Talking To Your Children About What You Used To Do

The answer is “I never smoked; I had no idea what beer tasted like until my 21st birthday; and I lost my virginity to your mother on our wedding night.”

Yes, Alex, what are: Three Things I’d Like To Say To My Son But Can’t?

Well, seriously, whatcha gonna do about this, Mom and Dad?

I really do know a few parents who could say the above truthfully, but I know scores more who couldn’t. Are you interested in lying to your children? We’re not. I don’t think we have yet, except for Santa.

I’ll leave booze and sex for another time, but smoking is one of very few genuine regrets I have. Given that there are likely some relevant New Year’s resolutions floating around amongst Rocket City Moms and Dads, I’ll get into that a bit.

Growing up I had two parents and two stepparents who smoked cigarettes. I was saturated in it. It didn’t smell bad to me. It doesn’t now. I started smoking myself just before my 16th birthday, and best I can remember, it took me just about two weeks to have a pack-a-day habit. (Don’t do anything a little bit, Bo. Go hard or go home.)

(I should mention that in early 1987, hardly anyone carded. Also, I could walk in the Spur station at Slaughter and 72 with three dollars and walk out with a pack of Winstons, a 16 oz. Diet Mountain Dew, and a little bit of change. It used to be much, much easier for a high school kid to smoke.)


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Of course, young people are invincible, so I smoked with abandon. College students smoke a lot. So do bachelors with their first apartments. Then I got married, and it started getting clearer to me why it was a bad idea. This woman and I just declared our mutual, lifelong responsibility for each other. Guess I better try to hang around as long as I can.

Oh, and would you look at that? Now we have children. Now we have small, totally dependent people living at our house, and they exist because we chose for them to. Gee, I wonder if I can even express what my responsibility is to them?

Bo family final

I had actually quit for a year and a half well short of my 30th birthday. I started again the week my mother died. Thus began the cycle of two months on, three months off; one month on, two months off; three months on, five months off; etc. Actually I managed to be an active smoker concurrent with the births of both of our boys. Yay, me.

But they’ve never seen me with a cigarette. So how did it come up?

We’d have talked about smoking eventually—probably about now; Nate’s 12—in one of the many parental, here’s-how-it-works-at-our-house cautions you issue. You know, those “children, there are things you may see other people do that we don’t do” sorts of moments. As it happened, we talked about it a couple of years ago.

“Dad, what’s the biggest mistake you ever made?”


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I hesitated for a moment. Should I see if he’ll swallow that the biggest mistake of my life was staying home to study for a Russian midterm instead of going to see Queensryche on the Operation: mindcrime tour? Heh. No, better come clean.

“Son, I wish I’d never smoked cigarettes.”

(I’ll dispense with the quotation marks here, because I don’t really remember exact phrasing beyond what I’ve given.)

OK, look. Unless you’re one of those few I mentioned, you have to say “do what I say, not what I do” on some level.

So I took my son’s cheeks in my hands, looked into his eyes, and underscored the regret I feel. I really, deeply, viscerally hate it. I smoked 200,000 cigarettes in my life. A thousand cartons. Ten thousand packs.

Bo Not Your Dad finalI quit three years ago. Was that in time to recover my health? Gee willakers, who knows? That’s the magic of it! Wait and see, Bo! Yeah, that’s fun.


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Kids don’t fully get it, of course, just like they don’t understand just how dangerous the “simple” act of driving a car is. But I have his promise in hand that a cigarette will never go in his mouth. That’s the best I can do right now.

If you’re a Rocket City Mom or Dad who quit smoking for New Year’s, congratulations. Understand that of the things that are totally under your control, this is the hardest thing you’ll ever do in your whole life. Seriously. My hat is off to you.

I used to laugh at the construction “recovering alcoholic.” Sheesh, either you’ve quit or you haven’t. Commit!

But I get it now. Even when you’re doing well, the addiction monster is never as far away as you think or as you’d like. If you fall off, get back on. Terminate with extreme prejudice any guilt about your lapse you may feel. Yeah, you slipped, but you’re not slipping now. Day at a time. All addicts are recovering.

Heartfelt best wishes for all of your desired improvements. Stay after them.

Happy New Year.