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When Can I Drink a Beer With My Son?

It is not about the beer, but about the ritual bonding. And the beer.

Two men rest with bottles of beer in hand by the fireplace.
Getty Images

I love beer. I love my son. Any dads out there who share that set of emotions know where this is heading.

Pretty much the moment my boy emerged from the womb, I counted his fingers and toes, muttered a prayer for his health and happiness, and then thought, Hmm, when can I crack open a cold one with that sticky, wailing mess?

It would be at least a while, I realized, falling somewhere between kindergarten graduation and his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. But how would I know when the time was right?

To be honest, I don’t recall the momentous occasion of imbibing an inaugural brew with my own dad. I do remember putting aside my action figures to beg sips from his Miller High Life, only to be repulsed by the harsh taste, like grass and medicine mixed in a rusty bucket.

By the time I was coming home from college on weekends, it was common for my dad and I to both retrieve a cold one from the fridge and convene on the deck. He didn’t dispense much fatherly wisdom. Mostly I just filled him in on grades, girlfriends and the last time I changed the oil in my Camaro. 

We were by no means equals, but the simple fact that we were both holding beers signaled that he maybe believed I was on my way. God, I miss that.

I still crave that secret, near-sacred language of a dad drinking a beer with his son. An outdated model of masculine bonding, some might say. Point taken — now how about you go enjoy a nice cortado with your kids and leave the rest of us to our suspect choices, OK?

Perhaps it’s more complicated now. Though parenting has become more permissive in some ways, we’re obsessed with what our kids put into their bodies — if you’ve received virtue-signaling stares when you let your child drink a soda, now imagine it’s a Corona. Thing is, 29 U.S. states explicitly allow under-21 drinking at home with parental consent, and the vice squad isn’t itching to bust down your door in the rest.

Obviously, I wouldn't give a beer to a preteen. But I also wouldn’t ship my kids off to college without some experience with booze, any more than I’d let them peel off in a Ferrari without first taking the family minivan around the block. But how do we cross that particular foamy Rubicon?

“If you’re healthy when you drink, then you’re the best person to teach that to your kids,” says Stanton Peele, a psychologist and author of Addiction Proof Your Child. “Say, ‘Hey, you’ve seen me drink, and I’ve been thinking about offering you a beer. What do you think about that?’ ”

Peele advises that the same conversation should include clear expectations for the consumption of alcohol, as well as ramifications for breaking those rules. And it goes without saying that you shouldn’t get blitzed with your kid, nor model any other negative behavior while tippling.

Admittedly, my 15-year-old son currently exhibits little interest in beer or its attendant rituals. (Our bonding centers more on superheroes than Citra hops.) But when he’s curious enough that we have that talk, I’ve got a frosty can with his name on it.

And I’ll pass along the only counsel my dad did impart on the subject: As I packed for college, he casually asked, “So, what beer you drinking?” Sheepishly, I admitted a preference for an easy-drinking brand that features a snowy mountain peak on its label. 

“Well, just remember,” he said, “Anheuser-Busch brews more beer than you can drink.”

I may have taken those words as a challenge, but they stuck with me. And I hope they’ll stick with my son, along with his own memories of sitting on a deck, sipping a cold one with me.