A Short Story
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A Short Story

We all need a role moel

A Short Story

He lay silently in his room, attempting to finish his homework. He read the same line of the assigned novel from English class over and over again. It seems as if he was paused in a movie as the rest of the world continued around him. He struggled to concentrate on his work. Suddenly, a loud slam came from the kitchen.

“Dammit Richard! I told you to keep the smoking outside! Now put that cigarette out,” Monica exclaimed.

“Alright, Monica... Sorry,” Richard mumbled as he smothered the tip of the cigarette in an ashtray. Brendan was used to hearing arguments like this between his parents. He decided to put his schoolwork away. It’s not like I’ll get anything done anyway. As he slipped his books into his backpack, he locked his gaze on a picture of his father and himself when he was younger. The caption on the frame read: “Take Your Son to Work Day.” A grin widened across his face.

“Brendan! Dinner is ready! Go wash up and come eat,” Monica called. Brendan tossed his backpack onto his bed and walked into the bathroom. He pumped some liquid soap onto his hands, turned on the faucet, and lathered up. While he was looking down at his hands under the suds, his father entered. Brendan looked up.

“Hey bud, how’s it going?” his dad asked while waiting for his turn to wash up. He reeked of smoke. His nails and teeth were stained with a tinge of yellow. His hands fidgeted at his sides, as if he didn’t know what to do with his hands if a cigarette wasn’t cradled between his fingers.

“It’s going good, I guess,” Brendan said as he reached for the hand towel.

“You guess? What’s wrong?” his dad replied while lathering his hands in the sink.

“Just a lot of homework,” he shrugged. Maybe I’d be able to concentrate if I wasn’t suffocated with the stench of cigarette smoke... or maybe if I didn’t hear mom and dad arguing. I thought I’d be able to ignore the arguments after a while, considering it’s the same damn fight every time. Dad smokes in the house. Mom doesn’t like it. She yells at him to put it out. He eventually does so. Brendan handed the towel to his dad and entered the kitchen. His mother was placing a glass plate covered in foil on the table. He could smell the steak and mashed potatoes filling the room. That’s a nice scent, for a change. He helped his mom with the last of the table settings, and helped himself to a plate full of steak, potatoes, and vegetables. The family sat down together after preparing their plates.

“Brendan, how was school today? Do you have any homework?” his mother asked.

“It was pretty good, I just got a new assignment,” Brendan replied. He took a sip of his water. “I have to write about someone in my life that I consider to be my role model.”

“Well, that sounds like a fun assignment!” Monica exclaimed while slicing into her steak. Brendan avoided eye contact with his father, looking at the food on his plate, carefully puncturing each piece of broccoli with his fork.

“Yeah,” Brendan sighed. Too bad I don’t know who I’m going to write about.

“It should be easy, too, considering you’ve got yourself a prime example of a role model right here,” Brendan’s dad chuckled as he took a fork full of mashed potatoes from his plate. Brendan nervously giggled. What am I going to do? I can’t suddenly turn my back on my dad... It’s not like he’s been a terrible person lately. He just has an addiction, that’s all... Right?

“Don’t be ridiculous Richard, Brendan can write about whoever he wants,” Monica argued out as she lifted her glass for another sip of water. Brendan shifted in his seat. Uh oh, here we go.

“Monica, I’ve always been his role model! I’m his father! Of course he’s going to write about me,” Richard said, waving his hands through the air. “Isn’t that right, Brendan?” There was a pause. Brendan began to speak, “Well I...”

“Oh,” Richard cut him off. “I’m sorry that I haven’t been meeting your expectations, son.” He put his utensils down beside his plate and slouched over in his seat.

“No, dad, that’s not it. You’re a great role model! You help so many people on just a day-to-day basis. Being a firefighter isn’t easy. And you’re always looking for the best in every situation. It’s just –”

“Well, what is it then?”

Richard stared intently into Brendan’s eyes. Brendan stared back for a moment. He finally broke gaze, and shifted his eyes to a pack of cigarettes that lay next to his father’s arm. Richard followed Brendan’s eyes to find his cigarette box staring right back at him. There was a slight squint in his eyes. His grip tightened around his glass, then suddenly, released. It was as if the Marlboro box sucked the life out of him when he locked his eyes on it. Brendan watched as his dad stared down at his plate. It was as if he could physically feel the internal conflict that his father was facing at that moment. He looked over to his mom. She, too, was stricken by her husband’s silence on the subject. The pause was almost unbearable. His dad finally looked up. Brendan could see the expression in his father’s eyes: Anger. Fear. Pain. Just as Brendan was about to say something, his father spoke first.

“I know Brendan. I know that I have an issue,” He said quietly. “I just don’t think that’s very fair to judge me as not being a good role model based off of that one flaw.” Brendan shrugged.

