Honouring our fathers and mothers

Texts: 2 Corinthians 6:1-3 (“the day of salvation), Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus calms a storm)

“Honour your father and your mother.” This is the fifth of the Ten Commandments; and today I use it for the title of a Father’s Day Reflection.

When I was a child, my family didn’t celebrate Mother’s Day or Father’s Day. Perhaps my parents dismissed these Sundays as creations of the greeting card industry. Perhaps they wanted every day, and not just one in May and another in June, to be a celebration of love and respect between parents and children.

Because Mother’s and Father’s days were not part of my childhood, I have rarely marked them during Sunday morning gatherings.

Today I deviate from this pattern. With the death of my mother last Christmas, this is the first spring in which I no longer have a living parent to honour. So, today I talk about honouring our parents even when they are no longer with us.

Parents don’t disappear from our lives when they die. Each of us carry a construct of them in our psyches. Sigmund Freud called it the superego, the part of our mind that watches over us and attempts to keep our thoughts and actions in check. Freud sometimes called it the great “Thou Shalt Not!”

The superego is more than an internalized parent. It represents the controlling words of church, school, and state. But its greatest influence is our parents.

The superego has a bad reputation. It is the source of our feelings of shame. Its messages can be painful and crippling. Too often, I believe, it tells us not just that it disagrees with an action or decision, but that we are flawed or bad.

All parents are unique, of course, which means that each of us has a unique superego. Some are lucky to have relatively assertive ones. Others are burdened with internal parental voices that can be punishing. Most of us have a mixture.

I am grateful to all my ancestors, and especially to my mother and father. Without them, I would not exist. From them flows much of what I love about life and about myself. But our ancestors did not live in ideal circumstances. Like us, they were born into a world of blessings and burdens, of woes and joys. For all that we love about our family, church, and country, there is much that we don’t like, including violence and dysfunctions of all kinds.

Our superego contains both what we like and don’t like about our parents. For this reason, I try to honour my parents by paying attention to unconscious parental messages, by thanking them for caring, and by trying to tame and mature them.

As much as I loved my parents and miss them, there is a lot about them that disappointed me. I wish they had taught me and my siblings more about emotions and clear communication. I wish they had modelled how to maintain strong boundaries when dealing with aggression. But they were who they were, and we will never have anything other than the childhood we had.

To honour my parents and to improve my life, I work to develop a superego or conscience that speaks love without violence.

For me, a key part of this work is against judgments. When people, places, and things are labelled, communication is defensive and unrevealing.

As an example, no movie can truthfully be judged as good or bad. A movie is liked by some and disliked by others; and these likes and dislikes reveal truths about the people who hold them. But judgements obscure the speaker’s values and tell us nothing objectively true about the movie. For this reason, I try to never say that a movie is good or bad, but rather why I like or dislike it.

When judgments are personal, they hurt. None of us like to be told by colleagues or loved ones that we are inadequate, evil, or incompetent. And even positive judgments place the person doing the judging in the role of god ā€“ a position that our tradition wisely tells us to avoid. Judgements, whether positive or negative, obscure the feelings, perspectives and values of the speaker.

To help tame my inner critic, I try to avoid judgement in all aspects of life. I try to know what I am feeling, own my perspectives, and connect these to a stated set of values. I don’t find this goal an easy one to achieve ā€“ far from it. But I keep trying.

Unfortunately, judgments are everywhere in our culture.

The past week in world politics has given us examples. The President of the United States criticized Canada’s Prime Minister as dishonest and weak, and he praised the leader of North Korea as strong, smart, and trustworthy. Such judgements are free of content, of course. But unfortunately they have effects.

Living in a culture awash in such judgements makes the task of taming our superegos more difficult, I believe. Nevertheless, I think the effort is worthwhile.

When I pay attention to the voice of my superego, I reconnect with my parents. Their values and perspectives will never perfectly match my own. But when I help that inner voice speak with less judgement, I can hear it more clearly.

When I notice that my superego is saying that I am bad or inadequate, I work to transform this into a statement in which its feelings and motives are attached to its values; and I try to remember that my superego wouldn’t stir itself unless it cared.

To the extent that I can teach this inner voice to speak without judgement, the easier it becomes for me to hear my parents’ values and perspectives. In touch with my superego, but freed from its attacks, I can develop my own perspectives and try to express them through feelings and articulated values.

Today’s Gospel reading is about fear and faith. Jesus tells his friends they have nothing to fear. By this, he does not mean that the storms of life won’t swamp them. After all, he is about to lead them to Jerusalem to confront religious and imperial power and to die because of that.

I think Jesus means that at the deepest level we are already healed and saved.

In the reading from Corinthians, Paul says something similar. He says that now is the acceptable time. Now is day of salvation, which in our tradition is also the day of judgement.

For me, judgement becomes salvation when Love is revealed not in the words of the punishing tribal god YHWH who gave Moses the Ten Commandments but by Jesus who, in dying and rising, leads us from moralism to the universal love that is our source and our destiny.

To honour our parents, we can thank them for gifting us with life. We can listen to their perspectives and values. We can remember that they care deeply regardless of how they express themselves. And we can try to help their voice as expressed by conscience and superego move from judgement to healing.

Today’s is Father’s Day. Today is an acceptable time to transform judgement into healing. Today is the Day of Salvation.

May it be so.


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