Being Grateful

In February, both my wife and I celebrated our birthdays. (We were born in the same month.)

We were blessed with many gifts from friends and relatives.

Our daughter is married and lives not far away with her hubby and two kids.

Our two sons, 27 and 25, still live with us.

My wife, while keeping a full-time job as a dental surgeon, still ensures, on a daily basis, that our two adult sons have their lunches and dinners provided for them. This she does every single day, in addition to her job and her responsibility in making sure that the house is kept clean, laundry washed and ironed, etc.

Of course, being the filial sons that they are, each Christmas and every year on her birthday, my sons – like their sister – would lavish their mother with gifts. They are not necessarily expensive gifts, but I know my children spend time picking gifts to lift the spirits of their mother, whom they adore. (I too, get my share of gifts.)

My children are mature enough to know that physical gifts are not the only way to express their sentiments, indeed physical gifts are often inadequate, nevertheless they realize their symbolic value and significance. They are also cognizant of the fact that most people – their mum and dad included – are delighted to receive gifts that are tangible. Everyone can say “I love you” but to say those three words accompanied with a little gift that articulates that thought, that is truly priceless. Words without action is just mental masturbation.

Some people say giving is for the giver, that by bestowing gifts on others, you are boosting your own ego, or trying to send a message. (Think donors to political parties or gift hampers to your customers.) But I believe my kids give to their parents to show them their love and appreciation. I also believe that some people are naturally generous, have a giving heart and just love to share.

I have an ex-colleague who is also in her 60’s and is still working. Her husband is a semi-retired artist specializing in Chinese calligraphy, such as the specimen in the picture above. They too have two unmarried adult sons living with them – not an uncommon phenomenon here as you would have guess by now (they usually leave to set up their own nests once they get married) – and although the two boys never lack everything (they too stay rent-free, eat almost 100% of their meals at home and even have their Wi-Fi and mobile phone subscriptions paid for by their parents), both boys have never lifted a finger to help with the family in any way. (My friend even washes her sons’ toilet!) And even when the boys’ girlfriends join the family for meals, the girls will not even pretend to want to help wash the dishes after meals. Both boys have never given a Christmas or birthday gift to their parents though my friend and her hubby never failed to spoil them silly with expensive gifts on those occasions, year in and year out, in fact, since they were born. (These boys are thick-skinned freeloading ingrates, in my opinion!) And to rub salt to the wound, both sons are rather rude to their parents and would snap at them. No respect for parental authority at all – parents can’t even tell the boys what to do! (I’ve witnessed that myself during my visits. “Rudeness is the weak person’s imitation of strength.” — Eric Hoffer.) Both boys chainsmoke smelly Indonesian clove cigarettes and drink beer from morning till night; the pandemic means they now work from home – COVID-19 also provides them with excuses for skipping obligatory family events like visiting their grandparents or attending birthday gatherings or weddings – and they’ve turned the home into a pigsty which they leave to my friend and her hubby to clean.

I am sure, being human, my friend is hurt, though she tries to be stoic about it.

I told her I wouldn’t give my sons any birthday or Christmas gifts if they haven’t given me anything on my birthday or on Christmas and she said: “I won’t let their behavior determine my own behavior. I will continue to be a mother, a giver, a provider as long as I am alive and able. My love is unconditional.” My friend also told me that she and her husband believe in the saying: “You are only ever as happy as your unhappiest child.”

I think she should slap the fuck out of those ungrateful brats; yes, slap them back into oblivion. But in keeping with a recent vow I have made to myself, I try my utmost nowadays not to give unsolicited advice, so I held my tongue and kept my mouth shut. (Yes, in case you haven’t heard, my new mantra is, if you don’t ask for help, I’ll let you rot in your own pus.)

Thankless kids probably have no conscience. As parents, if we kill our expectations, we will suffer no disappointment. Then, there is no need to murder the kids or to wish that had we known, we would have throttled them to death at birth.

The Chinese have a saying “yin shui si yuan” – think of the source of water when drinking water. That’s what the calligraphy shown above says. (It’s in traditional Chinese, so please read from right to left.)

This saying should hang on the wall of every child’s bedroom.

If not, the Bible verse Ephesians 6:2 will do as well. Please look it up!

A quotation attributed to Ali Ibn Abi Talib is also relevant. It says “Don’t use the sharpness of your tongue on the parents who taught you to speak.”

Also, it behooves us all to remember that parents still supporting children who are above 21 years of age are performing a sacrificial act of supererogation – providing commendably above and beyond what moral duty requires.

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