Get rid of baggage on Jan. 1

Published 9:09 pm Monday, December 28, 2015

My father never vowed to stop smoking — and I had long since given up expecting, asking or even hoping he would.

That was a childhood pipedream, a question that all of his three daughters — as children and teenagers — occasionally hurled his way.

Give or take a few, he was a steady pack-a-day Winston Lights man for all of my life. I had no reason to believe that would change.

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Even with tobacco-related medical problems that have cropped up over the last few years, I didn’t think he would heed doctors’ orders to quit smoking. He grew up in northeastern North Carolina, where tobacco once was as popular as sweet tea. He lived two blocks from a tobacco auction house, had his first smoke at age 12 and had two brothers who spent their careers selling cigarettes for a major tobacco company. Cigarettes have always been a part of his life.

The idea that he would drop a lifelong habit — especially one as addictive as nicotine — after 60 years didn’t seem too likely.

I was wrong — and I would love to shout that from the top of the Phillip Morris’ smokestacks towering over Interstate 95, outside of Richmond.

He never told me was quitting. He refused all offers for smoking-cessation patches and pills. Last Jan. 3, on what would have been his mother’s birthday, he just stopped.

When I walked into his house the next afternoon, I noticed the air was a little less heavy, less stale than usual. As we drove back to Virginia, I noticed that he didn’t crack the window once to smoke a cigarette. Finally, I asked — and got the answer I’d wanted since childhood: “Yesterday, I decided to quit.”

That moment is etched in the stone of my mind. It was something I wanted for him — and from him — all my life. I don’t recall ever feeling as proud of him as I did in that instant.

And once he made the decision, he stood by it — even as he’s had to adjust to other major life changes over the past year.

For months, he kept a single cigarette in his truck and the remainder of another pack on a kitchen shelf.

As a reminder or for an emergency, he said. He’s finally tossed those stale cancer sticks in the trash.

His experience has taught me several important lessons.

We all have our own baggage to tote through life and we will carry it — or not — when we are good and ready. This was a decision that he alone had to make — without nagging from his kids. I’m sure there were times he would have happily muzzled us.

As Jan. 1 rolls over on the calendar, we are all making resolutions to get skinny, hit the gym, eat more healthily or to quit smoking (or whatever your bad habit of choice may be).

Go ahead and start the year with good intentions. Set goals. Believe in yourself.

Most importantly, be realistic. At some point, you likely will fail.

But realize that consuming a bagel, birthday cake, a candy bar, burger and a couple of beers on Feb. 13 will not be the end of the world. View every day as a fresh, new start. Pick yourself up and start moving forward again. The impossible is possible — with persistence.

That’s probably one of the most valuable lessons — one I have to remind myself of daily — that I’ve learned by watching Dad.