Son: Dad Once 'Made Smoking Look Good' But In End, Made 'Smoking Look Deadly'

After pitching camp and eating several rounds of fried eggs, I pulled a crushed pack of Winstons from my jeans and offered one to dad as casually as I could. He hesitated, glancing between me and the pack, before realizing his role in the small bit of theatre I had initiated. He gave me a slight nod -- much obliged, partner -- and slid a cigarette from the pack. He lit it off my extended match, a strike-anywhere which struck mercifully on the first try. Holding the cigarette between his lips he took out a slim pewter flask and offered me a sip of pocket-warmed vodka. We stretched our damp feet toward the fire and leaned back to smoke, completely intoxicated on the absurd manliness of the whole scene.

We smoked together for several years. (He eventually told me that he had already begun backsliding when I proffered that Winston on Lac Vert.) Because almost everyone else was smart enough to disapprove, our smoking never lost the thrill of a conspiracy. Every furtive cigarette came with a fatherly preamble on the agonies of quitting and the well-known health risks. Unfortunately, those mini-lectures didn't stand a fighting chance. Good sense was easily dwarfed by the pleasure of strolling together through Central Park on winter nights, the dog trotting ahead of us, happily puzzled as to why she was getting so many walks.

Of course, cigarettes were not needed for the relationship that my father and I developed during the last years of his life. It was simply a matter of good timing, I grew half-a-brain just when he had mellowed enough in his parenting to stand back and delight in my decisions.

Before my father was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005 we had both been quit for a few years (with the obligatory string of lapses). There's no way of knowing if his relatively brief return to cigarettes was responsible for his lung cancer or if the damage had already been done by his decades of heavy smoking. I've often wondered darkly if it was one of our shared cigarettes that caused that rogue cell in his lung to start mindlessly replicating itself.

My father was once one of those people who made smoking look good -- the urban squire in his dinner jacket, a silver lighter on the dresser amongst cufflinks and collar stays -- but he ended up as one of those people who made smoking look deadly.

I have several good photographs of my father smoking: a black and white shot shows him hunched over an ancient Remington portable, his index fingers poised above the keys and the slightest squint in his eye from the cigarette on his lip; a picture from the late '60s shows him lazing on one elbow at the news desk, his on-air cigarette and muttonchops vying for chief anachronism; a snapshot from my high school graduation shows the two of us arm-in-arm, mugging for someone's camera, our parallel cigarettes held aloft in a pose of mock defiance and victory -- a pair of grinning criminals. These pictures stay at the bottom of their drawer. I don't like looking at any of them.

And that's the problem: now that he's gone, almost all of the sweetness is drained from these memories of smoking. It takes a remarkable trick of the mind to smoke despite so many good reasons not to. It's a trick that baffles non-smokers, but, unfortunately, it is one of those mental tricks that we perform without even noticing. All it takes is a touch of editing and the immense hazards seem negligible.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...
See It, Share It
PHOTO: Kanye West accepts the Vanguard Award onstage during the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on August 30, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
Christopher Polk/MTV1415/Getty Images
PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin works out at Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Aug. 30, 2015.
Russian Presidential Press and Information Office/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images