It’s a soul-stirring scene, the caring and feeding of old people in Europe. In a TV documentary shot in London, I watched a very old man, bedridden and weak, being given a sponge bath by a Filipino caregiver.
The old man surrenders himself to the gentle touch of the caregiver, his face blissful and serene. The caregiver must be performing the daily ritual on him, giving the sponge bath, dressing him, feeding him, giving him his medicines.
Quite often, the caregiver tells him stories about his life in his bucolic hometown in the Philippines, as most caregivers do when they become familiar and close to people.
Yes, caregiving is a job. It’s done for the money. But a Filipino does it with a lot of feeling. It’s second nature to him. He’s doing it with genuine respect for old people, just as he’d do it with respect for his own father.
Respect for elders is deeply ingrained in our culture. It’s one of the best manifestations of our Christian culture.
“Honor thy father and mother,” says the fourth commandment.
We learned it the moment we learned to walk as a child. We gave it an elegant expression, mano po Itay, mano po Inay. We take our parents’ hands and we let them touch our forehead, a sign of humility and obedience, body contact that confirms the filial relationship between parents and children.
Mano po is enhanced with our Christian spirituality. We do it after praying the Angelus or when arriving home on late afternoons.
The fourth commandment not only solidifies relationships between parents and children; it’s also a strong signal that love exists within the family.
It must have begun in the womb, when the fetus was attached to the umbilical cord. There’s a covenant between the baby and mother to love and serve each other.
The most devastating feeling for a parent is to realize, or even suspect, that a child does not love him. Such suspicion occurs when children become remote, detached and uncommunicative. This happens when a father thinks that all he has to do to be a good father is to provide solely for all the material needs of his child, whims and caprices included.
Some parents have an overwhelming desire to spare their children the deprivations and hardships they suffered during their youth, under the wings of their poor parents.
When they succeed financially, they raise mama’s boys who grow up unprepared to take responsibilities for a well-ordered adult or married life. The backlash is awful.
Sadness and joy
I know for sure all my children love me. My two daughters, Karen and Claudine, always come to me in their sadness and joy. We can feel sad together or laugh ourselves silly to banish the blues. We always cheer each other up, give comfort and aid when needed.
It’s the greatest joy on earth to know my children love me. I feel the love and respect of my two sons, Nico and Mark. I played all roles when they were growing up—father, confessor, cheerleader and water boy in their karate and soccer tournaments, No. 1 fan during Mark’s stage performances, and Nico’s coach in courting the girl of his dreams.
I feel fortunate that in the Philippines, the fourth commandment is still instinctively followed by our youth, especially in villages and hometowns.
Old people throughout the history of mankind, whether in tribal societies or urban communities, are given respect and honor. They serve as the repository of oral history, having acquired the information, knowledge and wisdom of the ages. They transmit life lessons orally to the next generation.
The phenomenon of the Filipino caregiver happened because of the many lifestyle changes in the years of communication technology. European and American societies acquired a predominantly materialistic lifestyle driven by consumerism and freedom of choice in a pluralistic society.
Pleasure first, virtues later is the seductive call of the modern world. In many families, the elders when they grow weak and sickly are confined solo in a lonely home or asylum. Many sons and daughters abdicated their roles as guardians of their parents and grandparents. The fourth commandment was shunned.
Through the years, the fourth commandment has lost its meaning and importance. Thank God for Filipino caregivers for keeping the fourth commandment alive.
I have a new grandson named Julian. His mom, Claudine, brings Julian to our home where he loves to learn how to walk on our wooden floor. I take the chance to teach him mano po. After each walk, I offer him my hand. He takes it, brings it to his forehead and does the mano po. The kid is a fast learner.