Sunday, June 03, 2007


Quitting Coke is a Conundrum

Most of my memories from before my 10th birthday are a haze, so I don’t recall the first time I was given a soft drink. Maybe it was given to me by my mother, or maybe by my older sisters. Maybe it was a Coke, a Pepsi, or one of those imitation varieties they sell at grocery stores that cater to the thrifty, the poverty stricken and the obese.

What I know for certain is that I was given a carbonated beverage some time in my very early days. What I am also pretty sure of is that my dad probably lectured me about it later that day.

We lived in Tennessee, where people work long hours, considering the consumption of fatty foods and beverages bereft of nutritional value their reward. Dad, however, was a transplant Midwesterner, where they share the value of work ethic, but rarely think of the benefit involved because they assume the government will take whatever the reward is away from them before they can enjoy it.

On top of that, we were Seventh-day Adventists, a group not known for their fun-loving lifestyles. So, due either to religious beliefs, or to the farmer’s creed that labor is its own reward, I was told that activities such as eating chicken, reading fiction, playing video games and watching TV programs other than This Old House and The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer were bad. “If you enjoy it, it’s probably bad for you,” might have been a suitable motto in our household.

Carbonated beverages in particular drew Dad’s ire. With every one I took in, I was ruining my teeth because of their high pH content, ruining any chance of becoming an athlete due to their lack of nutritional value, and probably ruining my ability to concentrate due to caffeine. One day in my adulthood, all my teeth would be rotted and I wouldn’t be able do anything about it, because I hadn’t been able to focus long enough to get a job with dental insurance, and I’d squandered whatever chance I’d had of having an athletic scholarship to fall back on.

I suppose there were valid underlying points to these arguments, but the mind of boy before his 10th birthday cannot fathom the concept of long-term effects. In essence, young boys are the antithesis of the adult Midwestern man. When told not to eat an entire bowl of candy because it will make him sick, the boy will say, “But I like it!”

When told not to play video games until midnight, because his thumbs will be sore and he won’t be able to sleep because he will see the on-screen pixilated characters when he closes his eyes, he will say “But it’s fun!”

When told not to grab an electric fence and thus receive a painful shock, he will say, “But I want to!”

Faced with such logic, a parent can only do two things: take away the object the boy loves and be reviled for it, or simply discourage the use of it and be ignored. Either way, you hope that one day he will understand your wisdom. Regarding “pop,” as Midwesterners call it, my dad chose the later.

By my second daily can of whatever beverage I was enjoying, my dad would tell me that I was a “popaholic” and was “always drinking.” My sisters would chime in, probably more in jest than anything, saying “Yes, Rob, you’ve got a drinking problem.”

My consumption of carbonation continued, probably at the rate of at least one a day, through my teen and early adult years and beyond 2005, when I left to teach English in Korea. Since then, I have visited six foreign countries, sometimes only long enough to tour the insides of their airports, but always long enough to see what their Coke tastes like. The answer is always the same: exquisite.

One thing that is different about Korea, however, is that there is a much higher population of dads here. Most Americans would cringe if they see a hospital patient standing outside the lobby, clutching and IV in one hand and a lit cigar in the other. However, unless he’s a member of our family or a close friend we’d assume he doesn’t want our help. However, Koreans, as near as I can tell, have no idiom which roughly translates into “Live and let live.”

In fact, health, and mine in particular, is one of their very favorite topics of conversation. The Korean staff of Seventh-day Adventist Language Institute have the distinction of being both Korean and SDA, a health-conscious crew if their ever was one.

“Robert-uh,” they would often say in their thick accents, “that is not good for health.”

“Are you a nutritionist?” I would say, drinking in defiance.

“Robert-uh, how is your health?” they would ask on other days.

“Are you my doctor?” I would respond.

“Robert-uh, I’m worried about your health,” they would tell me on other occasions.

“Are you my dad?” I would say, exasperated.

Finally, in May, after more than 20 years of suggestions, advice, and other polite forms of coercion, I decided to give up Coke, Dr. Pepper, Pepsi and all other colas (Sprite doesn’t count cause it’s not caffeinated, and I’ve only ever had it sparingly). I haven’t had any in more than 30 days. I haven’t had any bouts with in insomnia and my tooth enamel has stopped slowly rotting away.

But there is one more, and perhaps greater benefit from this abstention: now my dads on both sides of the Pacific will leave me alone.

Not even the government can take that away from me.

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