It was never just about the beer.
On Monday night, to celebrate his 21st birthday, Riley Scott's mom and dad took him to a downtown bar.
"His first honest pint at The Honest Pint," said his dad, Marvin.
The waitress scooted three tables together, so many family and friends came. The first round was on Marvin. At the head of the tables, Riley ordered a Highlander ale. The waiter asked for his ID. Riley had pulled his wallet out as soon as he walked in the bar door.
The cold pint glass arrived, carrying the dark brown ale with that little hula-hoop halo of foam at the top. Everybody had ordered something. But nobody drank before Riley had his first sip.
"Raise your glass to Riley," said Marvin. Some cheers, then lots of cellphone pictures.
It was a good beer. You could see it in Riley's face. Smiling, the way it's supposed to when you turn 21.
"Already finished it," he said, about 10 minutes after that first sip.
But the moment was never really about the beer.
Do you remember those moments -- maybe a lot, maybe just one -- between you and your parents? Where, with some gesture or word or gift, they reached out their hands and helped pull you forward from being a child and into an adult?
That moment may not make the headlines or cost money -- Riley's beer was $4 -- but it's so priceless in your life you could no more imagine leaving it than your own skin?
You see, Riley's beer was never about the beer.
"It means a lot more than that to me," he said, earlier in the day. "Your 21st birthday is an image of adulthood. A coming of age. And to be sitting with my dad, having this coming-of-age moment, it's like a rite of passage."
I'd dig a thousand ditches if one day, my own kids say something like that. Because becoming an adult is more than just turning 21.
"Everything works against you as parents -- TV, movies, the Internet," said Lili, Riley's mom. "Nothing this day and age helps except for a good family support system."
At a time when kids are pressured to grow up -- being 10 means pretending to be 16 -- and parental standards seem to drop worse than the Nasdaq, the Scotts held their ground with Riley and his older brother and sister. No, certain things are not right. So don't do them. You're not 21? Then don't drink. Simple as that.
"Always do the right thing," said Marvin. "In every situation."
The Scotts, who drink a Saturday beer or two, aren't recluses, pining for days of old. They know what happens in the world around them. They know that Riley -- a college student -- probably knew what beer tasted like before Monday night. But Marvin, who works in law enforcement, has seen violence and loss. Blood on the streets.
He knows all the things that can go wrong. Which means he's acutely aware of all the things that can go right. Like Monday night.
After that first beer, Riley fessed up a bit.
"I enjoyed it more than any other beer I might have had before," he said.
Everybody laughed. Marvin the most.
Riley opened his gifts. His parents gave him a copy of Stephen King's new book in the Dark Tower series. Riley and Marvin have read all of them.
"The main character really puts value in his father. He has a quote: 'Remember the face of your father,''' said Riley. "That really means to remember who you are and where you're from. Keep yourself in line and in check and make sure you don't do the wrong thing.''
America means many things. Like freedom, independence. But I hope, somewhere in the early 21st century, it still means that too: to do the right thing, in every situation, and remember who you are and where you're from.
And to know who helped you grow up.
"I wouldn't trade being a dad for anything," said Marvin.
It was never really about the beer at all.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...