has to do with age. The older I’ve gotten, the better I am at understanding what it is that I want, but time has also provided perspective. I understand that part of being human means learning (and relearning) how to be part of the world. With age comes wisdom, or at least a few drinks and some nice attempts at introspection.
Obviously, there are plenty of dads that don’t do well with beer. There are many dads that shouldn’t drink or that simply choose not to imbibe. Maybe the thing that resonates most for me about dads and beer culture isn’t about beer at all, but the sense that a simple drink shared between friends—whatever that drink might be—could inspire closeness, friendship, and surprising levels of intimacy. That there is a magic elixir that could unlock the perfect way to listen to each other and be present. Beer inspires kindness in me, kindness to myself and also to others. And isn’t giving someone something cold to drink a nice way to express that?
When closing out a bar tab at the end of the night, I like to be the one that pays. I want to tell the people I’m with, Lemme get this round, you get the next one , knowing that I’m going to say the exact same thing the next time we’re out. Part of being a dad is wanting to take care of other people.
When I think about my past relationship with my estranged father, there may not have been shared beers, but there are other things I learned from him. He could be funny and generous. He did not drink, but the way he’d clap someone else on the back and ask about their day made people feel appreciated. Bringing a level of comfort to everyone around you, I think, is how I feel most connected to Dad Culture. If other people are feeling good, then I feel good. I want to be the one to show up with a six-pack or two, to tell the first and last and middle jokes of the night, to shake hands with everyone with a firm yet respectful grip, to clap someone on the back as I greet them or say farewell. I want to give a hearty cheers to anyone who’ll tip their glass to mine because I know that my satisfaction with beer comes from sharing my life with other people. Even when we’re alone with a beer, we are knit together.
Lemme grab you a something , I’ll say. It doesn’t have to be beer. Whatever you want.
What do I actually know about beer? I know that I like it. But do I know how to brew it? Do I know the difference between the myriad varieties of hops? Could I tell you what a double IPA means, or even how it differs from an APA? I don’t have the answers to most of these questions. A lot of the time, I don’t feel I know much about anything. One of the things about Dad Culture that resonates the least with me is the idea that dads know everything. I’ll never be the kind of dad that refuses to stop and ask for directions, or the dad who thinks he knows more than their partner or coworkers. I want to be the kind of dad who listens and supports the people around them, because doing those things means I’m growing. Beer is so much bigger than the commercials I saw growing up. It’s bigger than my church upbringing. Bigger than my relationship to it. My own dad might not have shared beers with me, but I’m so happy to share a few with you.
Let’s crack open a couple of cold ones and I’ll tell you everything I know about beer, but you should feel free to tell me things too. I promise I’ll listen.
Proud of you.