I’ll start at the end. My father will celebrate his 88th birthday two weeks from today. He is healthy and still living in the house where I grew up.
I’m not sure when he started to smoke, but a lot of his stories about Pearl Harbor (he was there, at Scofield Barracks, during the attack) and the rest of World War II involve wanting cigarettes, finding cigarettes, trading cigarettes, and smoking cigarettes. I remember him as a regular smoker when I was a kid. Mom was not and apparently had only smoked briefly as a young adult.
I don’t remember him ever trying to quit, or talking about quitting, or Mom bugging him about quitting, which I find hard to believe, but that’s how I remember it.
In August, 1962, my sisters were born, twins, offspring numbers five and six. Of the four boys, the oldest (me) was about to turn 11, on the threshold of tobacco susceptibility. One day that fall, I don’t remember when exactly, all of the ashtrays disappeared, even the huge glass one that sat on its own metal pedestal next to the chair where Dad read the newspaper while we watched television. The carton of Larks (or whatever he was smoking by then) was gone from the second drawer of the desk that stood on the other side of Dad’s chair. The ashtrays in the cars were washed out. I never saw him light another cigarette.
The explanation was that with the new baby girls and his boys almost adolescents, he couldn’t very well tell us not to smoke if he was doing it. If he expected us to have the willpower to resist starting, he had to set the example by quitting. There were no pills or gums or anything like that back then. It was straight cold turkey, all will power. I think that was part of the intended example. One day he was smoking, the next day he wasn’t, and not much was said about it thereafter.
Many years later, he confessed that he fell off the wagon a couple of times when, he said, things got particularly intense around the office, but it was always a one-time thing. He never became a secret smoker like my uncle who died of lung cancer in 2004 at the age of 61.
Of my father's six kids only one (not me) took up the habit. He quit a couple of years ago.