'I'd kill and die for my kids' ... Reggae Boy Cummings embraces challenging fatherhood experience
The roller coaster ride Omar Cummings has taken from a rural Jamaican district to life as a professional footballer pales next to the tumultuous experience of becoming a dad - and his children aren't even a year old.
Nothing in the run to on-field stardom - not the highs of winning championships and representing his country, or the lows of career-threatening injuries - prepared Cummings for the emotional tsunami that fatherhood swamps him with every day.
"It's a different experience," Cummings explained on June 18 as his two surviving children celebrate 10 months. "Different joy, different love. You see your kids and instantly, you see someone you'd kill for and you'd die for. It's instant love. Unbelievable joy."
It also came with pain. The life-and-death struggle his children endured before and after birth, plus the danger their arrival posed to his Jamaican wife, Viola, brought turmoil.
Cummings didn't plan that. He grew up "happy" in Bodles Crescent, St Catherine, one of five children for Claudette Harris and John Cummings, Jr. The couple's separation meant Omar didn't see his father enough. He knew he would be a better dad.
"Absolutely, yes," Cummings said. "You have to. You see your father on weekend or sometimes you'd make plans and he wouldn't show."
Cummings left for the United States, where he played in college and was drafted by Major League Soccer club Colorado Rapids. He won an MLS Cup, became an all-star, and earned invitations to Jamaica's senior national team. The 32-year-old striker has scored seven times in 35 games for the Reggae Boyz.
Triplets on the way
None of that, nor being shipped to Houston Dynamo plagued by injuries, prepared Cummings for what would follow when his wife announced in April 2014 that he would become the father of triplets.
"It was like 'Wow! Are you crazy sure?'" Cummings recalled. "It was like 'mi bruk now'. It all started coming at you differently. Three kids? You think differently. But I was happy."
His mood quickly sobered when doctors told the couple that due to Viola's past medical history, there could be complications. They raised options, like terminating the pregnancy or eliminating one of the babies. Those were rejected.
"It was a choice I don't think me or my wife could make," said Cummings, "and we didn't. How do you decide which one of your children lives? I don't know how I could have lived with myself."
The risk didn't just rest on the babies' welfare either.
"We decided to have all three as long as it didn't interfere with my wife's health," said Cummings.
Complications did surface.
"The first trimester, it exponentially got difficult for my wife," said Cummings.
Viola's battling hormones, which at times led to irritability, swollen limbs, and loss of appetite, also transformed her husband.
"I was suffering, too," admitted Cummings. "She became a completely different person."
Four and a half months into the pregnancy, Viola was bedridden. "Stressed," Cummings second-guessed "a little bit" the couple's decision. He found relief at work.
"To go to football was like my release," he said.
Cummings's Texas club's staff and teammates, including Jamaicans Jermaine Taylor, Jason Johnson (now with Chicago Fire), and Giles Barnes, rallied support. Meanwhile, doctors nursed Viola towards a minimum 24-week pregnancy before delivery to allow the unborn time to develop vital organs such as lungs.
"This was a critical point," said Cummings. "... Every day (they were in the womb) was like a celebration. But it was a very dangerous time. (Viola) was in a lot of danger."
On August 17, two girls and a boy were born prematurely. Neither Gianna, Kymani, or Kayla weighed above one pound, three ounces. They were fragile.
"The kids were like transparent when they were born, so pale," Cummings remembered. "You almost could see through them."
They were "critical but stable" Cummings said, but Gianna developed breathing problems and died. Kayla had heart surgery but was released from the hospital three months ago. Kymani survived an infection but went home a couple of weeks ago. Both occasionally require tubes to breathe and feed, but each day, they gain weight and strength.
draw the line
Their dad's commitment to them fortified. When Jamaica inquired about Cummings' availability for Caribbean Cup duty last year, he declined. Dynamo didn't re-sign him, but clubs in MLS, North America's top league, were interested. Cummings drew the line.
"I made it known to my agent and the clubs that I wouldn't be leaving Houston," he said. "I wanted to stay around my family. That's the most important thing."
In March, Cummings joined Texas-based San Antonio Scorpions of second-tier North American Soccer League. He has scored five goals in 10 appearances. On off days, he drives three hours to Houston to see his family. Skype also keeps him in touch. Every moment is precious.
"You could say they're past the worst," Cummings said of his children. "But it's still very scary."
Yet the rewards have been immeasurable.
"These kids have been through so much," Cummings said. "They're more work than a regular baby, but just to look at your kids, it's still all worth it.
"... They smile, laugh. Those little things. How can you get angry at that face? They're full of personality."
They've brought out the best in dad.