By Robert “The Reverend Hurricane” Meyn
Teach your children well,
Their father’s hell did slowly go by,
And feed them on your dreams
The one they picked, the one you’ll know by.
Don’t you ever ask them why, if they told you, you would cry,
So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.
– Crosby, Stills & Nash (“Teach Your Children”)
My kids have always been very inquisitive, especially my oldest twin boys who are almost 13 years old. As luck would have it, their science class is doing a block on “Healthy Living” with a heavy emphasis on diet, exercise, and the ills of smoking and drinking. Consequently, I got the following question the other day from them: “Dad, why do you smoke cigars if you know smoking is going to kill you?” While I would never be presumptuous enough tell any parent what they should tell their kids, I thought I would share my answer with my fellow cigar smokers, just for perspective, in case you run into a similar situation.
First, I acknowledged their awareness and concern for their parent’s health. Their question came from love, not from trying to be critical of a behavior. Rather than taking the “Well, I’m an adult and can do what I want” approach, I validated their question by telling them I asked my father (still alive and smoking cigarettes at 72 years old), the same question when I was younger, too. I have always been a very straight shooter with my children, never hiding from them the fact that I smoke cigars (or drink alcohol for that matter). I have never frequently smoked cigars in front of them because, for me, cigar time is adult time to be shared with other consenting adults in an appropriate setting which, in my philosophy, typically doesn’t include children being present. I do not smoke all that frequently – maybe one or two cigars a week, holidays or special occasions excluded – and when I do smoke, I tend to do enjoy cigars after the kids have gone to bed or away from home.
In speaking with my kids, I took a very matter-of-fact approach, meaning, I didn’t try to justify my behavior or invalidate their question. In fact, my kids are correct; smoking cigars is not the healthiest practice, and smoking cigars does come with some health risks with which we are all familiar. I related to them that I understood their concern for my health but also that I am an adult, smoke in moderation, and have other healthier habits, like eating as intelligently as possible and exercising regularly. Cigar smoking, I explained to them, is just a small part of what I do for enjoyment and relaxation. As someone who works in the Healthcare system, I fully understand the risks of smoking cigars.
I made it very clear that with smoking, as with drinking alcohol, there are certain lines of judgment that are unacceptable. Smoking or drinking to excess is not advisable and can be dangerous. I relayed to them that I never drink and drive, nor do I smoke cigars in places where it might offend others. I am respectful of those around me and I expect the same of them. I also relayed that I would respect their decisions on these habits when they are adults as long as they don’t practice either smoking cigars or drinking to excess.
The approach I chose worked well for me even though my kids still disagreed with my choice to smoke cigars. However, we both respected each other’s opinion. Neither my sons nor I felt like we were arguing “right versus wrong.” Rather, we discussed choices and respect for others. In the end, we all felt closer to each other because we built understanding, dialogue and respect. And for me, that’s what parenting is all about.