Not just blowing smoke |

Not just blowing smoke

There’s a certain amount of pride that rises within when our T-baller blasts a line shot deep to center field, when our tennis prodigy thwocks a backhand screamer across the net or when our little pool shark splashes down a dive that would have anyone on hand awarding a perfect score.

But it’s the toothy grins that breaks wide open across our children’s faces – ones to do little with pride, but a lot with fun – that we really should be celebrating.

As sports fans, and parents, we certainly get a kick out of our kids playing the game, of whichever sort their hearts so desire. But it’s really the joy we see them sharing with friends, teammates and – of course – Mom and Dad afterwards, that should be cherished.

It’s the little things, really.

That’s something I suppose I always knew, but didn’t pay much attention to – until just more than a year ago.

When I got the wakeup call.

I remember that morning so vividly. Rolling over on a hospital hide-a-bed, I opened my eyes to the realization that our newborn daughter was just feet away, resting so preciously between her Mama and Papa.

Leaning over the clear-plastic crib, I studied her chubby little face. Looking over to Mama, who was at that point emphatically pressing a finger to her lips, I couldn’t help but bust out a smile realizing just how lucky a man I am.

And then came the call.

It was my big brother, back in Indiana, calling from his cell phone to deliver news that turned my perfect little world upside down in matter of seconds:

“Dad had a heart attack.”

I remember those words seemed to be the cruelest of twists that could have been thrown our way that day, nearly 12 hours after my daughter was brought into this world my father was on the verge of leaving it.

And, being some 2,000 miles away here in Nevada County, there wasn’t anything I could do.

Except, of course, smoke.

That’s what I always did, whether having a cup of coffee in the morning, sharing some suds with friends in the evening and, especially, whenever stress – in any form – entered my life.

Tough night at work?

Frustrated with finances?

Got cigs?

A quick flick of the Bic, a long, deep drag and the weight of the world was blown from my shoulders into rings rising high above me – relieving whatever stressful situation at hand.

Or, so I thought.

As I stood out in the rain that morning, chain-smoking that stress away, I knew exactly what had dealt my Dad such a raw deal. After all, at 55 years old, he looks as healthy as they come, lean and strong, with only his graying hair giving away his age.

The truth, though, slapped me awake that morning.

Dad was not healthy and I didn’t need to wait until the doctors confirmed the cause of his attack.

Like father, like son, it was cigarettes.

Those hours between that first phone call and the next one we received, reporting that Dad was going to be OK, was an eternity. The emotional roller-coaster we were riding left Mama and I wondering whether Grandpa would ever get to meet our little girl.

Even as I considered that possibility, though, I was standing there puffing on the exact same poison that had put my own Papa in such a life-threatening predicament in the first place.

That’s when the moment of clarity came.

Twenty-some odd years from that very moment, I did not want to be taking a helicopter ride of my own to the hospital – one that threatened to take me away from my girls because I couldn’t sacrifice the smokes in favor of more moments with my family.

If you’re a smoker – or ever have been -you, though, know as well as I do that it’s just not so simple to stop.

I started smoking when I went off to college, bumming a square here or there from friends while playing cards, throwing darts or chasing the fairer sex at off-campus parties.

I was a social smoker, I insisted, never to be actually hooked.

Nearly 15 years later, I apparently had become quite the social butterfly, a not-so pretty one that found himself hacking and wheezing while socializing outside the entry ways of public buildings.

Yep, indeed, I was an addict.

Recognizing that fact wasn’t so much a revelation as it was accepting reality. But, admitting that to myself allowed me to move forward in order to make the change I so knew I needed.

Yep, one year later, I am still an addict – but one that now knows he can never have that next smoke, no matter how strong the craving for a cigarette may grow. Because, even if “I’ve been really good” about not smoking, I know the next cigarette will only lead to another, and another, and another.

And before I know it, I’ll have a full pack in hand.

I’ve been down this road many times before, but have never traveled quite so far without a pack of smokes in my pocket.

This time, I’m committed to staying the course.

I don’t write this to draw attention to myself, or ask for any “Atta boys” but instead to hopefully let others – like me – know that it can be done. It’s just not as easy as we’d like.

My doctor made that crystal clear when I paid him a visit in late March of 2004, just before we laid out a plan on how best to attack the addiction.

It was not only a physical dependency I had created, but also one of an emotional and social variety.

In short, Doc said I was about to go through a divorce, but it was one that my wife and I welcomed with open arms.

It was through the love and support my wife showed, along with the encouragement of friends and family, that got me to this one-year anniversary of my being smoke free.

But, make no mistake, the decision was mine.

It was a big decision, one that I hope and pray allows me to long continue enjoying the little things – and the little ones – that make our lives so very much worth living.

And, whether you believe it or not at this moment, it is one that you can make, too.


Brian Hamilton is sports editor at The Union. His column appears each Saturday. He may be reached via e-mail at or by phone at 477-4240.

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