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A craving for good health empowers

When Doug Bicknell stepped outside to speak with co-workers at his prior job, he entered a den of temptation.

Seeking to end his 28 years of smoking, Bicknell knew the area where colleagues gathered to have a cigarette would be fraught with temptation. But as the manager of a shower door company, he had to communicate with them. So he entered the cauldron of smoke and nicotine, and it beckoned to him.

On a few occasions, he even held a cigarette in his hand, ready to light up.

But another fire burned brighter, a fire fueled by the vision of a disappointed daughter and two words.

Smile, dad.

The phrase served as code between Bicknell, 51, and his daughter Lydia. Each and every day, she inquired: "Smile, dad?" Yes meant he had gone another day without succumbing to the old habit.

And in those moments when the urge grew strong, he knew he didn't want to affirm Lydia's two-word accountability test with a negative response. So he put the cigarette down to keep his family's hopes high.

After all, he already had failed once and drew the wrath of older daughter, Abigail. She couldn't have been more than 3 or 4 years old, but when she caught him smoking, she looked with disapproving eyes and uttered, "I am so telling Mommy."

"I remember the reaction on her face," Bicknell said of Abigail. "So the combination of that and Lydia's face saying, 'Smile, dad,' I just couldn't light it.

"I had tried to quit before, so I knew if I had one, a few more days later I would have another one and I would be back smoking again."

With parents who died at a young age from cancer and a brother who died from lung cancer in his mid 50s, Bicknell understood the risks. But he needed greater motivation.

So Lydia first challenged her father, asking, "Did you smoke today?" That inquiry grew stale, so as Lydia charted each day of success with a smiley face on the calendar, she changed her words to something more encouraging.

Smile, dad.

And she never stopped. At the age of 9, through sleepovers and camping trips and text messages to friends, and dreams of some day replacing Scott Pelley as the anchor of the CBS Evening News, she never missed a day.

Some 1,800 days later, she's still at it. Bicknell doesn't know if he could have succeeded without her help.

"I know I've helped him, but the way he describes it — I don't know," Lydia says. "I just wanted to help him. I don't need any recognition for it. I don't feel like I was being a good daughter. I feel like any daughter would want to help their dad become healthier."

But Bicknell and his wife, Allison, can't help but share the story with friends and family. He gets a little teary-eyed when he talks about it, because "smile, dad" sustained him through tough times.

His company closed its Tampa operation, leaving him out of work. He skipped around to a couple of other jobs, wondering if a cigarette might alleviate the stress, but he stayed true.

Now, as he approaches the fifth anniversary of quitting later this month, Bicknell has a new, promising job at My Shower Door on N Dale Mabry Highway, not far from his Northdale home.

Lydia, now 14, is preparing to join 16-year-old Abigail as an International Baccalaureate student at Hillsborough High. And the whole family looks forward to healthier, happier times.

Smile, dad. Smile big.

That's all I'm saying.

A craving for good health empowers 07/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 10, 2013 1:06pm]
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