My father is a smoker, a heavy smoker; 2 packs a day for 45 years heavy. Everywhere he went. Cigarette in mouth. Pack in shirt chest pocket and lighter in left front pants pocket. Everywhere, work, the car, the house, my soccer games, Immediately after leaving the doctors exam room lighting up on his way out of the office after they told him he needed to stop, whenever my mom could wrestle him, kicking and screaming, and smoking, into a church, during Mother’s Day dinner especially on his birthday and around family. Though, he always told me “never start.” And “it sucks the life out of a person.” Well, I don’t know if it was the smoking that sucked the life out of him, or if it was with us, me and my mom. We tried to get him to stop many times but he never listened. He never seemed interested in what was going on with us.
He’s a man of the sea. At least that’s where He seemed happiest. Whenever we’d go on our “family” vacations to the beach he would wake up at 4 Am and go fishing and swimming and surfing and he would be back around 9 before we were up. I always thought that this was his way of communing with nature. Sampling the oceans bounty and letting himself be consumed in it and it would let him caress its cheek on his surf board. To me, it seemed he loved the ocean more than he loved my mom and me.
One year we had a beachfront house for a week. One morning I stayed up all night watching TV and playing Gameboy. 4 AM came and he was up, out of the house by 4:15. I watched him. I watched his headlamp light up and travel down to the beach where he sat for a few moments rigging his tackle and waxing his board. And as the dawn began to creep over the horizon he his head light went out and his line was cast. I watched from the balcony. That morning I saw my father do something I’d never seen him do before. That is, go more than 10 minutes without a cigarette. In fact he went the whole 5 hours, 4-9 AM, without lighting one. He didn’t catch any fish, or very many waves. But I caught something. He smoked because of my mom and me. This was how he lived, surfing and fishing. He lived deliberately until he met my mother. And when I came into the picture I don’t think he couldn’t find it in himself to leave. Guess I was the fish he couldn’t throw back. I don’t know.
He reeled in his line for the last time and met me at the top of the steps. He greeted me with a smile and a pat on the back and took me in and made pancakes. I’ve never been so hurt by seeing my father happy. He wasn’t smiling because of me. After he set pancakes down on the table for me and him with butter and syrup and orange juice and bacon. He did something I’ll never forget. He reached into his pocket. And lit an other cigarette.