This month’s poem in my ongoing Pākehā 2020 series takes a look at our special relationship with booze. From the “Hawke’s Bay, Fucken A!” of my childhood, to scattered recollections of visiting Dunedin, drinking is a pillar of Pākehātanga. Pākehā-ness.

It’s still the default social bonding tool. Let’s get heady for a mo: I heard the argument once that “our memories are us”. The entire record of the individual. But we don’t carry all of them ourselves; part of the record is kept elsewhere. Toddler memories lie with our parents, family, kindy teachers. Intoxicated moments lie with our drinking buddies. Part of who we are, the record of our past, exists out in the community. I find this quite sweet – radical maybe to your typical a-religious, hyper-individual, don’t-know-the-neighbours Pākehā – but sweet.

There’s vulnerability in trusting others. Handing over the reigns of your identity is a bonding exercise. Sometimes that trust is weaponised, used to tell a different story to the one we’re trying to curate. Like when your Mum reminds you of when you weed yourself. Or maybe when a close friend reminds you of when you weed yourself.

Whether you buy into the external memory idea or not, formative tales of drinking (and sports) bond together generations of New Zealanders. Parents and children grimace in unison when wild nights or bad choices are shared, but with a general murmur that yea its all a bit mad but no harm done, we were all young once.

There is a rose-tinted fondness for breaking the rigidity of Pākehā social custom with a friendly 2am “I love you”. Or acting more daring than you do in the office. Or saying what you really think.

Pākehā are perhaps best in the world (or at least best per capita) at ignoring that alcohol does the most harm of any drug. We’re also pretty good at getting nostalgic about it, which isn’t ok. But what if it’s all we’ve got?

*Watch ‘Show Us Your Ārts’ in the video player below* 

More from Ben Fagan’s Pākehā 2020 series: 

We don’t now how lucky we āre

Being Pākehā in 2020

Ben Fagan is a spoken word poet from Te Matau-a-Māui and Te Whanganui-a-Tara. In 2018 he co-founded Motif Poetry | Ruri Tūtohu, a Kiwi poetry company.

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