I tasted my first beer, cider, wine, whisky, brandy and umqombothi (traditional beer) at my grandfather's will, says the writer. File picture: Peter Nicholls/Reuters
Johannesburg - One of the most common responses I get when people discover I am a teetotaller is astonishment. I like to go to food markets, whisky and wine tastings, parties and many other social and infotainment events for the company and ambiance. But, to my bewilderment, everybody who drinks alcohol says to me: “You must be glad you don’t drink. Being ‘freed’ from alcohol is good for you.”

However, I must confess, I don’t think it was entirely my choice to not drink. My grandfather orchestrated this by ensuring that I was repelled by alcohol.

I tasted my first beer, cider, wine, whisky, brandy and umqombothi (traditional beer) at his will. My grandmother, who was an expert in making umqombothi, literally had the whole village drinking from her jars.

When I was aged about 10, my grandfather would give me a half glass of his favourite beer every Saturday. It was the most bitter, and the most unwelcome taste on my very immature palate. I disliked the taste, and all the headaches, drowsiness and the physical imbalances that accompanied it.

My granddad always insisted I finish my glass of beer in his honour, which would be followed by a bigger glass of water after 30 minutes or so. I gladly obliged and complied.

Sundays after church and lunch, we indulged in another ritual that left me filling a bit different to Saturday, but with worse after-effects. There were cute, little glasses in the house, which I later discovered were for tots.

These glasses were only used to drink golden-brown drinks. The rule was to not fill them to the brim. The drink had a very strong aroma and my granddad would give me one with water and instruct me to gulp it down in one go.

The taste was really golden but my lungs, they felt as if they were burning. I must confess, that whisky was too much for my developing palate but I could never get over that awesome taste.

Then, I would sit on my granddad's lap until I fell I asleep.

It does seem as though my granddad was abusing his favourite grandson. Who does this to a child?

But, the truth is, it saved me from a lot of trouble. This ritual continued for almost two years, but after six months, I wasn’t given beer or whisky every Saturday and Sunday - it was arbitrary. He would also insist that grandma gave me some of the home-made beer to taste.

He passed away before I turned 13.

When the naughtiness of my teens kicked in, my friends would want us to use our pocket money to make contributions to buy alcohol, but I refused.

I would tell them that I couldn't use my money to buy bitter drinks and was happy sticking to juices or soft drinks.

My grandpa’s approach could have backfired on him. The booze could have been palatable to the young me.

I don’t have a problem with alcohol, and often joke that I had enough alcohol as a youngster to last me a lifetime.

The lesson I learnt from my grandfather is this: it’s better to inform, to teach and educate your child from home and help them to make informed decisions in the outside world. Charity begins at home, not with alcohol lessons, but with sex talks, gender-based violence chats, bullying, puberty stage challenges, and all the social challenges kids face. For example, an average 12-year-old knows everything about sex, porn, booze and many other things not spoken about at home.

These teens are doing things behind their parents’ backs and they may end up making a bad decision without parental intervention.

Make it a habit to converse about your fears for them; they will definitely make informed decisions or choices in your absence and in the future.

* Kabelo Chabalala is the founder and chairperson of the Young Men Movement (YMM). Email, [email protected]; Twitter, @KabeloJay; Facebook, Kabelo Chabalala.