Coping With Being a Parent During Unusual Time
This year is a unique year for me. For those of you who have read my Father’s Day articles over the past 20 years plus, you know that I say that almost every year.
One year it was unique because my father and my grandfather died, making me the oldest male in my immediate family. Then another year it was unique because my daughter got married and left home. Then it was unique because I turned 50, 51, and 52, etc.
In 2017, I was blessed to get married to a beautiful woman who has two daughters. Then Father’s Day was not just for my natural children, but for what some call stepchildren and I like to call love children.
I think you see the pattern. I’m now convinced that every year you’re alive is a unique year. Not to overdo the phrase and lessen its importance, but this year is a unique year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial unrest over challenges with the police in dealing with people of color.
This is my first pandemic, that I know of, in my lifetime. I’m told that the last one of this magnitude was in 1918 with the Spanish Flu. With that understanding, I have no experience of being a father, husband, pastor, and provider for my family during a pandemic. I’m not sure whether anyone’s written a guidebook for dummies on how to be all these things during a pandemic, but I have not seen it or read it. That means I am having to figure things out one day at a time and one step at a time.
When you think of race relations and the challenges that we are seeing today, I feel as if we’ve been somehow transported back to the 60s and the civil rights marches.
What happened to George Floyd and so many others were never right and never will be right. It does not mean that all police are bad, nor does it mean that all people, no matter what race, are good. The truth is there are challenges on both sides of the ledger. I have never had to deal with it so much in my face as being a father, husband, pastor, and provider for my family during this time.
The late Clyde Dennis was the founder of Good News Publishers of Westchester, Illinois, the world’s largest tract publisher and distributor. His son, Jan, pays tribute to his father in the following incident:
“I remember an incident about my father that happened during the summer before he died. This summer was the last hurrah of carefree boyhood for me. We were renting a home on Balboa Island in Southern California, and I had the rare privilege of whiling away my days in whatever pursuits took my fancy. I knew Dad was sick, but I had no idea he had only a short time left. I think he knew, but in keeping with his generous nature, he wanted me to get as much out of that summer as I could. Thus, he kept up the appearance of cheerfulness and good spirits so that I would be free from worry during my vacation.
“He even went so far as to ask me if I’d like to play a round of pitch-and-putt golf with him. This was a small pleasure we had often shared before his illness, and something I’d always got a big kick out of. This particular day was vintage Southern California-temperature in the upper 70s, deep blue cloudless sky, balm sea breeze faintly rustling eucalyptus and oleander.
“The round began normally enough. He seemed in good spirits and looked healthy in his deep tan. About halfway through, he began to falter. His breath came in short gasps and his color was bad. And he was sweating far more heavily than this little exertion seemed to warrant. I asked if he was all right, and he made light of it.
“But when we got back to the clubhouse, he was plainly exhausted. What that round of golf must have cost him! But he wanted to do it. He wanted to share that time alone with me before time ran out and there would be nothing left to share. It was a lesson in courage and generosity that I’ll never forget.”
As we deal with the challenges of fatherhood during these times, we must understand that this would drive an ordinary man to anger during ordinary times. I believe that God intended anger to be a useful emotion that helps a person lead a better life. What are the ways for people in general and fathers in particular to handle this emotion properly in particular situations?
Counselors warn that one should not try to cope with anger by repressing it. Pushing it down inside oneself does as much damage as releasing the emotion in a fit of temper. Angry reactions that are sucked inside don’t cease to be. They are usually expressed as cold anger and depression. The person who represses anger avoids people, gives others the “silent treatment,” and wallows in self-pity. This individual may use negative wisecracks as subtle weapons to hurt those around them. Often, they are not aware that their actions are the result of repressed anger, and their associates may be puzzled by their behavior. Putting down anger where no one can see it sets the person up for possibly even more wrongdoing than if he actually lost his temper.
Counselors suggest that the best way to handle anger is to make the party involved aware of our feelings.
The anger must be under control if it is to be handled correctly, but it may be communicated with great force. Try to state the problem or complaint as soon as you can put it into words. The longer the situation is allowed to fester, the greater will be the possibility of resentment and bitterness eroding the relationship.
Share the concern in private so that the other person isn’t embarrassed or forced to “save face.” Speak in the first person — “I” statements rather than saying “you are” or “you did” so and so. “You” statements sound like accusations and quickly destroy good communication. Focus on the actions that concern you rather than what you read into another’s motives. What you consider someone’s sinister designs maybe purely accidental.
Don’t dredge up the past. Keep the conversation on your present complaint rather than bringing up mistakes that should remain buried. Be sure you allow the other person to discuss their feelings about the problem. Don’t become upset, even if they take violent exception to what you have told them. Counseling along these lines will ease the frustration of many people who have struggled for years with anger.
It goes without saying that being a parent, mother or father during these times is not easy. I am convinced that with patience and love we can all get through it and turn something that was meant to be negative into a positive outcome. Happy Father’s Day!
Cummings is pastor of Bethlehem Temple in Wheeling and Shiloh Apostolic Faith Assembly in Weirton.