My dad doesn’t drink water.
Ok, fine, he does, but not much.
We’re talking 1-2 cups a day, tops, which, given how otherwise obsessed he and my mom are about their health, is nuts, which are also some of the only foods my parents will deem worthy of consumption in addition to salads, fish (salmon, cod, maybe swordfish), a little cheese, giant bowls of homemade oatmeal with pumpkin, chia, hemp seeds, and buckwheat. Always buckwheat.
Oh and Bragg’s. Anything Bragg’s related, particularly the apple cider vinegar, liquid aminos, and olive oil.
My parents love making healthy choices so much that “healthy choice” is a catchphrase of theirs, like if I tell them we made salmon Caesar salads they will say, aloud, in thick Russian accents, “healthy choice.”
Here is an audio accompaniment so you can fully appreciate this:
All of which begs the question: why in the hell is my dad out here failing to complete the most basic, rudimentary of all Healthy Choices: drinking your eight cups? It’d be like a farmer who planted a tree and obsessed over the soil, placement, and fertilizer but then WATERED IT ONLY A TEENY BIT.
Family Trees Need Water Too
A few months back, during my parent’s last visit to LA, the truth finally came POURING out.
We were discussing my dad’s low blood pressure which, also, was news to me.
“Why haven’t you told me about this before?” I ask.
“We didn’t want you to worry.”
Ah yes of course, because there’s nothing that says “don’t worry” like “we are keeping things about our health from you.”
Plus, they know how much it sucks to be on the receiving end of the “all is well” parental smokescreen - it drives my dad crazy when his dad, my grandpa Alik in Milwaukee, tells him that everything is fine when, in fact, it very much is not. “He’ll always say that he’s good,” my dad tells me, “but I know when something’s wrong as soon as he picks up the phone. I can just hear it, in his voice.”
You’d think that, given this fact, my dad would be extra mindful to NOT keep stuff from me or, at the very least, listen when I say, “Dad it says that the best way to increase your blood pressure is to DRINK WATER.”
But listen he does not, instead presenting an ice cold defense of “but I’m not thirsty. If I was thirsty, I’d drink more water.”
Cheeky, that’s what his response is, as if he’s an insolent teenager toying with his hapless father. But two can play that game, and two will, so I reply, “If I only drank what I wanted to, I’d throw back 8+ cups of Diet Coke on the daily.”
My parents' both gasp - eyes wide, horror stricken - I’d hit a nerve — after realizing that they can’t stop me from being an artist or getting tattoos, they have laser focused their efforts on the one battle they still have a shot winning: stopping me from drinking Diet Coke.
Now look - I love Diet Coke. Besides copious amounts of coffee, it’s my one vice. People need vices, especially sober people - a little sin in a time of abstaining, you break a rule and regain your humanity in the process. DC is my one thing, my one baddie in a life full of attempted good. But not so for my parents who say the 4-5 daily glasses of Diet Coke I’ve been helping myself to from the hotel’s soda fountain are an abomination. A crime.
I will spare us all any litigation of why I don’t think Diet Coke is actually that bad for you, but let’s just say I asked my friend - a doctor from YALE - which of the below was worse -
8 cups of water a day + a lot of Diet Coke OR
almost no water and no Diet Coke.
“What do you think?” he said, in a classic Socratic doctor move.
“No water and no Diet Coke,” I reply.
So there you have it - the medical community agrees.
“Drinking no water and no Diet Coke is way more unhealthy than drinking 8 cups of water and a lot of Diet Coke.”
— A doctor from Yale University Medical Institute For The Healthy Choice
After hours of failing to convince my dad about the hidden benefits of this new superfood they call ‘water,’ I go liquid godfather and make him an H2Offer he cannot refuse.
Sitting there at the Hilton’s happy hour, feeling LOOSE and ASPERTAMED off FOUR large glasses of Diet Coke, I look my own father in the eyes and say “I will stop drinking Diet Coke if you agree to drink eight cups of water a day.”
He agrees instantly, thrilled, and just as instantly, complications arise. My parents won’t drink tap water, ever, so calculations are made to determine how many cups are in a Poland spring water bottle - two - thus making my dad’s daily requirement four Poland spring bottles.
For the remainder of the trip - two long, difficult days - both sides do as they’ve promised. I go cold turkey and drink no Diet Coke, suffering the pains of withdrawal which are REAL and NOT a laughing matter (largely because of the Aspartame, I think).
Meanwhile my dad manages, barely, to get his four bottles down, struggling through each gulp with the theatrics of a soccer player faking a fall at the World Cup.
Then, the trip is over. With their flight back to Rhode Island in a few hours, I ask my dad if he’ll keep drinking eight cups of water when they get home. “Oh yea,” he says, overcompensating.
“How will I know though?” I ask.
