My father was one of these smokers who lost his life in middle age. I would like to tell his story with the hope and wish that it may help other families with members who still smoke. My father was born in the Bronx, New York, into an orthodox Jewish family in 1921. His father owned a candy store, and his mother died when he was 2 years old. He was nicknamed "Witch" as a kid because he wore high black socks that made him look like a witch when he played stickball in the street. The nickname stuck for life.
He was a good student, studying while working at the candy store and other jobs like selling pennants at baseball games. He attended the City College of New York, which was then affectionately called the "Harvard of the proletariat." He played college basketball in the days of Red Holzman. He loved the great discussions that took place in the famous City College cafeteria. He wanted to study journalism, but his father insisted he become an accountant instead.
Although he earned his living as an accountant, my father's true avocation and love was music. Listening to music was an almost sacred activity in my house, and we were strictly forbidden to touch my father's Bogen amplifier and record player. When he listened to the great composers at home or at a concert, it was with a reverence usually reserved for a house of God.
When I was young, my father would write songs while commuting on the train to work, and then sing them to us when he got home. He was always bringing over pianists to write down the notes and words on lead sheets so he could get them copyrighted. Living in the heyday of great Broadway musicals, he dreamed of someday having an opening night himself for one of the musicals he created.
Another thing about my father—he smoked like a chimney. You name it: cigars, pipes and, of course, tons of cigarettes. He smoked day and night. When he was 45, he developed heart trouble and had to give up his beloved backyard and move closer to his work in New York City. One night we were all watching Johnny Carson on late-night TV, and my father had a stroke. It seemed like an eternity for the ambulance to arrive. He quit smoking, but his heart was severely damaged. The doctors considered recommending a heart transplant with pioneering South African surgeon Dr. Christiaan Bernard, but it was too late.
Just as he had written many songs about his beliefs and feelings about life, my father wrote a song, called "Away I Go," about his death.
Away I go into thin air I now have no-one to share
Away I go into thin air as if I really don't care
I never bothered to say good-bye, I found it much too hard to try
Away I go, how could you know, that I still love you so?
— Murray Seidman (1921-1968)
Has smoking robbed you of time with a loved one? Or are you finally ready to quit? Share your story in the comments area.
Dr. Daniel Seidman is a clinical psychologist and director of the smoking cessation service at Columbia University Medical Center. He is the author of Smoke-Free in 30 Days: The Pain-Free, Permanent Way to Quit—which has a foreword by Dr. Oz. For more details about the book, visit DanielFSeidman.com.
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