Growing up, my father smoked. Everywhere. In the house. In the car. In the bathroom. I hated the smell of cigarette smoke, and I hated the smell of stale cigarette smoke. The smell that says, “I’m not smoking in here right now, but I left you a reminder that I was.”
In a positive light, it’s like catching the scent of someone’s cologne as they pass you by. It hits when they are far enough away that it would be awkward to comment, but you notice and maybe even smile.
In a negative light, it’s like dropping a silent-but-deadly fart and vacating the premises before the smell hits everyone else’s nostrils.
My association and response to all smells of cigarette smoke land firmly in the negative category.
When I was a kid, I didn’t have a say about where my dad could and couldn’t smoke. But when I turned sixteen and had a car of my own, it was my space. I made the rules. It was a smoke-free zone, and I made sure everyone knew it. Including my father.
Let’s be clear that my first car was a 1977 light blue Toyota Corolla hand-me-down that I didn’t buy. I did pay for the gas though. The car had previously been my dad’s. He paid for it. And maintained it. And let me drive it.
My senior year of high school, I headed out the door for work one weekend afternoon. As I shut the door to my car, I was hit in the face with that stale cigarette smell.
There was no question who was to blame.
I flung myself out of my car, stomped across the driveway, through the front door which I slammed behind me, and targeted my father.
“I told you not to smoke in my car! It smells awful in there. Now, everything is going to smell like smoke!”
I don’t know how far I actually got into disciplining my father because out of nowhere came my mother.
“You shut your mouth. That is NOT how you talk to your father. If it weren’t for him, you wouldn’t have that car in the first place. You will NOT disrespect him that way.”
I was scared speechless. Where had she even come from? She was guns-a-blazin’.
I tucked my tail and got out of there. Rolled the car windows down to air it out, so I could breathe.
The irony is that my mother hated that my dad smoked. She hated the stale smell as much as I did. In the car. On her clothes. In her hair. Everywhere.
But, in that moment, that didn’t matter.
You respect your father.
She came at me full-force, defending my father.
And for that, I respect my mother.