“Ha ha ha. Look at us, daddy.”
We’ve finished dinner and the kids have been entertaining themselves over at the coffee table with paper and scissors for the past five or ten minutes. As there have been no stabbing incidents so far, I’m sneaking in some television news, hoping to catch some Panama Papers schadenfraude.
“Look at us, daddy! Look!”
I glance over and the image that greets me freezes my heart in shame-drenched horror.
My children, aged five and six, are kneeling next to the table with hand-rolled tubes of paper held to their grinning mouths.
“These are our cigarettes!”
“We’re smoking, daddy!”
This is all my fault. Back when I first became a dad, once I realised that my original promise to give up smoking altogether was doomed, I made another promise to at least not smoke in front of the kids. I was already down to three or four a day, so how hard could it be?
Only there are social occasions with some other parent who smokes to factor in. Plus my willpower. My will couldn’t punch its way out of a paper bag. Not even if it was pumped on Red Bull and really, really cross. A strong breeze would knock it over. That’s my willpower.
I’m still on three or four a day, but a couple of those a week might be in front of the kids. This, I understand, makes me an awful human-being and father.
Don’t do what I do, do what I say, my mum used to tell my sister and me. She was a twenty a day woman all her adult life, which was, of course, too short.
Let’s be clear - I’m not strutting down the high street pushing the pair of them in a stroller, fag in the corner of my mouth, dropping ash onto their heads. In my moments of weakness I at least shuffle off to the corner of the driveway by the carport for a furtive puff, which will be tangy with the flavours of guilt, self-loathing and failure.
If either child approaches, I shoo them away.
‘Don’t come too close. Daddy’s smoking a nasty, horrible cigarette.”
“Because I’m silly.”
Don’t do what I do, do what I say, my mum used to tell my sister and me. She was a twenty a day woman all her adult life, which was, of course, too short. We hated her smoking, but both ended up as smokers.
It’s long been known that kids of parents who smoke are more likely to follow suit, but a study out of Washington a couple of years ago also indicated that the longer those kids are exposed to the smoking, the greater that likelihood grows.
Surely this must be the incentive I need to quit the filthy weed? Now, while they’re still young enough not to have been too damaged by my shoddy role-modelling?
“Put those down,” I tell the children. “Smoking is not something that’s fun. It’s a terrible thing. It’s like... It’s like a disease.”
“Does it make you vomit?” inquires the boy, who has been obsessed with vomit since a colourful incident involving a spoiled persimmon back when he was three.
I seize my chance.
“It can do. It can make you very, very sick, and you must never, ever do it, okay?”
Don’t do what I do, do what I say.
I’ve been wanting to stop for about half of the quarter-century I’ve spent smoking. I tried patches, started one sanctimonious, life-changing book on a few occasions, only to sling the thing away in annoyance and reach for my lighter, three chapters in every time. I even stopped for a month or two a couple of times some years back, but there was always some emotional trigger, some lapse in defences, one too many glasses of wine or a particular song coming on the radio that would nudge me off the wagon.
My will. Not what you’d call robust.
My partner gave up badgering me about it a while ago, but still drops the occasional hint about how she feels.
“I hate you smoking. I want you to stop.” Little things like that.
Just the other night, we’d been watching some TV drama with a cig-sucking anti-hero, and as the end credits rolled I got up out of bed to put on my bathrobe.
I don’t even enjoy the things these days. With every drag I can feel my lungs shrivelling, life expectancy being whittled away, minute by precious minute.
“I’m just popping outside for a minute,” I muttered, sheepishly. She threw me that headmistress look that always sends me weak at the knees.
“You,” she proclaimed, “are SO suggestible.”
“Surely you mean suggestive,” I replied, waggling eyebrows Groucho Marks-style.
She just looked back at the screen with an expression of disdain that quite doused my ardour.
Outside, even the moon seemed to look down on me in long-suffering disappointment as I lit up.
I don’t even enjoy the things these days. With every drag I can feel my lungs shrivelling, life expectancy being whittled away, minute by precious minute. These little grief-sticks I suck on. Stupidity-sticks. And about to get even more insanely expensive.
That image of our children play-smoking, that’s going to stay with me. Like the image they have of me puffing away down by the carport will stay with them.
When I started writing this, I was out of smokes and had to head out for a pack, just to get in the mood, you know. I’ve been telling myself this one is THE pack, the last one I’ll ever buy, containing the last I’ll ever smoke.
I think I might mean it this time.