Filial Piety

A father is gently rubbing Vaseline on the lips of his elderly mother as she lies dying in a hospital bed, his face the picture of sorrow. The man’s teenage son is watching and finally blurts out, “Dad why are you so sad? Grandma was so mean to you.” 

Last week Dave and I attended the Cannes Lions 2011 Awards film at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. For 90 minutes we saw television advertisements from around the world that won bronze, silver or gold recognition at the Cannes Film Festival. There were many great ads but I think my favorite was the one titled Filial Piety. It was made by the Singapore government to encourage citizens to care for their elderly parents.

From the hospital room we are shown flashbacks of an elderly woman moving in with her son’s family after her husband’s death. She is not happy about moving and tries to run away. She complains about the food and is just plain difficult to live with. Eventually she is hospitalized.

The teenage son who has watched his parents dealing with his senile and cantankerous grandmother is surprised that his father is so sad about her demise. Then we see another flashback. The grandmother is a young woman and her little son is ill. She runs through the rain to the hospital with him, begs the doctors to see him and holds him in her lap till he regains consciousness. By sharing this story from the past the father lets his son know that because his mother once cared for him,  it is now his duty to care for her. 

The Singapore government made this ad because the city has a large aging population and they are finding that in an increasingly globalized society, the Asian value of caring for parents (filial piety) is being lost. The advertisement ends with these words running across the screen,  How one generation loves, the next generation learns

The Singapore ad reminded me of a story I used to read my  students called The Wooden Bowl.

A frail old man went to live with his son, daughter-in-law, and four-yearold grandson. The elderly man’s hands trembled, his eyesight was blurred, and his step faltered. The family ate together at the table. But the elderly grandfather’s shaky hands and failing sight made eating difficult. Peas rolled off his spoon onto the floor. When he grasped the glass, milk spilled on the tablecloth.

The son and daughter-in-law became irritated with the mess. “We must do something about father,” said the son.”I’ve had enough of his spilled milk, noisy eating, and food on the floor.” So the husband and wife set a small table in the corner.There, Grandfather ate alone while the rest of the family enjoyed dinner. Since Grandfather had broken a dish or two, his food was served in a wooden bowl.

When the family glanced in Grandfather’s direction, sometimes he had a tear in his eye as he sat aloneStill, the only words the couple had for him were sharp admonitions when he dropped a fork or spilled food. The four-year-old watched it all in silence.

One evening before supper, the father noticed his son playing with wood scraps on the floor.
 He asked the child sweetly, “What are you making?” Just as sweetly, the boy responded, “Oh, I am making a little bowl for you and Mama to eat your food in when I grow up.”
The four-year-old smiled and went back to work.

The words struck the parents speechless. Then tears started to stream down their cheeks. Though no word was spoken, both knew what must be done. That evening the husband took Grandfather’s hand and gently led him back to the family tableFor the remainder of his days he ate every meal with the family. And for some reason,
neither husband nor wife seemed to care any longer when a fork was dropped, milk spilled, or the tablecloth soiled.

How one generation loves, the next generation learns. 

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, Family, Retirement

One response to “Filial Piety

  1. Margaret

    Love that story of The Wooden Bowl.

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