I got a hot rod Ford, and a two dollar bill And I know a spot right over the hill There's soda pop and the dancing's free So, if you wanna have fun come along with me
Say hey, good lookin', what you got cookin'? How's about cookin' somethin' up with me?
LOOKING back, there was definitely providence in the ‘soda pop’ bit.
It was Easter Saturday 2013 and my bride Katie and I had led the short procession from her humble hometown weatherboard church on the Victoria/SA border to her family’s farm for a splendid country wedding reception. Fine fare and much fun followed.
Foregoing any choreography or sophistication, the bridal waltz bopped in step with the sweet, simply poetry of Hank Williams.
Various versions of ‘Hey, Good Lookin’ have remained part of the soundtrack of our family in the years since that marquee-and-fairy-lights shuffle. Our three children, born in the interim, now all associate the wholesome tune with their daggy dad, singalongs while bouncing along in the ute or impromptu kitchen hoedowns, often to brighten the mood.
Hank was a tragic drunk and his addictions left him dead at 29 – the same age at which I stood at the altar in 2013. And while I seemed to have a drink in hand most of the wedding night, I was too busy having fun with family and friends to get drunk. Still, I couldn’t then imagine being at any big party – let alone our own big soiree – without alcohol in the mix.
If anyone had told me that within about 18 months of my wedding that I’d go tee-total, I’d have scoffed. Alas.
I had spent my twenties (and much of my teens) happily embracing alcohol as a social lubricant. Katie and I had been mates that entire period and my memories of our friendship reflected the way good fun, socialising and drinking seemed to always go hand-in-hand. From giddy high school parties to uni pub nights, holiday catch-ups beachside or big annual sporting fixtures, you’d never really think twice about having a few (or even a few too many) to help lose the inhibitions.
At some stage, relatively young, I adopted the more old-fashioned wish of “good health” as my standard toast to precede a social drink, instead of the utterly pointless and insincere “cheers”.
I'm free and ready, so we can go steady How's about savin' all your time for me? No more lookin', I know I've been tooken How's about keepin' steady company?
Another change, as we approached our thirties, was that my old mate Katie and I started to “go steady” in Hank’s words. Whether relaxing together or socialising with friends, we continued to enjoy a drink but increasingly leaned to quality over quantity.
Even then, the dust started to gather on our racks of vino as Katie became pregnant soon after our wedding and I often, more passively than as any sign of chivalrous sympathy, joined her in abstaining.
That trend continued as we found our feet as the parents to a newborn in early 2014. Although I remember a few times leveraging the buzz of a stiff after-dinner G&T to help punch-out a couple of hours of writing once the baby was asleep. I was racing to get a book manuscript finished as per my publisher’s deadline and, as a first-time author my time-management skills left much to be desired. I’d left my run quite late. I was distracted in those precious early weeks and wasn’t fully committed to Katie and our little wonder. I still feel bloody ashamed of that, but in facing up to it I realised that becoming a parent was a crash course in ‘have cake, eat cake’ priority choices. I started to see the world very, very differently.
Hey, sweet baby, don't you think maybe We could find us a brand new recipe?
Later that year, I set out on a planned voluntary dry spell in solidarity with a sick mate and I got through it with no urges. So I ran with it. Approaching summer, I undertook to be the designated driver wherever our festive season social calendar took my troupe (breastfeeding mum, baby and a SUV full of all the trappings), including a run of days in Adelaide around the Test Match against India.
On-call chauffeur duties meant complete abstinence because I really wanted to be completely alert and at-the-ready. As I walked out to the car park upon Australia’s narrow victory on the final day, it dawned on me I’d just made it through five days of cricket without having a single beer.
The niggling of my bemused cricket-loving mates who were variously trying to buy me “just one, mate” all fired blank. Yes, Nathan Lyon might have claimed 12 wickets, but I felt worthy of Man of the Match consideration. Nonetheless, I realised I had become a non-drinker.
I'm gonna throw my date book over the fence And find me one for five or ten cents I'll keep it till it's covered with age 'Cause I'm writin' your name down on every page
SHARING these anecdotes is my very clumsy attempt to pay tribute to Katie and all those like her who support their loved ones, friends or family to explore life independent of alcohol or other potential vices. I’ve never been an alcoholic, nor has my life been at risk due to drinking, but having a supportive, accommodating partner has made this really positive step in my life possible and, ultimately, an unbelievably rewarding ongoing journey.
SITC is truly ground-breaking because it is a space which celebrates all aspects of exploring sobriety and temperance for those of us living and working in the bush. A fundamental truth in those journeys is that, with the support of loved ones, you become superhuman and absolutely anything is possible.
The empowerment that can be unlocked when the roles are reversed are scintillating. What great things can you help your spouse or loved one achieve? What achievement can you help make possible which might make a life-changing difference in that person’s life and the lives of their loved ones?
Katie didn’t marry a non-drinker. She probably thought there were decades ahead of us enjoying some claret and the freed-up conversations often engendered over a shared bottle. I know she misses that, but it just means I have to find a way to join her in that relaxed, happy place now without the help of alcohol.
There is a saying that “once you bring your own water, you will learn the value of every drop.” The same goes for bringing your own happy, relaxed mindset – you appreciate it so much more when it isn’t artificially stimulated. I bet that rings true pretty powerfully with the SITC community.
In the stories we hear or read, our partners often play a supporting role which can be easy to unintentionally understate. But every journey is shared, which is why we’re so grateful for their patience and strength of those riding shotgun with us. I’ll raise a glass of soda-pop to these legends any day. Good health and good luck to you all.