This year is a unique year for me because this year I turned 52 years old. Some tell me that makes me a senior citizen.
I never thought that 50 was old enough to be senior citizen. I told them that I believe that 50 is the new 40. So I have at least 10 more years to become a senior citizen. Of course, if there are any senior citizen discounts, I will take those now. You know you are a senior citizen when AARP starts sending you mail. How did they know? I know that is a double standard, but I think it is allowed.
The reason my situation is a unique year for me is because I am now the patriarch. With the death of my father, six years ago, 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. I have three wonderful children who have made being a father very easy, and a wonderful experience.
I have my oldest daughter, who teaches and lives in Akron, Ohio, looking for a teacher's job in the Ohio Valley, but she has yet to secure one. My oldest son, who has both of our grandchildren, lives with his lovely wife, in South Bend, Ind. He just told us he just got promoted, and will be moving farther away to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Then we have the youngest son, who just graduated 8th grade and is on his way to high school. But he tells me on a daily basis that he wants to move to Cleveland, to live with all his cousins. I have five brothers and sisters and I am the only member of my family who does not live in Cleveland. I guess that makes me, as far as they are concerned, the black sheep of the family.
I did not know that empty nest syndrome affected men. I always thought it was a women's challenge. Statistics indicate that typical couples today can expect 16 to 18 years of married life together after the last child leaves home. That can be a long, difficult period if the empty-nest syndrome persists.
Most of the studies have focused upon women, but a recent one done by Dr. Robert A. Lewis and home economist Craig L. Roberts found that just as many fathers (22 percent) as the mothers (23 percnt) suffered considerable unhappiness after the last child left home. On the other hand, more than 75 percent of each sex were either happy or at least neutral after the departure of the last youngster.
The unhappy fathers in the study tended to have had fewer children and to be older men. It was suggested that these fathers had probably an overwhelming interest in the one or two youngsters and therefore felt their absence most keenly. They also seemed to have some weaknesses in their relationship with their wives, which perhaps made them feel the absence of the youngsters more strongly.
Lewis and Roberts raised a significant point: With the growing role of fathers in the nurturing of children, we may find that more and more fathers will experience the departure of the youngsters as an emotional crisis. Having invested so much of himself in the youngsters, the father may find himself distressed when the role of the parent declines. The researchers point out that fathers tend to "become more nurturing at the same time that their wives and children have less need to be nurtured." With this in mind, one can expect that the syndrome will become less of an exclusive problem for women.
This would seem to tell us that the father's No. 1 role is to be a good husband to his wife, or maintain a good relationship with the child's mother. Reason: If married, the children will grow up and leave; the wife hopefully will still be at home. It is a good role model, and the answer for empty nest syndrome.
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 film is in the video 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, I-phone, I-pad, I-pod, and set the VCR.
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's 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 there sons, or the father would have to pluck the headphones off their sons' ears and shout, "WHEN YOU HAVE A MINUTE."
Hilding Halverton, well-known singer of the 80s, tells a story: "When my son was a small boy playing with his buddies in the back yard, I overheard them talking one day - and the conversation was amusingly, one of those 'I can whip your dad' routines. I heard one boy proudly say, 'My dad knows the mayor of our town!' Then I heard another say, 'That's nothing - my dad knows God!'
"I swiftly slipped away from my place of eavesdropping with tears running down my cheeks. I dropped on my knees in my room and prayed earnestly and gratefully, 'Oh God, I pray that my boy will always be able to say, 'My dad knows God.'"
It is my hope that my children will be able to say the same about me. Your greatest legacy is not your work, but your family. Happy Father's Day.
Guest columnist Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Apostolic Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Temple in Weirton.