ISSUES OF FAITH: Honoring parents a complicated command

FATHER’S DAY IS this Sunday. It will be the first Father’s Day since my dad died at nearly 98.

He had been living with us for the last three-plus years and he died out on the porch on a warm September afternoon while taking a nap. It’s the kind of passing we might all wish for.

At nearly 98, we knew he wasn’t going to last forever, but death, expected or not, is sudden when it happens, isn’t it?

My “Issues of Faith” this week is about honoring our fathers and mothers. It’s the fifth of the Ten Commandments.

In Exodus 20, it says very straightforwardly, “Honor your father and mother … ” But what is “honoring?”

Dictionaries seem to settle on the definition of “honoring” as showing respect. It doesn’t say that you have to like the individual first. And that’s a good thing because “liking” was hard to do sometimes over the last few years with my dad.

He had outlived all his friends, had major dental problems that made it hard or enjoyable to eat anymore, his hearing was shot from being a crew chief on B-25s in WWII. His discomfort was palpable.

I expect he felt the same way about me at times, even when I tried to keep him from going down stairs with his wheeled walker.

On reflection, our recent tiffs, and those over the decades, sifted to the fact we were simply very different people with very different ways of thinking and approaching life. My dad was a physicist and a firm believer in Murphy’s Law that if anything can go wrong, it will. I am liberal arts through and through, and inherited my mom’s more positive outlook on life and people.

He lamented to me not long before his death that he had never been able to talk to our kids about one of the most important lessons of his life. I asked what that was, in great anticipation of a key to life or something. He went on to say he was sad he had never had the chance to explain quantum mechanics to our kids! See what I mean?

Now, with a bit of time since my dad’s death to think about him, I think true “honoring” of a parent takes more than showing respect.

For me, it’s been helpful to recognize him as a person and not just being my dad. Parents don’t come with an instruction manual or how to recognize their kids’ gifts or idiosyncrasies. The same might be said about kids not having a manual on dealing with their aging parents either.

It’s taken a fair amount of adult-onset grace to look past the past and fully honor my father as the person he was or tried to be.

As different as we were in so many ways, my dad imprinted me with a love of classical music, especially choral, love of natural history, road trips and gardening.

He was not wealthy but generously helped pay off college loans for our kids.

He helped fund the organ expansions at his home churches. And he supported us at the winery when we needed it, even though he was a tea-totaler and measured all drinks by his love of Mountain Dew.

As a follow-up to the Exodus original about honoring your parents, in Ephesians 6 it says “Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

I love the thought that a commandment can have a promise attached and a good one at that.

The more I step back from memories like my dad’s rather rough way of correcting my algebra as a 13-year-old, the more I can appreciate him and truly honor him.

With that, I feel the Ephesians promise is beginning to be fulfilled in my life.

I hope I inherited my dad’s genes for a long life, but even if not, my life is better for honoring him and the memories of his being a great person and not just my dad.

_________

Issues of Faith is a rotating column by religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. Don Corson is an Ordained Deacon in the Lutheran Church (ELCA) and the winemaker for a local winery. He is also the minister for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Forks. His email is ccwinemaker@gmail.com.

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