This is not an easy story to write because it involves a bad habit in my life that I now wish never would have happened. Last Sunday, on Father’s Day, I reached an anniversary of some note making this the perfect time to write. Ten years ago on Father’s Day, I quit dipping Skoal.
If you did not know me back then, you might think, “what’s the big deal?” If you did know me, you will understand I put more than “just a pinch between my cheek and gum.” I would stick a large wad between lip and gum and do that often throughout the day.
Awaking on that Father’s Day a decade ago, thoughts of my daughters led to me an important realization. My daughters, then 18 and 11, had never known me not dipping Skoal. The time had come to quit. It had nothing to do with health, nothing to do with cost, nothing to do with what people thought. It had everything to do with Julie and Kelly. I did not want my children to think this normal any longer.
Things had not been normal for a long, long time. My habit started when I lived in a world that truly was not normal. My work with the Kansas City Royals during their glory years of the late 70’s and then again in the mid 80’s was a trip into a real-life fantasy.
One bonus of that time was that Skoal and Red Man chewing tobacco were free to me. I could grab a 10-can roll of Skoal or a box of Red Man from equipment manager Al Zych any time. I loved covering games with a dip of Skoal in my mouth and never played fast-pitch softball without a wad of Red Man wrapped in bubble gum.
I sat in the Royals’ dugout as former player and broadcaster Joe Garagiola begged a group of players, and me, to stop using smokeless tobacco. Despite showing us horrific photographs of the ravages of oral cancer, I will always remember George Brett slicing open a can with his finger nail and offering me a dip as Garagiola walked up the dugout tunnel towards the press box.
However, it was not until my divorce in the 90’s, and all angst before and after, that my habit truly took hold. My discovery was that while I have never minded being alone, I did not at all like being lonely. Sadly, many others suffered for years after that bad stretch by my increased use of Skoal.
A very nice girlfriend was subjected to my habit for nearly four years, co-workers put up with it, friends kindly understood and even Laura first knew me with a dip in my lip. Truly, I am sorry.
After far too many years, I finally quit because I wanted Julie and Kelly to know that I could. I wanted to know that I could. Now, with time and perspective, I realize that it was the mess that went with dipping that finally pushed me to my decision on that Father’s Day. All that juice had to go somewhere. Unless I was outdoors, that meant just about any available container.
It seemed funny at the time when Associated Press photographer Cliff Schiappa picked up a plastic film canister he found and stuffed a roll of film into what was a mess of my spit and tobacco juice. Kelly tells the story that they learned the term “courtesy cup” from me grabbing one from the concession stand before movies. Julie admitted just last Sunday that she once knocked a cup over into a chair at home. She panicked and hid the mess only by turning over the cushion.
Stunningly, quitting was quite easy after my final decision. Fortunately, the nicotine somehow had little real hold on me. Both my dentist and hygienist report no signs of gum damage. Missing the feeling of a dip in my lip was harder, but that too passed. Driving long distances was the last challenge.
Whitey Herzog, the Royals manager in the 70’s used to chuckle and tell me with his rich drawl, “Kid, you’ll never fall asleep in a car with a dip or a chaw in your mouth”, as I prepared to drive a player’s car home from Florida.
That seems so long ago. Now, a dream comes to me every so often. The setting changes, but it is always one where I know I should not be dipping. I find myself embarrassed and desperately trying to clear my lip and spit out the remnants when I awake. The dream is always far over the top, but it reminds me again and again how thankful I am to have quit.
This is not meant as a cautionary tale. I have no right. I wanted to be really funny writing this story, but that has proved impossible. It is very pleasing to me to have rid myself of the dependence Skoal once held over me. When I think about a dip in my lip now, I can only shake my head as I think of myself and say, “What a dip.”