What My 21st Birthday Taught Me About Drinking Responsibly


Twenty-five years ago, I was 21 years old. At the time, I was a junior at Howard University in Washington, D.C. and I was experiencing a bit of turmoil because I had changed my major for the second time. This meant that I’d have to spend an extra year and a half in college to complete my degree. I was stressed out because I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the additional expenses. I was already having a hard time paying for college as it was.

My birthday was a welcomed distraction.

My friends planned to take me to one of the hottest clubs in D.C. to celebrate. I was happy to go because the club was known for playing the latest hip-hop, dancehall, and house music and I loved to dance.

When we arrived at the club, the line was wrapped around the building and I was having second thoughts about spending the evening in a crowded nightclub.

“Do we really want to stand in this line?” I asked. “Can’t we go to a less crowded bar in Georgetown?”

“N’ah man,” said my friend Andre. “We’ve been trying to get into this place for weeks. It’s your birthday and we’re going to have some fun. Besides, we’re already here.”

My other friend, Martin, agreed. After spending 20 minutes looking for a parking spot, he wasn’t about to leave.

We stood in line for about 45 minutes before we finally got in. The three of us squeezed through the crowd towards the bar and ordered our drinks. I ordered a Rum and Coke because it sounded like an adult drink and I wanted my first official drink to be something special.

The three of us clinked or glasses together to celebrate my turning 21. My friends chugged their drinks while I nursed that drink until the ice melted and it turned watery.

“What’s the deal, man?” asked Andre. “It’s your birthday, drink up.”

That’s when my sense of responsibility kicked in. The club was in South East D.C. and in the early 90s, this was a dangerous place to be especially at 2AM after you’ve been drinking. Both of my friends were heavy drinkers and I knew that I had to stay sober to make sure we got back to campus safely. Besides, I couldn’t justify spending money on booze when I needed to save to pay for college.

“I’m cool,” I said. “I’ll finish this drink and hit the dancefloor.”

“Well, if you won’t celebrate your birthday, I will,” said Andre. “Cheers!” He lifted his third beer into the air and disappeared into the crowd.

Twenty-five years later, I’ve graduated from college and I’m a husband and a father. As you can imagine, my sense of responsibility has not waned. In fact, it’s grown stronger. It’s my job to prepare them for the world outside our and give them the tools they need to succeed. This is a responsibility that I take seriously.


Lately, my daughter, who is in high school, and I been having discussions about what it means to be responsible when it comes to alcohol. I’ve shared the story about my 21st birthday with her. But I’ve also shared other stories about times when I wasn’t responsible with my alcohol consumption. Sharing my triumphs and failures gives her a clearer understanding of why it is important to be responsible.

I encourage all parents to have these frank discussion with your children and now is a great time to do it. The Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility is celebrating Alcohol Responsibility Month! To kick off this special month, they’ve launched a new campaign, called “Responsibility Starts with Me,” with the goal of sparking a national conversation about alcohol responsibility.

“There is no better time than Alcohol Responsibility Month to talk to your kids and teens about making smart choices, especially the choice to say ‘no’ to underage drinking,” said Lisa Graham Keegan, chair of Responsibility.org’s national advisory board. “The ‘Responsibility Starts with Me’ message is extremely applicable to parents and teachers, as they are role models to their kids and students, and parents are the leading influence over their teens’ decision to drink — or not to drink — alcohol. We hope the campaign’s message of personal responsibility will empower parents and teachers to continue having conversations with their kids and students about responsibility, in all aspects of life, throughout the year and for years to come.”

In six years, my daughter will celebrate her 21st birthday. Whether or not she wants to have a drink to celebrate will be her decision. Until then, I will encourage her to do it responsibly.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Foundation for Alcohol Responsibility. All opinions are my own.

Stay Strong,

mocha dad logo, mochadad




Join the conversation: What do you say to your kids about alcohol?

About author

Frederick J. Goodall

Frederick J. Goodall is the founder of Mocha Dad - a parenting website focused on fatherhood. He is passionate about parenting and helping men to be great dads, husbands, and role models. You can contact him at fjgoodall@mochadad.com or on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/mochadad