Superman told me I had to fight against Nick o’Tine. I was 11 and my teacher reminded us all of us how harmful smoking was and we needed to join the campaign against smoking. We had stories, stickers and activities and I was convinced. My father was a victim and I would simply have to take the temptation of that vile packet of cigarettes away from him. My father was helpless — I had to help him. That was what I was brainwashed to chant to myself. Positive brainwashing — positive health habits and positive community building; all good but still brainwashing.
The culture in my household was a top down one. My father barked and we all jumped. His voice and his beliefs were the like the Ten Commandments. We had a Catholic altar in our home. Dad, sweet gentle mommy and my beloved elder brother would bow before a sacred image of Jesus; a small statue of Mother Mary and some water blessed by our parish priest. However our version of “Honor your father and mother” was a twisted version of the spirit of the original. This father unlike our Father who art in Heaven; would send his little innocent daughter to the grocery shop at the ground floor of our block of apartments to buy his daily dose of smokes and beer. Laws were lax then; no one thought in the ‘70s that I was really under-aged drinking or smoking. The neighbours had seen my father enough to know who was the one who needed those necessities. So I would be acquainted with brands of smokes and beer bottles way too early in life. I resented it as I grew older. Clearly feeling the conflict between my growing values and the buying of the poisons that my father chose to feed his body and soul with.
So at that not too tender age of 11, I was standing beside the toilet bowl with a few sticks of cigarettes I had taken from the pack I just brought back from the store. Behind the closed doors, I was about to throw them in the bowl and flush them away from my father and my family forever. Naive enough to believe that that act would change the world. I was positive brainwashed and still believed then I was an agent of change. That I could change the world — starting with my addicted father. I felt strong. I felt righteous. I felt hopeful for a whole new world.
I did flush the cigarettes. I did tell my father. I was barely spared the cane. I had broken Commandment №1. I survived the wrath of the god in my house. But I did see a tenderness in my father’s eyes. He was not an unreasonable man. He did have an angel inside; who spoke to his heart. There also was a tinge of sadnesss. He would never want me to smoke and would hit me if I ever did. However he could not practice what he preached. He would continue smoking till lung cancer took him. I lived with the pain of the dream life and family I saw for myself as a child and the reality of a father who was so hell-bent on suffering internally that he was killing himself slowly each day. So full of self-hate that he wanted to remove himself bit by bit with addictions ranging from gambling, drinking and smoking. He only stopped at the vice of womanizing; which was the vice of some of his brothers.
My teacher loved my story about I fought against Nick O’tine. I won the award for the campaign. A life of bitter sweet truths began as I told the world repeatedly time and again what they wanted to hear while living the hidden life of fear and pain and helplessness as I watched my father slowly drink himself to a poor liver and smoked himself to his early death in his 60s. We would dress up for church on Sundays; Sunday best not for God but for ensuring no one knew we were living from pay check to pay check and no one would look down on us. My father would have die of humiliation if any one knew. So I continued parading the entire gold jewellry collection and nice dresses bought by my wealthy aunt. Twisted inside.
It is not ironic that I became a teacher — who positively brainwashed a new generation of innocents. However like most teachers who did come from at-risk homes, I was more aware and spotted the others like me. The ones who seemed stoic, conscientious, helpful and so positive but whose eyes were dark at times. My teaching was never dogmatic. Yet I knew I was touting truths that were too difficult to be put into practice.
My father was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer when I was 28. I watched him degenerate physically over the 9 months. It was the hardest period for me. My heart softened as I mopped his urine from the floor. His eyes were sad now. A different sad. He knew it was a lost cause as he threw his tempers and refused to take his medications. I fought him as my mother was fatigued — emotionally and physically from care-giving and years of verbal abuse. This time, I was less innocent. I was more empowered. I was also very prepared. Years of watching him drink and smoke himself to this eventual end. I was ready. It didn’t mean I was fully prepared. I was just expecting and building emotional resilience beyond my years.
He died. I was at his bedside as he gasped for air as his lungs filled with fluid. As would happen with lung cancer.
I grew old that year. I was older than my peers and some of my friends or families born before me.
(incomplete) — comments? How to end? I am practicing writing my biography during these covid times. Thank you.