“…That I may grow old by your side”

Pete was a chain-smoker. It was not something he was proud of and he had tried to quit the undesirable habit for years on end without success. Pete started smoking as a teenager, way before he met his wife, Marie. His father smoked and though he was well aware of the negative effects of tobacco, he still bowed in to pressure from his peers to take his first puff. His friends knew that his father was a smoker so they urged him on… giving him the ‘like father like son’ idea and making him believe it wouldn’t harm much if his father was fine. He had several puffs after that and though he never discussed it with his father, he knew it was not something to boast about. Pete’s father knew about the effects of second hand smoking so he hardly ever smoked in the presence of his family. He also hoped to keep his boys from taking up the undesirable habit but he later learned that he’d not been too successful on this one; at least not with Pete.

Learning how hooked Pete was deeply hurt his father. He felt that he was to blame; that maybe he hadn’t taught him good decision making. He obviously would’ve wanted Pete to quit smoking but he wasn’t sure how to approach such a discussion with Pete especially since he too had smoked for most of his life. Deep down though, he hoped that Pete would desire to quit before it was too late. See, when kids are of age, we can only hope that we taught them enough lessons regarding decision making. We cannot really force them to choose what we think or know is right. Good decision making is like a seed we plant in their hearts; they watch us make decisions and our actions tend to be the pointers for quality decisions.

Pete’s father had made a good name for himself and was considered successful and it was only natural for Pete to want to be like him. Whilst battling with peer pressure and in the process of living up to his father’s nature, he took up his habits, the most destructive one being smoking. When he separated from his friends and became his own man, he realized how hooked he was to tobacco and regretted taking that first puff. There was not a day of his life that he didn’t want to stop. For a long time though, all he did was hope that every puff he took would strengthen his desire to quit and get him closer to abstinence. He tried quitting a few times but the closest he got was smoking twice a day. And in celebration of that fete, he found himself smoking thrice as much. The hassles of life did not make it any easier for him.

Pete met Marie during one of those periods he was battling to quit. He was smoking a lot less and Marie didn’t get to know about the habit until she visited his house and saw the ashtray. Marie had a great dislike for smokers and she’d always hoped that a smoker’s proposal was the last thing she’d have to battle with. Now fate is known to bring to our plate the things we loath and seemingly Marie was not spared. For a moment she hoped that the ashtray was for his guy friends who smoked, or a former roommate… or someone; anything to get Pete out of the question but she wasn’t lucky on this one. Pete, on the other hand, didn’t know about her loathing until she asked, but at least he took pride in the fact that he was on the path to quitting. Thankfully, that small fact was consoling to Marie; it gave her reason to stay.

Ten years and two children later and Pete was yet to quit smoking. He obviously smoked a lot less than he did on his single days but he still had not quit. Marie couldn’t quite comprehend how she had been able to live with him this long, considering she loathed smokers but well, she figured she had faults of her own that he’d learned to live with. In any case, he rarely smoked in the presence of his family, just like his father, so Marie didn’t have to deal with a smoke filled house or car. So careful had he been that their little girls Abby and Noreen had never seen him smoke. There was therefore no cause for alarm until Pete overheard her youngest daughter get mocked at play because of his habit. Noreen was playing mother of her doll and a young boy slightly older than her playing father. Noreen saw her husband smoke and she asked him to stop since the Sunday school teacher had said smoking was a bad habit. The boy was relentless, saying that he’d seen Noreen’s father smoke at the sports club or on visits to his family, and justifying that his father smoked anyway. The rest of the kids who were playing other families and friends affirmed the boys claim. Noreen who loved her dad dearly even at her tender age defended her father to tears. When she couldn’t take it anymore, she took her doll and ran up to her room amidst tears. She was not seen playing with that group again.

Later that evening, as Marie was reading Noreen a bed time story, she stopped midway on noticing that Noreen seemed distracted. She was troubled and when Marie persistently asked what the problem was, she innocently asked in her slightly fluent English: “Mommy, does daddy smoke?”

Marie was caught off guard. She sought to hear Noreen’s side of the story after which she promised to discuss it the following day.

