Traditionally, in many Asian cultures, the oldest son takes responsibility for the care of parents. If you had no son, sometimes the families would find a husband for their daughters who would be willing to join the wife’s family by taking on their family name. These men would usually be the second, third or fourth son, but not the first. In these cases, this couple would care for the parents. Over the years, this has changed and it is more circumstance that dictates responsibility.
Unlike the West where old folks homes, hospices, nursing homes and retirement communities are more available and a good alternative for many elderly, in the East it is still considered “cold-blooded” to send your parents away. I think that it’s Asian “guilt” combined with responsibility that we carry. However, thinking about the traditional way for how families live together, it really is a good way to build loving relationships.
In my family, my father is the eldest son. However, due to his job we moved from Honolulu to Tokyo so his sister looked after his father. One summer my relatives came to visit and when it was time to return to Honolulu, my grandfather decided he was going to stay with us. Grandpa lived with us for the last years of his life and I have fond memories of those days. As children, we learned how to spend time with him and knew what made him happy. His favorite past-time was sitting in front of the T.V. watching sport. He loved them all but in those days, most popular was sumo and baseball. He would devour all the player statistics.
Before all this though, grandparents have lived very exciting lives. They have many experiences and so much wisdom they can share with us. I wished I had asked my grandpa more questions about his youth. As I get older, I want to know more. I’ve asked my parents to tell us about their childhood and many things about our family. It would be nice to pass these stories on to the next generations.
Living with Grandpa also taught us social skills that cannot be taught in school. It made us kids understand that we had to speak slowly and loudly in his ‘good’ ear. Us siblings had to help with serving his meals, pour his Japanese sake, put him to bed, help him up and down the stairs and brush his dentures. Yes, as children we complained about all this, but we did it. It did teach us about the process and needs of aging and to have a better understanding so we can be more caring people. I see my sister’s children who live with my parents and they are very kind, gentle and loving to their grandparents and it really makes me happy.
Maybe if more families lived with or interacted with the older generation, our society today would be more empathetic. It would be nice to create a way for those without grandparents to be with and learn from the wisdom of the older generation. One way to do this is to be conscious of your circle of friends and to diversify as much as possible. I think you will find that you gain much more than you give.