My mom looks up from making cheese tortilla wraps (no condiments) for the flight and says, “I will keep track.”
I want to believe her, but how? She’s married to the subject AND hellbent on making sure I don’t drink Diet Coke anymore.
If I didn’t live across the country from them, I’d keep track. Pop in to drop Wilder off and check in, ask how the water thing is coming and look into my dad’s eyes to make sure he isn’t lying. But no, instead I have to settle for second hand reports from my agent on the inside who I’m realizing is without a doubt compromised: my own mother.
Ever since our son Wilder was born, I’ve felt deep pangs of guilt about being so far away. I wish we were closer to Lauren’s family in Atlanta and my family in Rhode Island, and not just for making sure my dad is keeping up with his water, though to be clear that is a big reason.
It’s not the obvious benefit of free childcare either; my guilt feels deeper, fundamental, a wordless need for those who raised you to be nearby as you raise yours.
But what can we do? Los Angeles is where the work is for Lauren, a makeup artist in the film and tv industry, and me, an actor and writer who could probably work from anywhere since he doesn’t actually audition all that much but THEORETICALLY COULD AUDITION IF ANYONE WOULD JUST ASK ME TO.
Plus our friends are here. Our community, that thing we say is the most imortant thing even though we usually struggle to find the time for it.
Regardless, we can’t just up and leave, can we? I don’t know.
Can you hear me now?
One way my parents and I stay close is by talking on the phone. Every day.
Yes, every day, and yes I find it as weird as you do. Often, it’s several times a day. If my dad has anything to share, he calls. I love it - I love hearing his voice and his insane business ideas like “Stink Inc, a company that adds scents to every video you watch.”
And then my mom will join the call seconds after my dad, ask all the same exact questions my dad just asked (how are you, how’s Wilder) and sometimes, if she’s not too tired, she’ll give me a granular deep dive into what’s happening in electoral politics across the country, almost all of which she does in English now, which I also love.
It used to drive me crazy, this daily requirement to call and check in, but the older I get the more I grow to love it. Am I Pavlov’s Dog aka Dobrenko’s Son, programmed by my Soviet parents who themselves are programmers to need a phone call with them every day to feel complete? Maybe. Does it matter? Also maybe. I’d think through this some more, but I gotta go give them a call.
It was during one of these calls, a month after their visit, that I broached the topic of my dad’s water consumption. He said he’d drank the required water every single day except one, Yom Kippur, when he fasted and drank no water the entire day. My mom confirmed everything he said which only made me doubt him more.
I’ve kept my word on the Diet Coke front too. Well, mostly - with two exceptions. One day for lunch with a friend at a Cuban spot that was very into giving free refills on the DC, I went nuts. Probably had six cups.
And then the other day at the movie theater. I had a medium DC, because movie DC with movie popcorn is an all time great thing in my life. Oh wait, right before Halloween, at the pumpkin festival thing, I had a Diet Coke. Three times, that’s it. And as is the custom for Yom Kippur, I ask for forgiveness.
Shit wait, ok four times, the fourth at lunch at yet another Cuban spot which reminded me of the first cuban spot where I had DC so it was like “when in Cuba,” ya know?
Kids Become Parents, Parents Become Kids
Back when my dad refused to drink water during the visit to LA, I asked him, “Are you becoming my Alik?” He paused a second, shook by the implication, and then said “no” as if I’d asked him something absurd, impossible, and yet, as indicated by the glint of a smile in his eyes, inevitable.
Our parents become our children - first they take care of us, then we take care of them. They will drink the water if we don’t drink the Diet Coke. Or maybe they won’t. Regardless, they’re family, and that’s just about the only healthy choice there is.
This morning I messaged my dad checking back in about the water. He responded with a series of somewhat cryptic texts that, together, read like daoist poem or zen koan: hard to understand but full of endless wisdom.
Here they are:
Promise is the promise
Contract is the contract
A word is not a bird
You open your mouth you made a promise , you have todo what you promised
This is Part One of a two part essay about The Joys and Horrors of Living Far Away From Your Parents.
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Let’s talk about fam, baby
I’m genuinely curious what other people’s experiences with this are:
Do you live far from family? What’s that like?
What’s your relationship like w your parents? Do y’all talk every day on the phone or are you normal??
Do your kids and grandkids live far away? What’s that like?
Why do you also agree that Diet Coke is great and healthy for you?
Okay so my real answers: My fiancé and I just moved into our own house after 2.5 years of living in a 2-bedroom condo with my only sister (aka my favorite sister). Okay, we did but the condo two doors down. Okay, my parents do live 8 miles away as the crow flies and an actual 1.5 hours in human time (riddle me this). We def at least text everyday.
Diet Coke is the juice of the Mormons. My aforementioned mother is a big fan of having one cracked open in every room in the house.
Stink Inc is a great idea tho