It’s that time of year when we all think about resolutions for the new year. In what ways do we want to improve the way we live next year? How can we become a better person? What do we want to like more about ourselves?
I don’t really make resolutions, but I do think about it this time of year. I’m always reminded of the ridiculous iron willpower that was a part of my father. While I don’t think he ever made resolutions at New Years, he did resolve to do things, and once he did, that resolve never faltered.
When I was growing up, it used to bother me a lot that my parents smoked. They were part of a generation that grew up in the 30’s and 40’s, learning to smoke before cigarettes got wimped down with things like low tar and filters. Dad smoked Camel non-filters – 2 or 3 packs a day of ‘em.
When I was about 12, the press and scientific community had been talking for years about the fact that cigarettes were deadly. Of course, big business had a lot to lose if people accepted the truth of these scientific and medical findings. Big Tobacco would obviously lose sales, Big Media would lose millions in advertising revenue, and I’m sure there were other potential corporate losers as well. Of course, these big-money interests did all they could to paint the science as hogwash, and look for ways to discredit those who dared to challenge them.
While virtually everyone today understands that tobacco kills, back then the big corporate interests were very successful in creating uncertainty and confusion. Very similar to where we are with global warming today. Though back in the 60’s, the press wasn’t as overtly supportive of corporate interests – back then they seemed to believe they needed to maintain a veneer of objectivity.
As a 12 year-old, I suppose I fell into that radical fringe who believed the science, and believed that tobacco was deadly. I’m not sure where my dad fell on that matter, but I know he kept smoking.
Then one day when I was bugging him about how bad they were for him. He turned to me and said, “It really bothers you that I smoke, doesn’t it?”
“Yes”, I replied, “it does”.
“OK then”, he said as he pulled the pack of Camels out of his shirt pocket, “I’ll stop smoking”. With that, he tossed the half-empty pack on the desk, and walked away.
For years, that pack lay on the desk where he tossed it. He never picked it up, and he never smoked again.
Dad’s display of willpower in the face of nicotine addiction was powerful and spectacular. The display helped him live a longer and a better life. I’m sure he suffered withdrawal symptoms, though he suffered those in silence, not willing to show the tiniest weakness in the face of his open and willful defiance of the addiction.
I also have little doubt that there was more to his action than a simple display of willpower. He wasn’t a man who was good at languages of love and affection. He recognized my concern for him as a statement of affection and love, and the only way he knew to respond in kind was to throw that pack on the desk, look me in the eye, and tell me he wouldn’t smoke again.
Nearly every quality we’re made of can be used for both good and ill. Dad took the willfulness within himself that people around him could find maddening and frustrating, and used it to display love and affection. While I won’t call it a New Year’s resolution, I think I’ll look for ways to follow that example in the upcoming year…