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Taking on the Sharks of Life — Because You’re a Dad

This year is a unique year for me because it is not that unique. It has been the same old thing. For those of you who have read my Father’s Day articles over the last 20 years plus, you know that I say that almost every year.

First, it was unique because my father and my grandfather died, making me the oldest male in my family. Then it was unique because my daughter got married and left home. Then it was unique because I turned 50, 51, and 52… Then it was unique because I got married and became a father to both natural and what some call stepchildren, but I like to call them love children.

I think you see the pattern. I’m not sure about this year. This year seems to be the same old thing. But I know in my mind that every year has to be unique. How do I reconcile this? How do I make sense out of this?

I am sure this year is unique, and I am also sure this year is the same old thing. Maybe that’s what makes this year unique. This June 15, Saturday, I started my 30th year as the pastor of our church. Maybe that’s what makes this year unique. In that, just like being a father, I have been doing the same thing for several decades. Maybe that’s what makes me unique.

Is it possible you can do something for so long and maybe so well that nobody notices what you are doing? Is that the plight of fathers who do stay with their families — that nobody notices that the lights are still on, that the health insurance is still paid, that the heat and air conditioner still come on, that food is still in the refrigerator, that the water still runs, and because it is always there no one thinks of the struggle that it takes to do it every year.

There’s a sign in my office that says no one knows what I do until I don’t do it. Someone said, “It’s not my place to run the train. The whistle I can’t blow. It’s not my place to say how far the train is allowed to go. It’s not my place to shoot off steam nor even clang the bell.” But let the train jump the track and see who catches h-e- double toothpicks. No one says anything if I’m successful, but if the lights go off, if they can’t get the health care that they need, if the heat or air conditioner doesn’t come on, if there’s no food in the refrigerator, if the water doesn’t come on, be assured I will be getting a call.

“There is a movement among men to be more involved fathers,” according to Dr. Richard Stevenson, research associate at the Child Development Research Program, and director of fathers’ groups at the Bank Street School in Greenwich Village in New York City. “When I first began working with fathers, I assumed this movement was an offshoot of women’s liberation, and that since women were working more, fathers simply had to be there for their children. When a mother is working the night shift as a nurse, the father has to change the baby’s diapers.

“But the research in the field shows that there is actually a separate trend among fathers, something drawing men closer to their children.”

In planning fathers’ groups, Stevenson arranges group and individual activities, ranging from wood-working to group mural painting, and then offers separate discussion groups where fathers talk about everything from bringing an active 2-year-old child to a restaurant, to discipline, to bedtime stories.

Dr. Stevenson has three children of his own, ages 5, 3, and 6 months, and says the most important factor in fathering is “to spend as much time as possible with your child, and do as much primary caretaking as possible-feeding, washing, dressing.”

That’s why it’s important — and fulfilling — to be an actively involved father from the start, says Dr. Stevenson. “Every man can get a substantial feeling of achievement and satisfaction from involvement with his children, from struggling with his family and helping to solve their day to day problems.”

Admittedly, fathers who do this are breaking new ground. “Most men haven’t had models for being very involved in their families. That’s why father’s groups can help. I haven’t met a man yet who didn’t want to be a better father than his own father was, even if he felt his father had been good. Men are struggling to be different kinds of fathers today. They are a little afraid that fatherhood will be draining, that they won’t be a success as fathers. But they find that’s not the case. Most men find fatherhood tremendously invigorating in a way that is different from work and vastly satisfying.” said Stevenson.

“Becoming a father changes a man,” concludes Stevenson. “I know one man who began wearing a seatbelt regularly, because suddenly he was aware that he needed to take care of himself if he was going to see his child grow up. He wanted to model good behavior for his child, and he had a new awareness of time. When a man becomes a father, he realizes much more about what his own father meant to him.”

In conclusion, Dr. Stevenson points out, “Fatherhood can be sustaining, and offers a man a kind of self-esteem he just can’t get in the workplace.”

I like the way Langston Hughes put it in his poem called “Live Your Creed.”

I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one any day. I’d rather one walk with me than just to show the way. The eye is a better pupil and more willing than the ear. Advice may be misleading but examples are always clear. And the very best of teachers are the ones who live their creed, For to see good put into action is what everybody needs. I can soon learn to do it if you let me see it done. I can watch your hand in motion but your tongue too fast may run. And the lectures you deliver may be very fine and true, But I’d rather get my lesson by observing what you do. For I may misunderstand you and the fine advice you give, But there’s no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

Our hearts were made happy and sad to hear about the North Carolina father who saw a shark attacking his 17-year-old daughter while they were on vacation. The shark bit the daughter and the father kept hitting it until it released her. It left her with scars, but she’s alive.

Charlie Winter and his daughter, Paige were standing in waist-deep water in Atlantic Beach, when a shark attacked and pulled Paige under. Charlie kept hitting the shark in the face until the shark let go of his daughter. She did lose, sadly, her leg, but the father did save her life.

Many parents are still wrestling for their children with the sharks of drugs, unemployment, divorce, and other issues that have tried to snatch our children’s’ destiny away from them.

It is the love of a parent that makes them run into shark-infested waters when everyone else is running out. May our fight, with God’s help, be more successful. Happy Father’s Day!

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

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