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The tragic death of Cory Monteith, the young television star of the musical series ‘Glee,’ is not the first of its kind. His death was due to a mix of alcohol and heroin. The finding by the Vancouver coroner’s office didn’t surprise most of us. We may know the young actor from his TV role, but we all know intimately, or know of, young people who have had similar fates.
Thirty-three years ago when I immigrated to Canada and started working for a Vancouver electronics firm as a programmer, Friday evening Happy Hours were common. As a newcomer, I had no friends, and would once in a while attend the Happy Hour with my colleagues. I would order my Seven-up and sit and sip as the rest of the group drank their quota of beer. At these and company parties, I would usually be teased for not drinking.
Things have definitely improved over the years. I don’t get laughed at for not drinking, even though restaurant waiters still give me an unappreciative look when I decline the wine list.
I have raised two sons with the constant fear of raising children in a drinking culture. I have listened to parents recount stories of their teenagers’ drinking parties as a rite of passage. I have heard a parent boast that the son could ‘drink him under the table.’ Thankfully, many of these young people have grown out of this stage and into upright, responsible young people with careers and families. But, sadly enough, some have died in car crashes while under the influence. One teenager choked on her own vomit after a night of drinking. One never woke up the day after.
The scourge of alcohol has been aggravated with the ready availability of drugs like heroin and cocaine. I recently attended the funeral of a 28-year-old acquaintance who died of a mixture of drugs -- sadly, a youth with much promise and enormous potential.
I have heard marijuana referred to as the entry drug, but I firmly believe that alcohol is the real entry drug simply because it is the first drug children see parents consume. While children learn about the theory of the DARE program in schools, they observe the practice of consuming alcohol at home, sometimes to excess. The power of example is far greater than the power of words.
Many would argue that the consumption of alcohol in moderation is perfectly fine. The problem with that argument is that no human being can control the ups and downs of life, or for that matter how he or she would react to them. A divorce, the loss of a job or worse, a loved one, or any other severe hardship can turn alcohol into a convenient crutch and turn the person into an abuser.
Several years ago, our school district had a public meeting to inform the parents that our youth held the highest rank in the province in alcohol consumption. The majority of the experts on that panel held parents responsible. The real shocker to me was not that piece of information -- but that the parent sitting next to me reeked of alcohol.
Baha’is believe that deeds, and not words, have the greatest impact on others. When parents demonstrate that they can relax and have fun without drugs – and alcohol is definitely a drug – they show their children how to live happy, unimpaired lives.
Abdu’l-Baha said that we can have the greatest and most lasting impact during the impressionable period of childhood:
It is extremely difficult to teach the individual and refine his character once puberty is passed. By then, as experience has shown, even if every effort be exerted to modify some tendency of his, it all availeth nothing. He may, perhaps, improve somewhat today; but let a few days pass and he forgetteth, and turneth backward to his habitual condition and accustomed ways. Therefore it is in early childhood that a firm foundation must be laid. While the branch is green and tender it can easily be made straight. – Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 137.
Every parent wants lively, active, intelligent and spiritually aware children. Every parent wants to protect their children from the terrible scourge of drugs that has reached epidemic proportions in our society. As parents, we can best accomplish those critical goals when we lead exemplary lives.