If I were to describe my father, he is a man who has worked hard his entire life to provide for his family. At the age of twelve, after his father was murdered, he lived in the closet of a store, where they offered him a place to stay, a hotplate to cook a daily meal of porridge, and 10 cents a day in pay for working in the store. He used the money to help out his mom and three younger sisters.
I can remember as a child eating a favorite meal of mine. It was canned baked beans. I still love this meal today. For a period of time my Mom would cook that for me for days on end. Sometimes she would cut up a hotdog, fry it and put in in the beans. I recall a night that Dad came home sat in the living room and Mom was cooking baked beans for supper. When she was done she called me to the table to eat my Dad did not join us. I went to him and, as only an excited child can, said Dad it’s bean supper lets go eat. He told me to go ahead that he was not hungry tonight. My Dad was always hungry and it would take me years to understand why he did not eat many nights. I can still see the hurt in his face when I talk about how much I love eating beans.
Now the years have passed and the Hero of my life has grown old. The hours of brutal hard labour work has torn at his body. He cannot walk twenty paces on his two legs that each have knee replacements. He thinks slower, smiles less, gets grumpy more and yet he always has a smile for me when I come visit.
When he had his heart attack I was a thousand miles and two days away. My Mom tracked me down, always a strong woman; I could hear the fear in her voice.
Always the father and never wanting to take from his family, he has been slow to ask for any help; whether it is time, money, or a ride. So when I returned and saw him in a hospital bed, and learned that he had not been taking his prescribed medication or eating proper prior to the heart attack, because he did not have the money to afford them, I felt shame. One of many values my father has instilled in me, is to take of each other and family. When I asked why he did not ask for help, he replied, you always give me so much and you did not need to waste more money on me. Waste, waste, I felt more shame.
My Dad is out of the hospital. He is making a slow recovery and yet I feel he has changed forever, or I have. How am I to be a son, a son to a Hero who has sacrificed his life and body, so that I may have the chances and possibilities I have been blessed with.
Confucius, in Book IV of the Analects, writes:
1. Wealth and honors are what men desire: but do not go from the Way, to keep them.
2. Whilst thy father and mother are living, do not wander afar.
3. A father and mother’s years must be borne in mind; with gladness on the one hand and fear on the other.
Confucius words only begin to raise the questions for me. This week I am shorter on answers.
What are the ways that my father has taught me? I have wealth and yet it does not bring the instant contentment and happiness, the poor child I was , thought it would. Is there not wealth in the values my father taught?
I have only recently moved back to where my parents live. It has given me joy to cook a meal and share it with them at my family dinner table. Yet I think that I have been in the same room and yet wandered from my parents. More worried about what needs to be done as opposed to the joy of my family. Have I wander from my parents in time, in my mind, in the Way?
I am so lucky that I can talk to my parents in their later years. It is a gift that I know not all can enjoy. Do I recognize this gift and live in it? Does the fear and shame I have overcome me?
My Dad and I talked yesterday. I am going over to take him for breakfast. I think I owe him a meal or two.