Drinking is considered a vice worldwide but still many adults drink. Children feel very embarrassed, ashamed, and sometimes even degraded if they find their father drinking alcohol and losing his self-control. They pity him but feel helpless. A few experiences with camp trainees, who did not approve drinking by their fathers, are worth sharing with the readers. This topic was included as the result of a very touching response by a young boy at a Montreal (Canada) Camp.
After I had told of the bad effects of drugs and alcohol use to a junior group, we discussed how young people could save themselves from drugs. One youth observed, "If adults and our parents do not drink, we will not get into that bad habit. They must stop drinking." A girl asked, "Everybody knows that drugs and alcohol are bad for health, then why do they drink? Why can’t we tell them not to drink?"
This led us to discuss how to stop adults from drinking alcohol. The youth made many suggestions. One of them was to read Sikh Maryada to those who drink alcohol. It will teach them that the Sikh faith prohibits the use of drugs and alcohol. Many youth agreed with this suggestion.
Another youth asked, "Is there any specific hymn in the Guru Granth Sahib, which prohibits drinking?" The author recited and translated a few lines of the hymn:
Why drink alcohol, which makes one forget the Lord and be punished in His court. (Guru Granth Sahib, p. 554).
After listening to the translation of the hymn, a couple of them said "Uncle, that is good. Write it on the board, we will copy it." When the youth copied the hymn in their notebooks, I asked, "Do you think that adults will stop drinking after listening to this hymn? Most of them responded, "Yes, they should."
However one boy, with frustration looming large on his face, started shaking his head. From his response, I read the message of his heart, "No way. It won't work in the case of my father." The class was over, I met the boy and asked him, "What is worrying you? Why did you shake your head like that?"
His reply gave a chill through my spine. Tears formed in his eyes before he could speak. With a choked voice, which would have melted every heart, the boy spoke, "You may do anything, my father does not listen. My mother and my grandfather have told him many times but he ignores them. All our relatives have failed; how can he listen to the reading of this hymn by me?"
I cannot put into words what went through my mind after hearing that. To console him, I told him, "All fathers and mothers love their children. They may not listen to their elders or their friends but they cannot ignore the request of their children. He will surely listen to you. I will also try to talk to him."
When I was talking to the boy, I knew I might not be able to see his father or talk to him but his pathetic condition made me say the above words. Quite often I remember the boy shaking his head in desperation, whenever I find some parents drinking with complete disregard to the feelings of their children.
I know that he is not the only child being tortured emotionally by his father, there are thousands suffering like him helplessly. Maybe, the reading of this experience and two other incidents stated below, will touch the hearts of the Sikhs who drink. I pray that they give up this habit and rebuild their self-esteem. Further, I hope they will not demoralize their children any longer and destroy their lives.
At another camp, a middle-age group (10 to 14 years) was told to write what a Sikh is required to do and what he is not permitted to do by his faith. Among the prohibitions, of course, all students stated that a Sikh does not take drugs, he does not drink or smoke. They were asked if someone in their family drinks, how will they tell him/her not to drink? Many answers were given and all were in the tone, "You should not drink, it is a bad habit of yours."
They were suggested to find a better way to say the same thing. By mutual discussions the following statement was finalized by the group. "If a child does something wrong, blame goes to the parents for not disciplining their child; if a Sikh drinks, it reflects disregard towards the Guru and it lowers the image of the community. A Sikh needs to avoid it."
Before concluding the discussion, the trainees were told not to argue with the drinking persons to justify their observations. They were suggested to leave them alone to think for themselves.
The very first Sunday following the camp, a Sikh came to me as soon as the gurdwara function was over and the Sangat was moving out for the langar. He said, "I wish you to drink tea with us at our house." I was still thinking of what answer to give when the young girl with him said, "Uncle, he is my father." I remembered immediately that the girl was at the camp. I agreed to visit their house that very day after the langar.
Even before the tea was served, the father proudly narrated what happened at his house the other day, when his daughter returned from the camp. "My friend and I were drinking when she entered the house. With her bag still on her shoulders, she uttered verbatim what you told her at the camp and immediately went to her room. We analyzed her statement and found that she was right. To restore her faith in us and to assure her that we love her, we both decided to give up the habit right away. We threw away the bottle and felt a great relief after doing that. I know Sikhs are prohibited from the use of alcohol but I drank just to build my false ego."
Similar good experiences have been reported from some other parents as well. However, one case backfired and that too needs to be told to the youth.
A young boy argued with his father that drinking is bad and that he should not drink. One day when his father started drinking, the boy picked up his bottle and wanted to take it away to express his protest. The father became angry, gave a hard slap on his face and yelled, "Are you my father or am I yours? You must know how to behave."
The boy narrated this experience to the director of the camp who shared this sad incident with me. On the last day, when parents came to the camp to take their children home, I said in my farewell speech, "Respected parents, we take full responsibility for whatever the youth have learned at the camp. In case it does not agree with your beliefs or your daily practices, you should hold teachers and not your children responsible for it. We will personally apologize to you for anything taught to the youth if it is not endorsed by Gurbani or by the Panthic Reht Maryada. If punished for their disagreement with you, the children will lose faith in you and in our teachings at the camp." Later, the director of the camp told the author that according to the feedback received by him, the message was very much appreciated by both the parents and the trainees.