***

Though Pete and Marie had bought their house mainly because of its lovely terrace, they hardly spent time on it. There was a conflict of interests; Marie had hoped to get to read her books on the terrace in the evenings after putting the kids to sleep while Pete hoped he’d get to have a puff in the evenings before bed. Marie sacrificed; she resorted to giving up on the beautiful starry skies since the terrace always had smoke wafting through the air during such times and she avoided it altogether. However, on this night she would bear the discomfort and speak to Pete about his smoking. She wanted to have an appropriate answer for Noreen. Carrying two glasses of sparkling water with her, she walked through the hallway that opened out to the terrace hoping the conversation would give her an answer.

“Pete?”

“Yes, dear?” Pete responded as he turned to look in her direction. He looked her in the eye as she handed him his water.  He always did that when she called him Pete. She didn’t use  the name too often, only on special instances, though she called him ‘Baba watoto’ once in a while when she wanted to make fun of him. He loved how she said it, how the short name softly played on her tongue. It was one of those things that had ascertained she was ‘The one’ and when she used it, it brought all the happy memories that comprised their journey of love. There was no one who pronounced it like she did; so uniquely articulate … in such an endearing manner. Many of his friends could not comprehend his obsession with her pronunciation and they’d resignedly conclude that he just loved her too much.

There was something different about the terrace on this particular night. It was inviting, the air was fresh and though Marie had not been to the terrace in a while, she felt it was neater than she knew it to be. The furniture was different and for a moment she felt like a stranger. But first things first; she would ask about that later.

“So Noreen asked me about your smoking and I wasn’t sure what to tell her,” she started.

“Yeah, I had a feeling she would. Did she tell you what happened at play today?”He inquired, while adding that Abby had also had a fight with kids at school on the same. A long period of uncomfortable silence followed. Marie decided to change the topic and ask about the furniture, hoping that Pete would take cue and quit on his own. She had urged him to for more than ten years and she didn’t feel that any further asking would make a difference. Tonight’s goal was to let him know that the kids were getting affected and clearly he was ahead of the game on that one.

“I saw Noreen argue with her friends earlier in the day and when Abby’s teacher called, I knew I had to do something about it. So I drove to a counselor in the afternoon and enrolled in a program to help me quit.”

“Like rehab?”

“Yeah, sort of.” He responded, and then continued to explain the furniture. “Then I wanted to make this terrace more hospitable so I ordered a new set of furniture while you were away and the nanny helped to tidy up. Maybe we can host a friends dinner here over the weekend like you’ve always wanted.”

That was the best news she’d heard in years and even the foetus in her womb made its first kicks. They were expecting their third child, a boy in a few months time. She was overjoyed and smiled at the look of determination in his eyes. It assured her that he was serious this time. She could tell from the sparkle in his eyes that he was equally excited about making this change.

“It’s the right thing to do in this instance, especially now that we’re expecting a son. I know it won’t be easy but I will do it for our health, for the kids and for our unborn child. But most of all, I will do it because I love you and I want to live long enough to watch the kids grow and to grow old by your side. Majaliwa” 🙂

***

 So I Google-d up the effects of paternal smoking (we all know about maternal effects) before conception, during pregnancy and after birth and the results were worrying. I almost didn’t develop Pete’s character as that of a smoker but oh well, someone had to tell his story.  A certain article talked of increased risks of cancers and though less cases of smoking may not necessarily reduce cases of cancer, it will at least reduce the effects of second-hand smoke. We all get to be in a smoker’s environment sometimes more than once a week so we’re all at risk of respiratory and other diseases.  I may not be in a position to justify the article’s claims, but I think we’ve lost far too many lives to cancer in the recent past and any effort to prevent such deaths should be welcome.

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11 thoughts on ““…That I may grow old by your side”

  1. Oyy..! I had to add “This post is sponsored by NACADA in partnership with the WHO” It all makes sense now.
    Whoever inspired this, it’s only fair that they get an equally powerful verbal lecture on the topic, otherwise this may have less impact than it actually deserves.
    Hii ni UZITO!

    Like

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