Save Your Words For People

Michael Austin


I never heard my dad describe a wine aroma or flavor, and I’m sure no one else did either. It’s not because he was above it, or beneath it, or opposed to it in any way. I never heard him talk about the constellations, either, but it’s not like he never looked up into the night sky.

In fact, had he been exposed to wine education and the intimate culture that surrounds it, he might have gone whole hog. He was into things. He was an expert model-maker, often building airplanes, houses, or in one case a covered bridge, completely from scratch—following the plans he had hand-drawn. He was a musician, a boater, a war veteran and, because of his work for TWA, a world-traveler. Oh, and he built our house. He could create stuff, build it, and then fix it when it needed repairs. What he knew, he knew thoroughly, and the same went for what he liked.

Cabernet sauvignon was one of those things. It was his favorite wine style, by far. He loved drinking it, loved saying it, loved unwrapping a bottle as a gift on Christmas or his birthday. A lot of times he pulled the cork that very same day, and other times, when he had a little bit of a back supply, he stashed it away, like a kid hiding chocolate for later.

He drank his cabernet sauvignon from juice glasses most often, based on his fond memories of time spent in Italy for work. In certain eras of my childhood some of those juice glasses were repurposed jars that once held jelly or cheese spread. I don’t recall a lot of proper wine glasses populating our cupboards through the years. (Hey, you raise seven kids and let’s see what your wine glasses look like.)

When he took a sip of cabernet sauvignon—or any wine style, really, red or white—he often struck a pose that would call to mind his sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Europe. Pivoting his chair so the kitchen table was to his right, he could rest one elbow and his glass on the tabletop. He could then cross his legs and take in the passing scene, which, at holidays was the swell and rush of his ever-expanding family. In this relaxed posture and clearly satisfied state of mind, he often announced his intention to return to those sidewalk cafes someday. One more thing my dad was: a dreamer, full of hope and child-like imagination. Some people long for the rush of adrenalin, and others prefer to sit with a glass of wine, feasting on the visual stimulations of a metropolis in motion.

While my dad didn’t have a mouthful of wine language, or a head full of technical wine information, he loved wine, and the wine-drinking lifestyle. He would have much rather talked about the culture or style of a wine-centric place than talk about the aromas and flavors of a particular glass of wine in front of him, whether he was in that foreign place or in his own kitchen recounting a memory.

Talking about wine can be fun, especially when you’re drinking it with other people who like to talk about it. But at a Father’s Day barbecue? Just enjoy being a dad, if you are one—or being with the other dads in your life—and clink glasses with your own dad, or his memory, and drink without describing the flavor of the wine in too much detail. Or not at all. Your day will not suffer if you drink without precise analyzation.  

Just be thankful that the wine is good. And if it’s not good, pour yourself a different glass. Enjoy the heady aromas of grill smoke (without describing them), and relish the orchestrations of communal feast preparation. Go ahead and contribute to that preparation, if that is your thing, and make sure to do it with a glass of wine nearby. Soon you will be back to the other part of your life—scurrying to work, solving real-life problems, dining and drinking somewhat absently at times, for sustenance alone—no longer gathered with your extended family or friends, no longer sitting with your legs crossed and nothing to do but cherish your people and surrender to the goodness that crosses your palate. Turn off the part of your brain that needs to identify and name everything, even if only for a while. Simply drink the wine, and eat the food, and take pictures of your purple teeth if you’re drinking my dad’s favorite.

That feast will go by in a flash, and someday your dad will no longer be a part of it. So don’t forget to say the things you need to say, and ask the questions you need to ask. With that in mind, this Father’s Day, you dads might consider turning the tables and telling your kids what it’s like to be their father. They’ll be expressing how much they appreciate you—via greeting cards and their own words—and why couldn’t you offer some words of your own? Our memories fade, and run together, but we all have moments we will remember forever. Most often they involve a piece of wise advice, or some choice, heartfelt words from someone dear to us. Make wine a part of your day—because we love wine—but this Father’s Day don’t make it the focus. That wine is there to lift you up, not the other way around. On June 18, save your words for the people in your life: the dads, the kids.