By Dr. Zev Ballen
“I HATE CIGARETTES!”
That’s just about as subtle as I can be on the subject.
So of course, when my wife found a cigarette in our teenage son’s room, I felt justified in acting like an idiot.
I know the health statistics; he doesn’t.
I saw people die from smoking ; he didn’t.
I led private and corporate smoking cessation seminars ; he didn’t.
I was exposed to a western anti-smoking media blitz; he wasn’t.
So I planned a strategy that would be full proof; a zealous crusade to save my dear son. I didn’t know it yet, but my zealotry was nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to manipulate my son into being the person that I want him to be.
Starting before he left for Yeshiva in the morning (6:30am) and from the moment he returned at night (9:15pm), I began to bombard him with all of the mortality statistics, anti-smoking pictures and frightening stories that I could find. He literally got up and went to sleep with me in his face; ranting and raving about the evil habit and the peers who had influenced him to smoke in the first place.
To my utter amazement, he still wouldn’t stop.
I was incredulous… beyond rage. How ironic, that despite having worked with hundreds if not a thousand smokers, I was failing so miserably with my own son. I agonized further:
“Why didn’t he come to me…now he was hooked..…I thought we had a great relationship… why didn’t he let me help him.”
My mind raced: “if he’ll defy me to smoke, what else will he defy me to do?”
Lucky for him I’m not a single parent. My wife and I sat down. She said: “You know you’re going to have to back off. You’re only making things worse with your tirades. Zev, you know he’s a great kid. So he’s smoking a little.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. My blood pressure surged. “So he’s smoking a little?” I repeated back (raising the volume a bit).
“Look Zev. He is going to stop, but not because you demand him too. We’re in Israel now. It’s just a fact that he sees a lot of his friends smoking. As long as you stay angry at him you can forget about having any part in the solution. Do me a favor and from now on, just stay out of it. Leave it to me!”
I knew that she was right. I (the big smoking expert) was nothing but an impediment.
So I kept my mouth shut and he stopped the next day!
Shabbos came, and I started to calm down. But I was still uneasy about the way that I had behaved. I went outside to check-in with Hashem:
“Hashem, what happened here? It was so out-of-character for my son to smoke cigarettes. I must have done something to displease You. Please help me to see what’s going on. I know that You were telling me something, but the sound of my own will, once again drowned out Your message. I’m sorry. Show me, please, what I need to learn from this.”
I walked back home feeling better. Coming into the living room, I saw my son sitting on the couch. He’s 16.
Smiling warmly, he said “Tatti (father) can we talk?”
Humbled but relieved I said: “sure.”
“Did mommy tell you that I stopped smoking?”
“Yes, she did.”
“And do you know why I stopped Tatti (father).”
“No I don’t.”
“I didn’t want to smoke in the first place, but once I started, it was hard to stop. Half my class smokes. I only had two or three a day. I really did try to stop but I couldn’t.”
“That’s ok, I understand.”
“But if it’s so hard to stop smoking how can you be sure that you’re finished with them now?”
“Tatti (father), now that you’re not so angry, I’m sure I can stop, because I see how much it hurts you for me to smoke.”
“I’m sorry, for the way that I handled this too, son. I want you to know how much nachas (loving pride) I get from you. I thank Hashem every day for giving me a son like you.”
As time went by, I realized that my concern about what others thought about ME having a kid who smokes was at least equal to or greater than my concern about his health. It didn’t fit into my image of the Torah Scholar that I want my son to be or the type of shidduch (marriage) I hope for him to get.
I now see that my fears (which were unfounded) were also quite selfish. Perhaps all fears are selfish because they lead to a preoccupation with ME, ME, ME. It would be much better, next time, if I could focus, as my wife did, on my son’s needs and on serving Hashem.
Thank G-d I finally got the message.
Since my pride was my stumbling block, here, I hope that my writing about it openly will be pleasing to Hashem.
When I asked my son for his permission to print our story, he asked me:
“Tatti (father) will this help other father’s to treat their son’s better?”
“I sure hope it will, son.”