“You’re right. It’s not fair,” his mother mumbled.

“Thank you, Monica. See? At least your mother gets –,”

“I wasn’t finished, Richard. Yes, it’s not fair that Brendan is judging you... But it’s also not fair that you’ve conducted yourself to be this way either. Can you blame him?” His father stared blankly into Monica’s eyes. He picked up his empty plate and glass, got up from his seat, and trailed to the sink.

“Thank you for dinner honey,” he said in a hushed tone as he walked out of the kitchen. Brendan, holding his face with his palm, stared down at the table. I knew this was going to happen. His mother sighed as she got up to take her silverware to the sink.

“I’m sorry Brendan... I shouldn’t have asked about your homework,” his mom said while washing the dishes.

“No, it’s okay mom. Maybe I just shouldn’t have made it such a big deal. I don’t know... I just feel like it’s a big contradiction to me. How am I going to write about someone who is supposed to be a big role model in my life, when he harms himself and others by smoking,” Brendan replied as he followed his mother to the sink after she took his plates. He leaned against the countertop next to her.

“I understand, but I guess your father doesn’t. I think it’s good that we’re finally bringing this up and really trying to open your father’s eyes. And I know I may seem harsh on him sometimes with his smoking habits, but I only do it to help him understand why it’s such a bad habit. I suppose I have to be more sensitive about the topic.”

"Yeah, I feel bad... I don’t want to hurt his feelings, or make him feel like less of a good man, but at the same time, he needs to know how we feel.” His mother grabbed the dishtowel and dried her hands.

“I agree. I think you should go talk to him alone and have some much needed bonding... just like old times. I’m proud of you for speaking your mind,” his mother replied. She hugged him and gave him a kiss on the cheek.

“Thanks, mom,” he said as he shoved his hands in his pockets and shuffled out. How do I go about this? “Dad I think you’re a great man, but how can I write about how great you are when you smoke, knowing that it’s hurting yourself... and even me.” Hmmm... no. He heard a muffled coughing coming from outside. Opening, the glass sliding door, he was instantly hit with clouds of cigarette smoke. His eyes began to sting and tear up. As he was holding in his urge to cough, he walked over to his dad. It was dark and cold.

“Brendan, you don’t have to try and make me feel better,” his father mumbled as smoke leaked from his mouth and nostrils. Brendan took his spot leaning against the porch gate next to his dad.

“I know. I just want to talk,” Brendan said, letting out a few coughs. “I didn’t mean to make you feel like any less of the great man that you are. I just don’t know if I can write about all the ways that you are great when you smoke...”

“Why is smoking negating all the other ways that I’m a great man? Why is this one thing bringing me down so low in your mind all of a sudden?”

“Because you’re hurting yourself.” Brendan was staring out across the yard, into the darkness, as his father was.

“Well yes, but Brendan, I’m used to the smoke. I’m always around it at work -,”

“Yeah, but you’re always wearing protective gear. And it’s from a burning house. Not a burning stick of cancer that you’re voluntarily putting in your mouth. You know it’s dangerous, so why did you start in the first place?” Brendan interrupted. There was a pause. His dad looked at the burning embers at the end of his cigarette and shoved it down onto the wood of the porch gate, twisting it back and forth as smoke escaped into the cold autumn air.

“Ya know what son,... I don’t know. Maybe it was because I felt invincible to the smoke when I’m at work, and figured I could be invincible to it outside of work too.”

“Well you’re not. No one is. Mom isn’t. And neither am I,” Brendan huffed.

“You’re right. I guess I’m so used to being around smoke, and finding comfort in it, that I forgot to take into consideration how you and your mother feel about it. It’s just so hard to quit, Brendan.”

“Have you ever tried?” Brendan mumbled.

“Yes, I have. I tried last year. But I broke down within two days... Pathetic, I know.”

“Well just try harder, I guess. Dad... I love you. You’re such a great man. You save people’s lives on a daily basis, and you’ve made my life so great. Maybe I’m wrong for looking so much into this one aspect, but it seems like a contradiction in your actions. If you’re such a good man, why would you do this terrible thing to yourself that also affects your family?” Brendan froze, afraid to hear his father’s reaction to the truth. He looked to his dad. He was fiddling with the cigarette, and finally flicked it into the grass. He crossed his arms and clenched his fists. Brendan could see the pain once again in his eyes.

“I don’t know. The addiction just happened... But I never realized how much it was truly affecting you. And I guess I never had the inspiration and motivation to quit. But now I do,” his father replied softly. A single tear rolled down his face. “Ya know what Brendan? I’m glad you told me how you feel. And I’m glad that you’re looking out for me... You’re my role model.”

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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