Friday, August 19, 2011

One of a Kind

One thing about my dad that even many people who knew him well don’t know is that he was a regular cigarette smoker in the early 1970’s.  Maybe it was a habit leftover from his college days or from his time in the Air Force; I’m not sure.  What I do know is that when I was five years old, I regularly hid packs of Dad’s cigarettes in the couch cushions so that he couldn’t find them, which infuriated him.   I remember laughing to myself as he stormed around the house looking for them.   The Surgeon General had declared that cigarette smoking was dangerous to one’s health by that time, but I don’t think most people had an understanding of what the risks were and so they weren’t motivated to quit.  I, of course, didn’t comprehend the health risks at the time; I hid the cigarettes from him because I hated the smell of smoke.  I remember reading the warning on the packaging and thinking that when Dad looked in the drawer for his cigarettes after supper that night and couldn’t find them because I’d hidden them again, the person’s health that was in danger was mine!

Dad was running at the time too, and I’m guessing it was the effects of smoking on his running performance more than my protest via sabotage that spurred him to kick the habit.  Like many trying-to-quit smokers, Dad went from one habit to another during his cessation effort; he traded in his cigarettes for gum and candy.
After awhile, his dentist told him he had to quit that, too; I think at one point he ended up with several cavities at once from all the sugar-laden stuff he was eating, and I know on more than one occasion he cracked a tooth from biting down on hard candy. 

So Dad gave up gum and candy.  Like many competitive athletes, he kept close tabs on his weight; he said that he didn’t want to gain weight because it would mean carrying extra pounds on his run, which would slow him down.  So he took up something new:  chewing tape.   He preferred scotch tape, but he was really an equal-opportunity tape chewer. 

In my profession, I have learned that research shows that crunching and chewing can release a chemical in the brain that helps people stay calm and focused, like chewing fingernails when a person is nervous.  My theory is that, besides wanting to keep his hands out of the cookie jar to keep himself in good shape for running, Dad kept his concentration on the task at hand by chewing things.  He and I used to talk about how he was the Original A.D.D. Guy, and I think the cigarettes – gum/candy – tape helped to keep him centered.

Visiting Dad at his office
 He chewed tape from time to time over a course of many years.  One thing about Dad that we heard for the first time while he was sick was about this very habit.  As the story goes, the employees in Dad’s office noticed that they often ran out of scotch tape.  They couldn’t figure out why they were having to re-order tape so often.  One night, a couple of the staff members stayed late to measure the height of the roll of the tape in everyone’s tape dispensers.  When they re-measured at the end of the next business day, Dad was identified as the culprit.  They asked him what he did with all that tape in such a short period of time, and he replied, “I chew it,” as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.  Luckily, he was the boss and everyone there was used to his quirkiness, and so the other employees just chalked it up to yet another endearing part of his unique , one-of-a-kind personality.

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