Unanswered Questions

The posts in this blog normally go up at 2 a.m. my time while I am fast asleep. I initially wrote this a year ago, and it never seemed like the right time to post it. Mixed feelings I guess. I am still having mixed feelings, but given that today is Father’s Day (in North American anyway) I’ve decided to go ahead with it after all, more than 12 hours late.


Time is always at a premium. There never seems to be enough of it, and this newfangled internet thingy seems to suck up more than it should. I shouldn’t complain though – the internet can sometimes stimulate my thinking.

There is one blogger I recently had a dialogue with. She occasionally surveys her readers on moral choices, proposing a situation and asking you to make a choice from two options.

We went back and forth with comments the last time she did that, touching on the moral dilemmas we can face in real life. How do we resolve them? That’s when I mentioned my father.

When I was young my father worked for the Atlantic Sugar Company. I didn’t think anything about that. All fathers had jobs and I really didn’t know what he did. Today some fanatics might say that white sugar is evil (for a variety of reasons), but back in 1960, sugar was pretty much a good thing. Then he changed jobs.

He went to work for Benson and Hedges – and by the early 1960s everyone knew the causal link between cigarettes and lung cancer. It was a better job, more money, but it was a tobacco company.

Two years after he took that job, my maternal grandfather died. Emphysema, caused by 40 years of smoking, a habit he picked up in the trenches in the First World War, when the troops got cigarettes for free. I never saw him smoke, he quit around the time I was born, but the damage had been done.

Benson and Hedges laid my father off in 1971 and he moved on to other jobs. But as a teenager, and later as an adult, I wondered: how did he rationalize working for a company whose product killed his father-in law? I never had the courage to ask. I think I regret that, though maybe I don’t really want to know. I know he was in therapy at some point in the sixties, but I don’t know why. I never asked about that either. For all I know the two things were related.

Much of life involves unanswered questions. There are some that will remain unanswered because our knowledge has not yet expanded in that area – there just aren’t any answers (yet) to some scientific questions. But there are others where we just don’t have the courage to ask.

We don’t ask for a variety of reasons. We may not want to upset the person we are questioning. We may be afraid of the answer. Or the timing isn’t right. Or this or that, there is always what seems to be a good reason at the time.

As I get older (and hopefully wiser) I am coming to realize that we do no-one a service by not asking the hard questions. They may not be comfortable, but they should be asked.

It wasn’t the sort of thing I would ask back then. I didn’t have the courage. I might now. But my father is no longer around to ask.

So on this Father’s Day, here’s to the hard questions. May we all ask them, and be given the skills to ask them graciously.

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