Terry Cornick, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Perfect‘, talks about his dad, being a dad and how drinking and mental health tie into the whole story.
That sweet amber nectar. It can taste like “liquid gold,” I tell my wife after my first sip of a cold ale. I chime in with trademark sarcasm, such as, “I don’t normally drink, but go on, then.” The perfect accompaniment to a celebration, a new birth, birthday, marriage, religious celebration (some), promotion, divorce (?!) and sporting victory.
On the flip side, it is also seen as the perfect tonic for tragic news and disappointments, deaths and funerals, divorces (again), losing your job and many more hard knocks that somehow send us directly to its clasp. I can remember my first sip. It was on one rare weekend visit to my dad’s house for his “access,” which went from weekly to yearly to twice in one decade very quickly. But that’s another story.
We usually went to the pub, but on this occasion he must have been struggling for cash (as it was conveniently located 50 metres from his house), so we headed to the Off-Licence (Bottle Shop, for my Australian brethren). Trudging back with a case of Fosters–a terrible drop, by the way–I sat in his lounge on the floor watching television. While laughing he passed me a can and encouraged me to sip it. I winced as I gulped. How could adults ever enjoy this stuff? I would rather drink soap.
Alcohol was present in the early years of my life. At one stage my mum worked in the pub and my dad drank there. I can even remember as a toddler (pre-divorce) wandering around the pub with a pint glass as all my dad’s friends put their change coins in. I had this rotund belly on a skinny frame so they would call me “PB” (pot-belly), poke my tummy then chuck their money in. As strange as that sounds the glass filled up quickly, not a bad racket for a four-year-old.
These fun times were tempered by memories of dad coming home hammered from work and the carnage that followed. Another, far deeper story for my book.
But the reminders of the damage were never far from the surface. At around six years old he came to watch a football tournament I was playing in. He was pushing my baby brother in a pushchair and I never forget seeing half his face covered with a bandage. It turned out he was glassed in a pub after picking a fight with someone. As always, and as an almost silent child, I never questioned it. There were other frightening, dangerous alcohol-fuelled post-divorce events that I experienced watching on as a child. Their impact on my mental health at the time and now, are still deep and processing that can be difficult. I leave that for my Doctor visits.
Back at my mum’s house post-divorce we rarely had alcohol in the house. My mum barely drank anyway and after my sister’s birth in 1995, I would go as far as to say she was allergic. One bottle of Bacardi Breezer and migraines followed for days. So when I finally got to experience alcohol “properly” I was around 13 years old. A few of my friends’ parents were out for New Year’s Eve nearby. None of my close friends were huge tearaways, by the way, but some could be described as troublemakers.
After watching a film and playing PlayStation, one friend suggested we have some alcohol. Eventually I relented and we searched out every kitchen cupboard. We found a bottle of vodka. It’s clear in colour, we thought, like water; what damage could this possibly do? In the lounge ten minutes later we devised a simple game. The loser had to drink “some” of the vodka. Having no knowledge of measures we used a pint glass and poured two-thirds of a glass and downed it when we lost. The burn was deep. Fifteen minutes later the world turned into a wonderful fluffy marshmallow and we all danced around the room, wrestled, laughed and eventually passed out asleep with no real damage.
A couple of years later I witnessed my brother going “out on the town” dressed up and somehow getting into pubs and clubs at sixteen. It must have been the pin-striped pants, shiny black shoes, Ben Sherman shirt and black mafia-style overcoat that did the trick. The look of the day. When it was my turn to try my luck it came about by accident. My friends on the estate we lived suggested we go to a house party near our town centre. On route we realised it had been cancelled and before I knew it, fuelled by two sickly orange vodka alcopops, I was paired with a mate and his two girlfriends that looked far older and confident than we.
Five hours later my mum picks me up from the town centre clearly angry as I try and feign sobriety. My shin the next morning bearing testament to falling up the nightclub stairs and smashing it on the metal step. But a hangover? Anxiety? Depression? None of that. Come midday we all met up to play football for hours.
The university days of life saw darkness creep in concurrently with alcohol. Fresher’s Week, student nights and boredom meant substantial, encouraged drinking. But I never drank for taste. As a shy, introverted guy it was just an attempt to fit in. I figured I would be less visible that way. £3 three-litre bottles of cider before we went out were our poison.
