Scientists are trying to discover a cause and cure for the aging process. Does a certain gene determine life span, or does the way we live define these boundaries? Perhaps they are set by some combination of both genetics and lifestyle.

I have a new theory to add to this discussion. Perhaps the cause of aging is the dreaded hole in the ozone layer. After all, we may as well blame ozone. Our forward-thinking society has already labeled it as the cause of bad weather, the increase in acne and interference with the reruns of “Happy Days.”

Now that we have become so paranoid about growing older, companies are rushing in to hawk their Fountain of Youth products. You can find most of these snake oil salesmen on TV between midnight and 3 a.m., demonstrating how their grandmothers turned into beauty queens. If the people who watch these commercials would just turn off their televisions and get a good night’s sleep, they would lose the bags under their eyes and immediately look five years younger.

The reality is that, although they may keep you from looking your age, these products cannot stop the aging process. Only one thing can cure aging, and that one thing is . . . death.

I can also tell you what causes aging: not a mysterious gene, not the hole in the ozone layer, but having children. Nothing will give you wrinkles or crow’s feet more quickly than parenthood. No, I haven’t done any scientific research or compiled any empirical data. I reached that conclusion through plain old common sense.

Look around. The next time you see a husband and wife who don’t have any children, notice how rested and refreshed they look. They didn’t have to get up for the midnight feeding—or the two, the four, or the six o’clock, either. While I was trying to rock a colicky baby back to sleep, they were deep into the REM cycle, getting the rest I missed.

Some childless couples I know say they need to exercise. They make sure to schedule time to play golf, tennis or work out at the gym. After finishing a hard day and coming home to my sons who eagerly waited for Daddy to be their “horsey,” getting exercise was never at the top of my list. Before I became a father, I was a fine specimen of a man: flat stomach, strong back, no aches or pains. After a serious round of horsey, I could barely get off the floor and I didn’t have enough strength to eat my oats.

Even before I became the family horsey, I had plenty of experience as a pack mule. Whenever we left the house, my wife loaded me down with toys, diaper bag, stroller, toys, food, five bottles of formula, toys, bassinet, extra clothes, blankets and toys. All of this just to go to church? No wonder I had such a hard time staying awake during the pastor’s sermons!

As our boys grew, so did our parental responsibilities. Along came Little League, Basketball Camp, Youth Camp and Visit Dad at Work Day. None of these events added to my youthfulness although each added a few more wrinkles along the way. So scientists are sitting around trying to figure out why I am growing older? I already know the answer: I got kids!

In the end, what allows you to live a long life is not a product, but a principle. “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this right. Honor your father and mother (which is the first commandment with a promise), that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the Earth” (Ephesians 6:1-3). Our society seems to have fallen down in this area. We idolize youth and pay less and less attention to the elderly. Many of those in the super-senior generation have wisdom to share, if we will only take the time to . . . listen.

A century ago, families modeled love and respect for elders. Extended families often lived, worked and played together. Remember the TV show The Waltons? When John-Boy had a bad day in the fields or at the sawmill, the one he sought out for counsel was none other than Grandpa Walton. His grandpa sat on the porch with him, put his arm around him and spoke words of reassurance that reminded John-Boy of his worth and value. This role also gave Grandpa a place of importance in the family.

Instead of seeking a cure for the aging process, let’s look for ways to give honor to our elders. Remember: the next one you meet could be . . . you.

Walker Moore is president of AweStar Ministries in Tulsa, P.O. Box 470265, Tulsa 74147, e-mail, phone 800/AWESTAR (293-7827.