Thicker Than Water

Krista Varela

“Do you want something to drink?” my father asks me from across the dinner table. He means alcohol. It’s a question I’m still not quite used to hearing.

I shake my head. My father has taken my brother and me out to dinner, a celebration after moving my brother into his dorm room for his first year at the University of Washington. Tonight we’re feasting in downtown Seattle, at a seafood restaurant right on the water. After living just outside of San Francisco for the last five years, I often forget that fresh seafood is a luxury. But for my father who lives in the desert, this is quite a step up when the nicest seafood available to him in Tucson is Red Lobster.

I feel guilty ordering a ten-dollar drink when my father has offered to pay for dinner, and he has just ordered for us an all-you-can-eat lobster, shrimp, and crab meal at forty dollars a person. Ten-dollar drinks aren’t uncommon where I live either, but it still feels excessive. I’m living off of student-loans and part-time jobs, so I’m overly conscious about money, especially when it comes to food. I know my father’s budget is comparable to mine, since the small business he owns has taken quite a hit with the economy.

My father is the kind of man to pay for meals, to make these gestures, not only because he’s a self-proclaimed food connoisseur, but also because he likes to tell people that this is how he takes care of his kids. As a child, the first question my father would ask me when he’d pick me up from school was what I had for lunch. Now, as an adult, one of the staple questions in our phone conversations is about what I’m having for dinner. He’ll mumble approvingly when I tell him what I’m cooking or sigh if I say I’m ordering take out.


“Are you sure?” my father asks me one more time. “Jack and Coke?”

My brother and I shoot each other a look. He shrugs. I’m not sure what to do.

“No, thanks,” I say, “I’ll just stick with water.”

My father orders a Stella Artois. It’s one of the few times in my twenty-three years I’ve ever seen my father order a drink. I wonder if I have offended him by refusing to join him, but he looks at his menu, eyes wide with hunger, rereading the description of the food we’ve ordered.

“All I want is some Alaskan King Crab,” he says. He rubs his hands together and then spreads his napkin in his lap. A smile spreads across his face, a smile I only see when my father is excited about food.

I chew on a piece of ice, wondering if I should have ordered a drink, if by saying no I’m denying myself the opportunity to bond with my father. I think of the expression, blood is thicker than water, and I wonder if the same applies to alcohol.

This is only the third time in two years that I’ve seen my father since I’ve turned twenty-one, so I’m still navigating the awkward situation of drinking with my parents. For some, maybe even most, alcohol probably isn’t a big deal. But my father is an alcoholic, so drinking with him feels like I’m condoning it, which I don’t.

Not really. But at times it has felt unavoidable.

A little over a year ago, I was visiting my family at home in Tucson. My first night in town, I went to see my father at The Wooden Nickel, the bar he owns. He asked me if I wanted something to drink. I had ordered countless sodas from the time I was a child, sipping them through a straw as I sat on a barstool with my tiny legs dangling off the side. I’d wait while my father took inventory as he ran back and forth between the kitchen and the bar, keeping myself occupied while flipping through the jukebox for the thousandth time or playing on the pinball machine in the back corner.

But during this visit, legally able to order alcohol, I took him up on it. My father gave me a strange look when I told him I was a whiskey girl. I’m not sure if he was shocked that I liked the hard stuff or just surprised that my drink of choice wasn’t tequila, like his. After a moment, he smiled and rushed off behind the bar to get my drink, putting me ahead of the other paying customers who were patiently waiting.

My father has many roles at the bar; he calls the liquor distributors twice a week to place orders, cooks burgers and chicken wings in the kitchen, and cleans up early in the morning after all the customers have left. That night I got to see my father put on one of his more unusual hats and bartend after the regular bartender went home sick. He brought me my Jack and Coke, and when I finished it, he brought me another. I think he would have liked to sit down and have a drink with me, to slowly sip a shot of Patrón while he asked me about my flight and what I had for lunch before I left that day. But he rushed back behind the bar as people continued to trickle in, unusual for a Wednesday.