Hangovers at this stage meant anxiety-filled days of barely leaving my bed: heart pounding, heavy chest, curtains were drawn and pleading, hopefully, that I would not have to face anyone that day. The escape of intoxication provided 12 hours previously had long gone. I was quiet and moody by nature, or so I thought at the time, so no correlation with mental health was considered. I did, however, crave Cherry Coca-Cola, a regular saviour post-booze. Post-university, friends and I discovered “Snakebite” (a horrific concoction of beer, cider and blackcurrant juice). Ironically we went to an Australian-themed bar called Walkabout on Friday and Saturday nights and post-football on Sunday. Severe dehydration meant waking up in the middle of the night after a session, usually panicking.
Curiously, I never drank during the week at home. Ever. I always wanted to function well at work, probably more than most. It was rarely in my own culture or those around me to drink at home. You went to the pub for that, the heart of the community. And on an English street, there are more hearts than Hallmark on Valentine’s Day.
Then Australia came calling. “The Great Escape,” as I call it. Unable to come to terms with, or get help for my mental health and sheer pain I was feeling, I somehow ended up on the other side of the world. A shift in my drinking culture followed.
At work I could not believe that we actually got to have a beer at 4 pm on a Friday, while still working! Mind Blowing! That gradually became a Friday lunch, then as I started to do particularly well I realised that in the sector I was working in, it was commonplace to go out on a Thursday night or meet a client for a beer mid-week. We worked alongside Sydney Harbour, after all, everyone reasoned.
As my income increased and my tastes in parallel, I developed a love for red wine or pale ale and cases of $70 craft beers. Spirits or shorts have never been appealing. But with this love has come an increased casual approach to drinking, on the whole a better approach, I think. But that shift has its own challenges.
To add to this, my mother-in-law works for a wine company. Their Hungarian background revolves around family dinners and a glass of wine or schnapps. A responsible yet enjoyable approach to drinking. Temptation is increased further as my wife, Carolina, works for an events and marketing company. Her biggest clients and accounts? Alcohol brands. That means events and freebies.
Some weeks I can drink one or two beers with dinner most nights, then have a few on a Friday or Saturday watching a movie at home. Taste is now more important than quantity. Once a month on average I let my hair down at a wedding or birthday, but by midnight I am in bed.
When stressful times appear and my cloudy spells increase, there is no denying I am thinking, “When I get home I am going to have a beer.” Thankfully, I do not have the urge to go on an all-night bender. Occasionally when this casual intake creeps up I have ways of dampening it for the good of my head. I managed to do a dry January, a huge feat for me. But some other useful strategies have emerged, some by accident.
Carolina barely drinks anymore. Motherhood has certainly affected that. And with this has become a tradition of hers. At 8:45 pm every night I make her a camomile tea. It has become so ingrained in our routine, and on most nights this influences me to not have a beer. With a few Best Man appearances and bucks parties on the horizon to organise this year, these will test my currently strong resolve.
By far the biggest influencer has been fatherhood. The seismic shift I have previously spoke of means I consider my 14-month-old boy first. They need to be fed, looked after, changed, dressed and played with. You are at their mercy. There are no chances to feel sorry for yourself with a hangover. It is non-stop all day until bed, and by getting outside when feeling a little dusty, it helps no end for my head. By no means am I suggesting having a child to regress drinking, but man, it helps.
My work with Mr. Perfect has increased my determination to develop an even healthier relationship with alcohol. I play sport and exercise regularly, so the balance is there but I have also met some incredible guys at our Monthly Meetups that on the face of it are ‘Mr. Perfects’. They have jobs, family and may be in great physical shape. But you never know from a surface understanding of a person what they may be going through. Some have confided they have been trying to change their relationship with alcohol for years. It fascinates me.
Ultimately I want to understand what my dad went through with his drinking. I used to just hate him for it and his lack of care or presence for his sons. But as I came to terms with my own mental health struggles I conceded he himself had something going on inside. A silent sufferer, as I used to be. He was killing himself slowly with the booze. It pains me to think I will never truly know why. Some family comments have suggested his long hours in his (for some time successful) London job from the age of 16 and the pub lunches that came with it, slowly turned into his addiction. He worked with his dad and he was known to “love a beer” (insert emoji for understatement).
What truly keeps me responsible is the final sight of my dad, just two days before he passed away. He sat silent and trembling, somehow making it out of bed to his couch to sit in the lounge as his wife and I chatted around him. The conversation was interrupted when my dad grunted. I had no idea what it meant but his wife did. She jumped up and returned seconds later with a tumbler of what I assumed was Coca-Cola. The pungent smell of rum soon told me otherwise.
Starting out as a hobby, Terry created a grassroots men’s mental health support network named Mr. Perfect that is growing by the minute. Although it does not pay a cent, it pays handsomely in purpose. You can check it out at www.mrperfect.org.au
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