Friday, February 17, 2006

Filial Piety

Until I moved to Korea, I had never heard this phrase before. However, in the Land of the Morning Calm, filial piety is a frequently used phrase for a very important value in Korean culture. Loyalty to your parents means going home every Chusok. And then at Lunar New Year Koreans show their filial piety by full bowing. And after your parents die, your duty doesn't end either. Like many Asian cultures, Koreans go visit the graves of their parents and even grandparents and full bow. They also set out food and drink for them, somewhat like Mexicans do for Dia De Los Muertos.

Filial piety is something I instantly indentified with when I moved to Korea as a value that I also share. I didn't realize that this value was unique until I started talking to others. For example, as soon as it turned February, I knew that I needed to buy a Valentine's Day card for my parents and grandmother. I was surprised to find out that many adults my age don't do this for their parents.

Additionally, I feel a duty to honor my parents on their birthdays and on Mother and Father's Day. This example is perhaps more common among my peers. Since my parents both have birthdays in April, sometimes I just send one gift for them to share. A couple of years ago, I sent a really nice goose-down duvet. This year I found a beautiful piece of celadon pottery in the village of Ichon, that I'm praying will be delivered unbroken!

Every August, my brother and I try to send a card to honor the marriage of our parents. Once every five years, we try to give them a nice little gift. For example, last year on their 40th anniversary, we set them up in the quaint village of Parkville, Missouri with a stay at a B&B and dinner at a posh restaurant.

Ever since I left home in 1992 to attend Ottawa University, I have tried to call home to my parents every week. Granted, there were times when I was traveling in some country it was too difficult or expensive to make an international phone call. And there were times when my stupid phone card ran out of money or the phone lines were down. However, these weekly conversations (usually around an hour or so) were really good for us to keep in touch and share what was going on in our lives.

Where does my filial piety come from? Well first of all, I do love, admire and respect my parents. I have always wanted them to be happy and proud of me. Second, filial piety is one of the Ten Commandments God gave to Moses. "Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you (Ex. 20:12)." It was interesting to me that this was the only commandment that also included a promise of a reward.

Over the years, there have been times when my duty as a son conflicted with my duty to myself. I found that sometimes in honoring my parents that I dishonored myself. I agonized over the lies of both omission and submission. More and more it seemed that our relationship was more about what I perceived they wanted as a son and not who I was or what I wanted. It occurred to me that in my life, I was rarely asked what I wanted. So I started to get to know myself without guilt or apology.

When I did come out to my parents, I framed the conversation in terms of our unhealthy relationship and my desire to be more honest and open with them. That was a really hard day for me but definately a turning point in my life. After that, I continued to talk honestly about my life, not to hurt them but rather to open the door to any questions or comments they might have.

It hurts me that I haven't made them proud in this regard. In a sense, they are in the closet as well when it comes to talking honestly to their friends and family about how I am and the issues I've been dealing with. What I really hope will become apparent is that my parents will see my filial piety as not just my duty but also my act of love, an encouraging sign that I still care and want to be connected. And I will continue to honor their lives and relationship, not just in the tangible ways mentioned above but also in leading a life of faith, integrity and love, values that I learned from them.

1 comment:

Jolie said...

Wow! Now I feel so guilty about my lack of honoring my parents. You truly connect with your parents more than anyone I know. I really hope they get a chance to read this post. I really hope they see how truly great of a son you are. Yes, your lifestyle is different than they had hoped. I think this stems from cultural expectations. I hope beyond hope that as the culture gets better educated, they will be able to 'come out of the closet'. Yes, I know that they also lean heavily on religious beliefs to form their beliefs, but I would like to assume that 'love thy neighbor' also applies to their son. Doesn't the golden rule supercede all others? (My ignorance might be shining through here.)

I would like to believe that I have filial piety. At first, reading your post I thought to myself that I encompass all that you are saying. Then I read further. I don't put in the time and energy filial piety demands. I really respect your dedication to your family. It makes me strive to try harder. You definitely lead by example. That's amazing.