Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother

By James Schaefer.

And thy grandparents, and great-grandparents . . .

So often, we forget the sacrifices that have been made by those who came before us — those in our own families, and in so many other families — who gave so much of themselves to leave a better world for us who followed.

This author had grandparents born at the turn of the 20th century, over a hundred years ago, and a great-grandmother born just a dozen or so years after the Civil War; he had  a father and two uncles who fought in Europe and the Pacific, who helped overthrow tyranny and secure freedom for the world — freedom from totalitarian governments ruling close to a billion people, in the middle of the tumultuous twentieth century.

We owe an enormous debt to them, not just for the personal sacrifices they made, but for their sense of right and wrong that led them to believe in, and to do, the right thing.  It is a sense of right and wrong that they have tried to pass down to us.

I came of age in the mid-1960s, during the height of the Viet Nam War, and like so many of my contemporaries, I ended up in uniform, opposing what I believed to be a very political war, but loving my country, and the beliefs that have made it great, and the rights guaranteed in our Constitution — rights that cannot be taken away by a vote of the people.

My parents and grandparents taught us to be frugal and careful with what we earned, not because they didn’t want us to have good things in life, but because their lives had been forged, as children and young adults, in the furnace of the great depression.  Their lives were forged by scarcity; and they knew that to persevere, they needed to make wise decisions about spending.

Today, the business catchphrase is “smart money”; but to them, it was simply common sense.

“Live within your means”, we were told.  “If you want something, save your allowance, save your paper route money, until you have enough to buy it with cash — it’ll be there, and if you still want it, buy it then.”

My mother understood well the psychology of saving: that I would be less likely to buy something if I had to save for six months before I could get it: because the effort and sacrifice of saving would then have an intrinsic value of its own, a value that would far exceed the perceived worth of whatever it was I “had to have”.

They knew  intuitively what we now explain with spreadsheets and  algorithms: that a person who saves, a person who spends wisely, will have at least as much over the course of a lifetime — and likely much, much more — than one who immediately spends everything he earns on things he wants but doesn’t need.

The wisdom of the ages comes to us from those who have gone before us.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those who have bequeathed this great nation to us.

And its greatness comes not from government, not from entitlements, not from social programs, but from individual sacrifice and individual effort — no different from the effort of saving for that something we “had to have” as teenagers — only on a larger, life-long scale.

For it is here that the fabric of society exists, and of character.  That sacrifice, both individually and collectively, is the proverbial “refiner’s fire”, a fire that “tempers the steel” of the human spirit, and makes us tough and resilient, both as people and as a nation.

However noble or well-intended government’s social programs, we as individuals and we as a nation become weaker, and poorer, when we are given things we have not earned.

Honor thy father and thy mother, and the lessons of character that they imparted.


Essays on character can be found here:   from David Brooks of the New York Times,

from Charles Murray, writing in The Wall Street Journal, and from Peggy Noonan, in The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).






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