Honoring your father and mother

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

November 30, 2006


            When kids come to confession, they commonly say, “I disobeyed my mother (or father).” They know it is a sin against the fourth commandment to “Honor your father and your mother.”

            This commandment binds little children. But I think the rubber really hits the road  not when we are young, but when we are old. The fourth commandment is really for adults.  

            In the Bible, the Book of Sirach lists duties toward parents as our first moral duties after our duty to God.

            Sirach says, “The Lord sets a father in honor over his children; a mother’s authority he confirms over her sons. .. He who reveres his father will live a long life and he who obeys the Lord brings comfort to his mother.”

            In a passage that could have been written for anyone struggling with a parent who has dementia or Alzheimer’s, Sirach continues, “My son, take care of your father when he is old. Grieve him not as along as he lives. Even if his mind fails, be considerate with him and revile him not in the fullness of your strength. For kindness to a father will not be forgotten. It will serve as a sin offering. It will take lasting root.” (Sirach 4:14).

            Like many baby boomers, I am finding out what Sirach was talking about.

            My mother is 86. She is frail, but basically in good health. She has the usual ailments of her age; heart problems, hard of hearing, forgetful.

            She insists that she does not need a hearing aid. But she keeps the TV volume up loud enough that the neighbors could cancel their cable subscription.

            She takes a lot of pills. Every day when one of us brings her pills she inquires, “Look at all these pills! What are all these pills for?”  We gave up explaining. Finally we typed out the list with an explanation of each. Now we just show her the paper with the pills.

            Like most people who grew up in the depression, Mom does not like waste. She gets upset when we throw away those disposable paper underpants. “You are very wasteful,” she tells me.  “It could be washed.”  

            Recently I bought a baby monitor. I put it in her room and put the speaker by my bed. I can hear if she gets up during the night. She does not like that. “I’m not a baby,” she says. I tell her, “You got up many nights for me. Now it is my turn.”

            She laughs at that. She likes the symmetry.

            Mom says the reason she had eight children was so that somebody would be around to take care of her in her old age.

            Actually, despite the occasional grousing, it is a joy for us all. We love having Mom around. Especially for those of us who are single, it is wonderful to have someone to care for.

            Nobody else knows us so well or loves us so much. She can criticize our weaknesses, like my spelling or my brother Kevin’s penmanship with impunity.

            With the passage of time, the tables are turned in our relationship. Now it is our chance to care for her. Now we know the full meaning of the fourth commandment.

            I’m glad the Bible says we will be rewarded for kindness to a parent. But I don’t think we have to wait for the reward in heaven. I think it comes here and now. It is wonderful just to  have an elderly parent around.  It is a blessing.