When I was little, one of the most fun things I remember with Dad was standing on his feet while he walked around pretending to look for me. Also when I was growing up, my dad smoked a pipe. Most of the time he would go outside or in the garage, so it didn’t seem like it impacted us kids much. He was a high school teacher, and back then (the olden days!), teachers could smoke in their offices! Hard to imagine, now, isn’t it!
There was a spot at the end of the kitchen counter, near the back door, where he kept his pipes and tobacco. We never wondered about it, that’s just the way it was.
At some point during high school, I did start to wonder about my Dad smoking. There was growing public awareness about the health risks. It was hard to ever say anything about it to Dad, because he was a fairly strict authority figure, and we knew better than to “talk back.” But it wasn’t just that. There was this feeling that Dad worked really hard for all of us, and he didn’t have many rewards or things to enjoy just for himself (or time away from the four women in the house!), so it felt a little harsh to criticize one of the few simple things he got to enjoy.
At some point, though, my sisters and I came to the conclusion that our Dad’s health was more important than any reservations we had about offending Dad. We decided to say something to him. We mustered up our nerve and told Dad that we thought he should try to stop smoking because we were concerned about his health. Dad didn’t say much, probably just something like, “Oh? Hmmm.” If he felt defensive or hurt, he didn’t show it.
Then one day, my sisters and I came home from school, and noticed something looked different. There were no pipes on the kitchen counter, and the tobacco was gone. Wow! Dad never explained his reasons, never complained about how hard it was, he just never said anything about it. Several times, of course, my sisters and I said, “Good job, Dad!” and other encouraging things to let him know we were proud of him and glad he quit. But mostly no one needed to discuss it—because once Dad put his mind to something, he accomplished it. It was a done deal.
Because it was a pipe and he only smoked once or twice a day, maybe it wasn’t as hard for him to quit. Maybe a combination of both nature and nurture. But Dad was able to quit, with a few setbacks. He chewed a lot of gum.
Dad’s decision and his determination to quit smoking have had a huge impact on my life, probably more than he could have realized, and more than I understood until I thought about it for this post. First of all, it demonstrated to his kids that he cared about us and our futures. I’m sure at some level he knew that his smoking would make it more likely that his kids would smoke. He grew up with his mom smoking. Maybe Dad realized that he wanted to break that cycle–that it was important and within his power to do so.
Secondly, by his actions, he modeled for us a lesson about taking care of oneself. He didn’t tell us how to be healthy, he showed us by example—much more powerful than words. Through his actions he demonstrated self-respect, how much he valued life, how to be grateful for the gifts we have, and how we are responsible for our own well-being.
Finally, he showed us that we all have choices in life, and that we have the strength to accomplish our goals, and to follow through on our commitments to ourselves and others. The example he set for us impacted our lives way beyond his tossing out the pipe 25 years ago—the values he showed in that one act of kindness to self and others continue to ripple out through every area of our lives, in the decisions we make and our determination to see them through.
Not only that, but now he is a strong, fit, Grandpa to seven grandchildren…a whole new generation who get to see his example of a healthy person. We pray for many good years together still to come, and thankfully he has done everything he can to be here for his grandchildren. Now I get to have fun watching my kids stand on Grandpa’s feet while he walks around trying to find them. Dad’s actions will have an impact for generations.
There are so many good reasons to stop smoking. Keep trying. You can do it.