Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Getting A Fix For Masculinity At The Town Bar

June 7, 2004

Jace is a regular at the town bar. He is an alcoholic but he doesn't know it. How did Jace get that way?

Parenting and community acceptance. As a child Jace watched his folks drink on a lot of occasions. Drinks were common at family get-togethers, hunting and fishing trips, picnics, receptions, weddings, and birthday parties.

It seemed to Jace that everyone drank. People he admired and respected drank. When he was a teen-ager, it would bug him that some parents could get so down on teen drinking when they did it themselves.

Jace had his first beer at age 13 at a branding. Everyone worked hard in the morning and after lunch Dad brought out a tub of beer on ice for all the guests. Jace was thrilled when his father told him, "Well, if you are going to work like a man, you might as well drink like a man."

Teen drinking. As a eighth and ninth grader, he started partying with juniors and seniors. He and his friends pulled some crazy stunts. He looked forward to the weekends. It always seemed like there was a party somewhere. His father didn't seem to mind. He remembers his father sticking up for his drinking with his mother by saying, "Boys will be boys."

It seemed like the teens in their town were pretty much expected to have their beer parties as long as they stayed out of trouble. Law enforcement and school authorities looked the other way. Giving the "wrong" people tickets or suspending them from school could jeopardize jobs. There were lots of warning and no consequences.

Jace didn't like school too well. His interests were in ranching. He showed how tough and fearless he was by getting into a few drunken fights. He wouldn't let anyone shove him around.

After high school, he played softball for a couple of seasons. Softball meant more drinking. Jace enjoyed the fishing and hunting trips with his male buddies. When he cut firewood with them, he'd drink to "stay warm." When he'd go fishing, the guys would always bring a few cases of beer along. The drinking parties with the high school crowd was his main source of socializing.

The drinking buddies. At 21, he graduated to the town bar. In the evenings, it would be loud and noisy. There would be a lot of leveling and "put down" talk. In this bar, everyone was on an equal plane.

Jace liked to prove he could hold his beer. He bragged up his buddies and they conned him back. Everybody made each other feel good. They'd laugh at each other's jokes and stories and make fun of those not in their group.

When Jace was down in his mood, all he'd have to do was drink with a couple of the guys and he would feel like he was on top of the world. If one of his buddies would get a little out of hand, Jace would minimize the drunkenness with comments like, "He sure knows how to have a good time," or "he's not feeling any pain." Nobody at the bar was made to feel guilty or self-conscious about their drinking.

A group would get together and buy each other rounds. Jace felt the pressure to keep up with the rest and to pay back any favors. He wanted to be recognized by his buddies as a heck of a good guy. Buying rounds would create social pressure to stay until all obligations were satisfied. Anybody begging off to go home would be crudely teased.

Denial and minimizing. Jace had his problems. Expressions like, "You get back on after you've been bucked off," and "Cowboys don't cry," helped Jace use denial as his main coping tool. "The way to deal with this is to put up with it and maybe it will go away." Alcohol also helped cover up the pain.

Today, whenever he feels inadequate or put-down, his acceptance by his friends helps gets rid of the feelings he doesn't like. To make heavy drinking OK, he and his drinking buddies promote the big lie: "Everything is OK and nobody is doing anything wrong."

Without the drinking, a lot of these "friendships" are pretty shallow. Drinking buddies validate and accept one another. They tell each other they are just as good as everybody else and better than some. It's a big con - one that everyone needs.

Jace "knew" he wasn't an alcoholic because he wasn't nearly as bad as the town drunk. He'd look at his friends, and other heavy drinkers and think to himself, "Everyone else is handling it, so I must be OK too."

Not growing up. The regulars at the town bar are stuck with a teenage version of proving masculinity - willingness to defy authority, avoid conventional responsibilities, resist subordination to others, avoid intimacy, and retreat from commitments.

Heavy drinking during the teen years may prevent development of an adult definition of masculinity - husband, father, provider, protector, and decision-maker - along with the qualities of being responsible, responsive, productive and ambitious.

The next time you are in the town bar, don't be fooled. The good time some of the regulars are having is delaying or propping up their manhood. They are hooked. They are really there for the alcohol. Their buddies are the cover.