Concerning the Fourth Commandment, we can honor a father or mother after they’re gone

Detailed Map of D-Day Invasion
[Archives New Zealand from New Zealand, CC BY 2.0
via Wikimedia Commons]


Joseph R. was born in1920, in Indianapolis, Indiana. His parents were Peter and Cora R. of rural southern Indiana, where the parents raised the children on a small farm. There were two siblings, a sister Mary and his brother Ed, along with a half-brother also named Joseph. Life for a small farmer with a wife and three children was difficult but peaceful overall as the family gathered their food from their own labors and managed to produce some to sell.

Peaceful, that is, until December of 1941. Joseph had joined the Army in early 1941 and was hardly surprised at the events following Pearl Harbor. He grew in rank quickly and had attained the rank of sergeant by 1944. He was discharged after the war ended in 1945.

Joseph married in January of 1946. The couple had one son (me) near Christmas that year. The marriage did not go well and ended five years later in divorce. Neither did the divorce go well for mother and son. I rarely saw or heard from him until the age of 12, and then on infrequent day trips during the summer. He was never given custody rights and never asked. I grew up listening to the bitterness from my mother and inherited the same toward him. The only other time I saw him was after my early (medical) discharge from the Marine Corps in 1965. We ran into each other and had coffee together. That chance encounter also did not end well. I informed him in conclusion that I had no filial affection for him and could not relate to him as a father. We never saw or heard from each other again before his passing in 2002.


Years later, and after the passing of my mother, I learned something about my father that I never knew. My grown daughter told me in conversation about my parents that Sergeant Joe was in the D-Day invasion. She revealed to me that my late mother provided her with more of his military history in England and Europe several years before her death. At first I was astonished that I never learned that about him. My daughter searched him on https://www.ancestry.com/ and discovered only a few details of his life. Military information available amounted to a few dates, nothing more. Like unto so many other infantrymen in June of 1944, he was so unnoticeably normal.

The U. S. divisions of the Allied forces landed at either Omaha Beach or Utah Beach to the west. Which did Sergeant Joe draw, leading his squad off a landing craft into machine gun fire where odds were about one in three of making it to the cliffs? Or did he and his men drop by parachute behind the lines? That is unknown, and part of that unknown displays the greatness and the heroism of the multitude of unknowns risking everything to defeat a monster of global proportions and restore Europe to the free world.

So I discovered much later in my own life that there was something about my father to honor, his leadership in military service under extreme circumstances, especially D-Day. But he had already passed on by that time. So how could I honor him, more than in the senses of civil and filial duty, as my own father?



That’s me, the ‘token heretic’, second from the end on the right, with the Kohani priest ‘Jonathan’ sitting at the end on my right. One morning while in the Book of Exodus, we were talking about the Commandment to ‘honor father and mother’. My mother came to mind first off, but then my father emerged in my mind. Both were gone from this life and I admitted inwardly that I did not honor him but instead cut him off from me. With the Jews, I acknowledged the regret that I sometimes experienced, and that in contradiction to my feeling that regret is not necessarily admission of guilt. And it is good counsel to people that they never conflate responsibility with guilt.

But we talked about how we may not be able to honor them as deserving with mere words after they are gone. But we still must recognize how it is that we honor parents with the lives that we chose to live, and then living our lives although we may be apart from them in the here and now. We honor our parents when we take the lessons that we learned from them and go beyond them, applying them to our own callings and choices in this life. My father was uneducated, my mother graduated high school. I have four degrees and part of a fifth one, built my own business twice, was ordained to the Lutheran presbyterate later in life, served four congregations as their pastor, eventually retiring from my position as correctional chaplain of a maximun security prison. Thus did I honor them, as all conscientious children do by their own witness in life.

So I asked the question, “Can we honor our parents after they are gone, when we did not do so in this life? Or does their death remove that possibility? Some might respond that it is easier now than it was when they were here, and we had to reconcile face-to-face. No, for it is more difficult if we feel that it falls short somehow and beyond our ability. It ought not though, and we should offer at least that much to their memory.

So Sergeant Joe, to your memory on this 80th anniversary of your voluntary response to a call for service to this country, and to your leadership in a heroic response to evil, I salute you and offer to you the honor you ought to have from an unknowing and unforgiving son.

Father David+

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