Facing Father’s Day as a father, not as a son

This year is a unique year for me, because I turned 57 years old.

Some tell me that makes me a senior citizen. I never thought that somebody in their 50s was old enough to be a senior citizen. I told them that I believe that 50 is the new 40. So I have at least a few years to become a senior citizen. Of course if there are any senior citizen discounts, I will take those now. I know that is a double standard, but I think it is allowed.

The reason it is a unique year for me is because I am now the patriarch. With the death of my father, Bishop Claude Cummings Jr. and his father, Bishop Claude Cummings Sr., I am now the oldest male in the immediate family. The things they used to call my father and complain about, they now call me about. I have three wonderful children who have made being a father very easy and a wonderful experience.

I wonder about our president’s experience as a father of the country. No matter how you felt about his politics, he is our president. I would liken the president of the United States to being like a temporary father of our country. If George Washington, the first president, is considered to be the father of our country, then every president afterwards must be a semi-father, a stepfather, and a four-to-eight-year stand-in father.

If I understand correctly, President Reagan was one of the last presidents to die. He was 69 when he was at his inauguration. He was 77 by the end of his second term. President Trump was age 70 at his inaugural.

Reagan was 93 years old at the time of his passing, the oldest president to ever leave office. In a country that is just over 200 years old, he had been alive for almost half of this country’s history. Can you imagine all the changes that took place in the 93 years in the life of a father? President Reagan was a child of the early 1900s. A friend sent me a poem in an e-mail with just that thought, Fathers of 1900 vs. Fathers of Today, by way of Andy Chaps.

In 1900, fathers prayed their children would learn English. Today, fathers pray their children will speak English.

In 1900, if a father put a roof over his family’s head, he was a success. Today it takes a roof, a deck, a swimming pool, and a four-car garage. And that’s just the vacation home.

In 1900, a father waited for the doctor to tell him when the baby arrived. Today, a father must wear a smock, know how to breathe and make sure the SD card is in the camera.

In 1900, fathers passed on clothing to their sons. Today, kids wouldn’t touch Dad’s clothes if they were sliding naked down an icicle.

In 1900, fathers could count on children to join the family business. Today, fathers pray their kids will soon come home from college long enough to teach them how to work the computer and update the cell phone and iPad.

In 1900, fathers pined for the old country — Romania, Italy or Russia. Today, fathers pine for old country music, like Hank Williams, (the Temptations, the Osmonds and the Jackson 5.)

In 1900, fathers shook their children gently and whispered, “Wake up, it’s time for school.” Today, kids shake their fathers violently at 4 a.m. shouting: “Wake up, it’s time for hockey practice.”

In 1900, a father came home from work to find his wife and children waiting for him at the supper table. Today, a father comes home to a note: “Jimmy’s at baseball, Cindy’s at gymnastics, I’m at the gym, and pizza is in the fridge.”

In 1900, fathers and sons would have a heart-to-heart conversation while fishing in a stream. Today, fathers would have that same conversation while playing a computer game with their sons, or the father would have to pluck the headphones off their sons’ ears and shout, “WHEN YOU HAVE A MINUTE.”

In 1900, a father gave a pencil box for Christmas, and the kids were all smiles. Today, a father spends $800 at Toys “R” Us, and the kids cry and scream, “I wanted more, where’s my hoverboard!”

In the 1900s or today, still one of the best things, the best gift a father can give any of his children, is his time. A group of 300 seventh- and eighth-grade boys kept accurate records of how much time their fathers actually spent with them over a two-week period. Most saw their father only at the dinner table. A number never saw their father for days at a time. The average time a father and son were alone together for entire week was 7 and one-half minutes.

Arthur Gordon tells an interesting experience from his youth.

“When I was around 13 and my brother was 10, father promised to take us to the circus. But at lunch, there was a phone call; some urgent business required his attention downtown.”

“My brother and I braced ourselves for the disappointment. Then we heard him say, ‘No, I won’t be down. It will have to wait.'”

“When he came back to the table, Mother smiled and said to him, ‘The circus keeps coming back, you know!'”

“I know, “ said father, “but childhood doesn’t.”

Every year I like to close this article by telling this story.

The funeral of Frank McGee, a noted newscaster for the National Broadcasting Co., was held on April 19, 1974. At the gravesite, a reporter for the NBC news interviewed McGee’s son, saying, “Thousands of people all over the world knew your father as a public figure, having seen him hundreds of times on their television screens. But what we want to know is something about the real Frank McGee, the private man. What was your father really like?”

I’m sure the reporter was stunned when he heard the young man reply in the following short terse sentences: I don’t know my father. He was too busy!”

In the Diary of Brook Adams is a note about a special day when he was 8 years old. He wrote, “Went fishing with my father; the most glorious day of my life,” and through the next 40 years there were constant references to that day and the influence it had on his life. Brooks’ father was Charles Francis Adams, Abraham Lincoln’s ambassador to Great Britain. He also had a note in his diary about the same day. It simply said, “Went fishing with my son: a day wasted.”

What the father counted as a wasted day, the son thought was one of the greatest days of his childhood. On this Fathers Day, I want to encourage as many fathers as possible to waste more days with there children. A “wasted” day with a child is not a waste. It’s an investment in their future.

I must stop now.

I need to go make an investment in my children.

(Cummings is pastor of the Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and the Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton.)