The son’s respect goes up in smoke
Editor’s Note: This column was originally published on November 1, 2007.
In one long puff of a good Dominican cigar, I may have lost my son.
It’s been easy so far to maintain my stature of perfection in his 5-year-old eyes, and I’ve enjoyed every minute at the top. But now that he’s discovered one of my secret vices, the pillars are crumbling.
A week ago, I was thrilled to receive an invitation from a friend to join him for his regular dinner with the guys, a group I hadn’t met. We stopped at Gino’s on Peach Street in Erie, a cozy corner bar with a surprising menu. It was a great evening of conversation and male camaraderie.
But I made the mistake of getting home before Grayson’s bedtime. Somewhere between a game of hide and seek and a question about the average length of a “big bass fish”, he asked me why I smelled like smoke.
“Because I dined with a lot of people who smoked,” I replied honestly, hoping for more questions about the fish.
“How many people smoked? ” He asked.
Here we are.
“Everyone at my table,” I said.
“Have you smoked?” He asked.
“Yes, I did,” I replied.
“Why?” he concluded inevitably, his eyes wide as saucers.
Hmm. Moment of truth – and you’ll miss it all, I thought.
A good answer is: “Because I am an adult and I have chosen to smoke.” But I can’t think that fast.
The real answer is, “Because there’s no higher degree of male bonding and brotherly comfort than enjoying a steak dinner with a bunch of guys while drinking beer and smoking stogies. ” But this explanation does not have a good conclusion.
So I said, “Because it tastes good.” Also true, but lame. Yeah, I messed it up.
I ended this sad exchange with something like, “Maybe I shouldn’t smoke cigars anymore. Looking back, I’m not sure that’s the right thing to say either.
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I could have saved a lot of hassle by lying, which some might find acceptable, especially with Santa and Rudolph the gravity-defying reindeer just around the corner. But I never lied to Grayson, and I don’t want to start now.
We adults aren’t perfect – especially this adult – but our kids think we are (at least for a while), and teaching by example has its benefits.
What should a father do? Tell the truth and take the heat, or give up a rare treat because it’s hypocritical and confounds a cautious boy who’s been thoroughly trained in the dangers of smoking?
Interestingly, he doesn’t question me when I drink the occasional beer at the family table. I guess we’ve been less judgmental about alcohol – another parenting failure.
The president of the confectionery company and the owner of the liquor distillery both say, “Everything in moderation.” And that’s where I’m at with this: Smoking a pack of cigarettes a day can kill you, but smoking a few cigars a year probably won’t. As an adult, I can make that distinction.
It’s dense logic for a 5 year old, but it’s the right thing to say and the right way to live. One day, Grayson and I will smoke cigars and drink beer over steak, and he’ll understand.