The Word Among Us

June 2008 Issue


A Life Lesson from My Father

By: Michael Rosslund

"My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives.

Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him; 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 3:12-14).

It was the first Sunday after Christmas, the feast of the Holy Family, and the reading from Sirach hit me hard. A doctor had just confirmed that my father's forgetfulness, repetitiveness, and uncharacteristic paranoia were beyond the normal range for someone his age. Yes, Dad had Alzheimer's.

"Even if his mind fail, be considerate with him" (Sirach 3:13). I knew it wouldn't be easy to follow Sirach's exhortation to patience. But along with grief and fear, I felt a deep sense of gratitude as I listened to that reading, for God had already been preparing me for the challenge.

Like Father, Like Son. Some years before, when Dad was still healthy and active, a friend made a casual comment that got me thinking about the impatience I often displayed toward my father. As I reflected on it, I had to admit the painful truth that although I loved Dad, I tended to treat him with impatience bordering on disrespect.

This may have had something to do with the fact that Dad and I were so much alike. Each of us was quick to grasp problems and propose solutions; we were thorough, creative, forceful—and, it must be said, stubborn about doing things our way.

Growing up, I had felt the clash as Dad helped me with projects like planting carrots and making a birdhouse. "Let me do it," I'd beg him. But as it seemed to me, my father took over every time. Frustrated, I had gradually distanced myself and stopped going to him for practical help and instruction. My siblings, on the other hand, had learned a lot from watching and doing things with Dad and had enjoyed the process.

Now I began to see that there had been something prideful about my extreme desire to do things "by myself." Yes, my attitude was a major part of the problem. I knew what I had to do: ask forgiveness of my heavenly Father and seek his help to change how I related to my earthly father.

A Second Chance. Fortunately, my change of heart came about while there was still an opportunity for it to make a difference. One day, somewhat tentatively, I asked Dad for advice about repairing a canoe. That experience was far more helpful and enjoyable than I had expected. It opened a door and marked a turning point in our relationship.

Not that I always found it easy to curb my impatience with Dad! But I found strength in the Sacrament of Reconciliation as well as in Scripture. Certain Bible verses took on new meaning and inspired me to persevere. I reflected often on "children's duties toward parents" in Sirach 3:1-16. I became more motivated to pursue patience once I noticed how important it is. Patience is the first characteristic highlighted in St. Paul's classic description of love 
(1 Corinthians 13:4); it's listed among the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).

I'm so grateful that God offered me a chance to get close to Dad before his mind began to fail. I know that his grace will see us through this last phase of my father's life.

*A pseudonym has been used at the author's request.