I was reading in the Psalms the other day when I came across this verse…”We have had enough of the hateful words of those proud people who make fun of us and show us no respect.” This comes from Psalm 123 but this Psalm has no subscript so I do not know the author. Someone has aptly said, “Growing old is not for sissies,” and I concur. Respect has to be taught. Babies are not born with respect, they have to acquire that trait as they grow and mature. The parents play a huge role in this area: we have to teach our children to respect us and to respect others, especially older people. You can judge a person by how they treat the very young and the very old. People who do not love children and have no respect for the elderly, are people of small character. My mother was a strict disciplinarian. She had a zero tolerance policy. If you back talked her, you would be picking yourself up off the floor. She would ring your jaws like it was a dinner bell. Nobody smart talked mother and got away with it. Daddy on the other hand was not as strict. There were things that upset him but he did not use the rod often. He allowed us to argue and talk back and that was not a good thing. It became a habit for me. Of the seven children, I probably was the worse of the lot. There was one area where I did not argue or talk back and that was when I helped him finish concrete which was his trade. I acknowledged his expertise in that area and whatever he said, I did but that was as far as it went. On the farm it was different. I questioned everything he did. During my teen years, I was convinced that I was superior to daddy in every way. I was bigger physically and I fully believed that I was more intelligent. To be honest, I thought that I knew practically everything and that he knew nothing.
Getting married and moving away from home [400 miles] helped but I had a long way to go. Daddy retired while we were in Seminary. One of the first things he did after retiring was come visit us in New Orleans. I took that opportunity to apologize to him for being disrespectful and ungrateful. He accepted my apology with humility but as I think back, he probably knew that my education had just began and that I had a long, long ways to go. I continued to argue with him about politics. Daddy had been brain washed by the union but I didn’t handle it right. It was actually a subject that I would bring up and it should have been left alone. My respect for daddy did begin to grow but I was still disrespectful in my attitude about many things. In my late 20’s daddy begin to confide in me as a man and I began to understand a lot that I had never considered. I listened and I tried to be a friend but I did not have the kind of sympathy or compassion that I wish now that I had. As daddy grew older, he began to have some physical problems, especially in regard to what he called “His Manliness”. Daddy had a surgery that basically left him impotent and that worried him. He wanted to talk about it all the time but I did not want to hear it. My thinking at the time was: “Daddy, you are not a young man anymore and you should not be concerned about such things…that part of your life is over and you have to accept it and move on.” I was being unrealistic; daddy could not accept it or move on. I should have given him sympathy. I should have been understanding but I was not. As a matter of fact, I had no comprehension of what it means to be an old man, a term that daddy hated. I did not call him an old man because I knew that hurt him. He never saw himself as old. He saw others as being old. After one of his hospital stints, he kept talking about the old man in the room with him. Mother said, “Eugene, how old was the old man?” Daddy said, “I think he was 68.” Mother said, “How old are you?” He shrugged his head and said, “78”.
The bottom line is that older people like to be treated with respect but not like they are old. They get tired of people making fun of their elderliness. If you live long enough, you will have problems with your back, knees, bowels, kidneys, eyes, teeth and hearing. I could have named a lot more but you get the idea. Daddy use to take so many stool softeners that there were times when he lost control if you know what I mean. Their clothes line would be filled with his shorts that bore the marks of a blow out. Somewhere between Sardis Springs and Falls Creek Falls there is a pair of rotted shorts in the bushes, a memorial to daddy. I was not on that trip but Holly and Mother filled me in. I am sorry to say that I picked at daddy about a lot of these things. They were not all that humorous to him but I thought they were funny.
Guest what I get these days? A constant stream of jokes about being old. A dear friend came by my office a few months ago to thank me for doing his dads CELEBRATION OF LIFE SERVICE. This is what he said, “Your children say you are getting forgetful but I don’t see how you do what you do. My mother said she was tired before the service began and then she said, “I could have listened to him all day.” I thanked him and then I told him what was going on…I said, “the entire bunch is trying to prepare me for the nursing home. June tells the kids as soon as they walk in the door…Your daddy can’t remember anything…he got a glass of milk the other day and then set the milk on top of the refrigerator. The week before, he put the ice cream in the refrigeration side instead of the freezer. Not only does he forget, he cannot hear it thunder.” The truth is, her hearing is just slightly above mine and she tells me the same stories over and over. I have always gone where I pleased and traveled a lot by myself. I have driven all night by myself. I have made trips to Jackson Mississippi and back in a day, all by my lonesome and now that don’t want me going on trips alone.
I have a word of advice for all the smart aleck young people who love poking fun at us old folks: YOU ARE GOING TO GET OLD SOONER THAN YOU THINK, MUCH SOONER. Secondly, you are going to be sorry for being disrespectful to your parents and to other older people.