I was 10 years old. That would put the year at 1985 or so. I was a pretty happy kid.. My parents weren’t alcoholics. There weren’t any instances of abuse. I was an only child and my mother couldn’t have been more protective of me. We were a family of modest means. My dad hopped around town working at a variety of radio stations doing everything from management to sales to on-air work. I’m laying this preface out because if the story I’m about to share is the most traumatic memory I had as a child, I realize how fortunate I was.
In the 80’s it was still extremely common for teens and adults to smoke. My father, who spent his early adulthood in the 60’s developed the habit from my Grandmother. I vividly remember visiting her in Skokie, Illinois, sitting at her kitchen table and watching her light up a cigarette from her pack of Lucky Strikes. The logo in etched in my mind: red circle, white package, “toasted.” As more and more research became public on the ill effects of smoking, my father, like many others, tried to quit. The addictive nature of smoking made this quite a challenge for him. He would get off cigarettes for some time, put on weight, and eventually cave.
It was around the time that I was in 4th Grade that I remember my mother cracking the whip. Cigarettes were expensive and damaging. Why on earth would her husband continue to harm himself and those closest to him? So he quit. For good. Or at least that is what he told us.
I was oblivious to my surroundings, but my mother had the sense that even though he had sworn the opposite, my father was smoking while he was at work, behind our backs. The signs were there: Yellow fingers, smelly clothes, and breath that smelled of a dirty ashtray. Well, a day came where she decided enough was enough. To make a point, and to maximize my father’s guilt for lying to us, she made me confront him.
When she explained to me what she believed was happening, I didn’t really understand what the big deal was. But, by the time she had dialed him at work and handed me the phone, I couldn’t even finish asking him if he was still smoking at work without breaking down and crying.
The next week was tough at our house. My mother and father didn’t speak and I remember being silent, but standoffish as well. Eventually, my dad came clean. He admitted that the pressures of working in an environment loaded with smokers was too much for him to handle. He was going to quit and he wasn’t going to hide anything from us again.
It was then that I made the choice to never start smoking. While I was surrounded by the temptation as a teen and young adult, I held firm on my values. To this day, a few cigars aside, I have never smoked a cigarette or smoked weed.
My anti-smoking stance had gained steam over the last few years as I watched my father’s health deteriorate at the hands of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD. While doctors couldn’t point the finger on years of tobacco abuse as the sole cause of this disease inside my dad, I can’t help but think it didn’t help. During his last days, his lungs were the consistency of cardboard and the mere act of breathing was killing him.
Charles Gordon Leverich Jr. passed away on January 11th, 2012.
For years, I have been trying to figure out how I can get involved in a community cause. It took the passing of my father to crystallize my vision.
I reached out to the American Lung Association earlier this year to share my story and offer my time. Maybe you’ve gone through something similar. Lung cancer is a major killer as well. Non-smokers lung cancer remains a mystery. The bottom line is, we are all fighting for air. As a part of the ALA of the Northeast’s Rochester Leadership Board, I would be humbled if you chose to help.
The 2012 Fight For Air Climb is November 10th at One Bausch & Lomb place. You can form a team, join a team, climb as an individual, volunteer, or just donate. Any action you choose is more than welcome and I thank you in advance.