WHEN I spotted a photograph of my thirty-something-year-old friend “dating” a ninety-something-year-old man on social media, I was curious.
Reading the caption “Paktoh-ing (Cantonese for going on a date) with grandpa”, my curiosity was satisfied and I was inspired. It turned out that she was taking her grandfather out for a treat at one of the posh restaurants near where she lived.
It was a rare sight, at least in the city these days.
Young people nowadays are simply too busy to spend time with their aged parents, let alone take their grandparents out.
It was heart-warming to see my friend’s photograph of her outing with her grandfather — an expression of filial piety, a virtue perhaps as rare as chivalry is in modern times.
Upon asking, my friend said that she had been taking her grandfather, 97, out whenever she could. Be it a stroll in the park, a treat at the restaurants or simply window-shopping, it was something she did quite regularly.
She was working in Europe and had returned to Malaysia for a long holiday to simply spend as much time as she could with her grandfather.
“When we were kids, my grandparents took care of my younger sister and I, as well as our cousins.
“My parents had just started out in life and they both had to work. The only time my sister and I saw our parents was in the evenings when they came to have dinner at my grandparents’ home,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I was 11 years old that my sister and I moved back to stay with our parents. Even so, we still went to our grandparents’ to have lunch after school daily.”
When I praised her for her efforts, she said she did not think much of it because she had always been very close to her grandparents.
I told her it was not easy to care for the elderly. It takes a lot of patience, understanding, and love. She replied that she did it because she found it to be a privilege to do so.
“People cheer when a baby learns to walk. But nobody takes notice when a ninety-year-old guy wakes up every day and takes the trouble to continue living with cheerfulness.
“People are willing to walk with their kids in spring but why not with the elderly in their twilight years?
“Most of us regard filial piety as taking care of one’s aged parents. But these days, people live longer. So, shouldn’t filial piety be extended to taking care of our grandparents as well?”
Talking to her, my faith in the younger generation being filial was strengthened.
Many years ago, my wife and I lived two doors away from an elderly man who lived with his son and daughter-in-law.
His only son was a successful business man and his daughter-in-law was a housewife who had the luxury of giving up her career to spend her time in leisure. Their three daughters too, were well known in the neighbourhood as they had the privilege of studying in top schools where they were top students.
My wife and I were used to seeing the neighbours bringing the old man food at different times of the day. But we didn’t pay much attention to it until one of the food bearers told us the truth.
Apparently the old man was not allowed to cook at home by his daughter-in-law. If there was any cooking to be done, she would do it. Otherwise, she would buy street food for him.
However, on many occasions when his daughter-in-law was out of the house, to fetch her children back home from school or had an appointment outside, the old man had to wait until she came home to cook before he could have a proper meal.
It was during such times that these kindly neighbours would be the 70-something-year-old man’s saviour.
Sometimes, they brought him rice. At other times, some kuih or tidbits. Just so that he could eat something while he waited for his daughter-in-law to come home.
I once had a conversation with the old man when he walked by my house to have a smoke because he was not allowed to smoke in the vicinity of his own home.
In that brief encounter, our topic of conversation veered to that of my children. He advised me to bring my children up well and teach them to be respectful to their elders, not just give them academic education alone.
“You have to also instill filial piety in your children or you will not have not done your job well as a parent,” he said as he went on to share with me the woes of his life.
He said he regretted not instilling filial piety in his son after the death of his wife. He also blamed himself of having spent too much time trying to make ends meet that he neglected the basic things he should have taught his son.
He felt that because he neglected his duties, he was paying the price for his ignorance.
Consoling himself, he said at least he was luckier than some people as he still had a home to go back to and was not chased out of the house to sleep in the streets or spend his days in a nursing home.
When I asked him about his three grandchildren, with whom he was staying, the old man’s tears welled up in his eyes, I recall clearly.
He said they could not tolerate his presence, sometimes treating him like he did not exist and were often rude to him. I asked him if their parents did not scold them for being rude to him, the old man just shook his head.
“When as parents, they do not treat their parents well, how will their children learn to treat their grandparents any better?” .
Several weeks after having that conversation, news came that the old man had died in his sleep.
His funeral was a lavish affair and those who did not know of the old man’s inner sufferings remarked to me that he had lived a good life, obviously measured by the material success of his children and grandchildren.
I wanted to tell one of them the truth but decided not to. Lessons such as this was meant to be learned, often the hard way.
These days, whenever I see parents showering their kids with the material things in life, I offer a silent prayer that the children will grow up to remember and repay their parents’ deeds with the same generosity when the latter are in their twilight years. Otherwise, all their parents’ life-long efforts would have been in vain, wouldn’t it?