On Fathers and Bourbon

Dad1.1 George Wark was not a wine drinking man. He drank bourbon.

I never saw him drink wine, though he did once relate to me the story of the  best drink of wine he ever had. I often wonder what he would have thought of his son making a career in wine. I'm positive he would have approved and, being a betting man, I'd wager I could have gotten him on the wine train. Before he became a prominent contractor in Marin County, he worked for National Distillers, the home of Wild Turkey and Old Grandad—forever his favorites. I'm sure George would have appreciated his son working in a fermentation-based industry.

Born in April, 1919, George was child of the Depression, a fighter pilot in World War II, a prisoner of war, a husband, an outstanding gardener who never saw a fruit tree he didn't want to tend, the father to two adopted children, a good provider, a Mason of national standing, a 15 handicap golfer, a traveler who would stop to see any ball of twine or museum in his path, and the person who taught me everything I still believe about women and how to treat them and how to be a good man in general.

He was also the man that taught me the consequences of and responsibilities that went with drinking. And he did it in a way that only he could.

One early Fall day, when I was 15 years old and exploring the teenage freedom I believe was my right, I decided to have a drinking party by the pool. With my mother out and my father at work, the circumstances for this party seemed quite ripe. I invited over 5 friends and we went about raiding George's liquor cabinet.

That cabinet was a gold mine. Despite being a bourbon lover, my father kept any and every type of liquor on hand. He knew there were more than just bourbon drinkers in the world and he didn't want to disappoint. Inside the cabinet, under the bar off the kitchen I found bourbon, scotch, gin, vodka, vermouth, creme de menthe, mixers of all sorts—a treasure trove of trouble.

Vodka seemed the obvious choice to me. It was clear and appeared to be the least offensive to an untrained palate. So, over the course of the next 2 hours we went about drinking. LOTS. Then, the sound of the garage door was heard.

My friends had the presence of mind to run, jump the fence and get out of harms way. I didn't have that inclination primarily because I was passed out, sitting in an old wheel chair on my patio, a blanket over my knees and a box of Cheerios under my arm. I didn't hear my mother drive up. I didn't hear anything.

Naturally concerned, my mother somehow got me to my bed and called George.

My father was gentle with me. Upon arriving home, he got me out of bed quite gingerly, shook me to consciousness and firmly told me to go out to the garden and pick some ears of corn for dinner. (The garden my father planted ever years was not so much a "garden" as it was a series of "crops".) I don't know how I got out to the corn patch. What I do remember is being picked up by my Father from between the rows, carried into the house, placed in the shower with my clothes still on and feeling cold water rain down upon me.

Once my father's brand of consciousness raising was accomplished, he dressed me in dry clothes and took me out to to the kitchen table. He asked my mother to leave the room, went to the liquor cabinet, pulled out the vodka, got two shot glass, placed one in front of each of us and proceeded to pour a shot.

"If you think you are a drinker, then let's drink like men."

George was not the kind of father you disobeyed. I drank the shot. So did he. He poured another. he held his glass full of vodka, he looked at me and silently told me, "Again!". I drank it. Then I vomited.

He made his point. And to this day I don't drink Vodka. (Thank God he didn't shoot bourbon with me!!)

Later he would sit with me in my room, he looked me in the eye and he explained the conditions of my grounding and offered advice on how to drink, when to drink, why to drink and when not to drink. Then he put me in bed and that was the last he ever mentioned of the episode.

It has been 30 years now since my father last looked me in the eye. That last look wasn't a pleasant one. As he lay in bed and looked up at me, he explained he would soon die. Cancer. And he did, soon after that look.

I don't regret the fact that I only had 17 years with George. I do regret he didn't live long enough to give me a chance to sit with him and sip Old Grandad.

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7 Responses

  1. Samantha - June 16, 2009

    Mental note, stay away from Tom’s blog on parental holidays…made me cry at work dude. Another beautiful but heart wrenching story, thank you for sharing your stories. My memories of my father are no where near as warm…or textured, (junkie that died when I was 6, the few memories I have he was nodding in and out) so I adore these glimpses into what “father” means.
    Thanks.

  2. Tom Wark - June 16, 2009

    Sam,
    You get the heart wrenching award. I know that Father’s and Mother’s Day is a Halmark Holiday. However, of those that are made up, I like these two the best.

  3. Paul Mabray - June 16, 2009

    Wow Tom – that was a great and sad story. Thank you for sharing, it made me appreciate and want to better enjoy the time I have with my son.

  4. fredfric koeppel - June 17, 2009

    Lovely, thanks for a great story. Neither of my parents ever touched a drop of alcohol, yet when I became known as a wine writer and my newspaper column went all over the country, they were as proud as they could be.

  5. Samantha - June 17, 2009

    Yay, I’ve never won anything before…I’d like to thank my Mom, without whom I would never have been able to win this, “I suffer most award”…(wink) Funny thing is I never feel like I missed anything until I read stories like this. A really lovely tribute Tom and again, thanks for sharing!

  6. Vinogirl - June 19, 2009

    That was lovely.

  7. Charlotte King - January 5, 2010

    This is an awesome memory, and as a bourbon drinker I’m glad it was vodka that you drank too. Your dad sounds like a real character. cheers!


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