1067) No Time for the Old Man



An Old Story, as retold in The Book of Virtues, ed. by William Bennett.

     Once there was an old man who had lost his wife and lived all alone.  He had worked hard as a tailor all his life, but misfortunes had left him penniless, and now he was so old he could no longer work for himself.  His hands trembled too much to thread a needle, and his vision had blurred too much for him to make a straight stitch.  He had three sons, but they were all grown and married now, and they were so busy with their own lives, they only had time to stop by and eat dinner with their father once a week.

     Gradually the old man grew more and more feeble, and his sons came by to see him less and less.  “They don’t want to be around me at all now,” he told himself, “because they’re afraid I’ll become a burden.”  He stayed up all night worrying what would become of him, until at last he thought of a plan.

     The next morning he went to see his friend the carpenter, and asked him to make a large chest.  Then he went to see his friend the locksmith, and asked him to give him an old lock.  Finally he went to see his friend the glassblower, and asked for all the old broken pieces of glass he had.

     The old man took the chest home, filled it to the top with broken glass, locked it up tight, and put it beneath his kitchen table.  The next time his sons came for dinner, they bumped their feet against it.

     “What’s in this chest?” they asked, looking under the table.  “Oh, nothing,” the old man replied, “just some things I’ve been saving.”

     His sons nudged it and saw how heavy it was.  They kicked it and heard a rattling inside.  “It must be full of all the gold he’s saved over the years,” they whispered to one another.

     So they talked it over, and realized they needed to guard the treasure.  They decided to take turns living with the old man, and that way they could look after him, too.  So the first week the youngest son moved in with his father, and cared and cooked for him.  The next week the middle son took his place, and the week afterward the eldest son took a turn.  This went on for some time.

     At last the old father grew sick and died.  The sons gave him a very nice funeral, for they knew there was a fortune sitting beneath the kitchen table, and they could afford to splurge a little on the old man now.

     When the service was over, they hunted through the house until they found the key, and unlocked the chest.  And of course they found it full of broken glass.

     “What a rotten trick!” yelled the eldest son.  “What a cruel thing to do to your own sons!”

     “But what else could he have done, really?” asked the middle son sadly.  “We must be honest with ourselves.  If it wasn’t for this chest, we would have neglected him until the end of his days.”

     “I’m so ashamed of myself,” sobbed the youngest. “We forced our own father stoop to deceit, because we would not observe the very commandment he taught us when we were young.”

     But the eldest son tipped the chest over to make sure there was nothing valuable hidden among the glass after all.  He poured the broken pieces onto the floor until it was empty.  Then the three brothers silently stared inside, where they now read an inscription left for them on the bottom:  HONOR THY FATHER AND MOTHER.


A wonderful German television Christmas commercial about another neglected father:



Two quotes from Mother Teresa:

The way you help heal the world is you start with your own family.


Do we know our poor people?  Do we know the poor in our house, in our family?  Perhaps they are not hungry for a piece of bread.  Perhaps our children, husband, wife, are not hungry, or naked, or dispossessed, but are you sure there is no one there who feels unwanted, deprived of affection?


Deuteronomy 5:16  —  Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live long and that it may go well with you in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Malachi 1:6a  —  A son honors his father, and a slave his master.  If I am a father, where is the honor due me?

Proverbs 17:25  —  A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the mother who bore him.


Mother Teresa’s Prayer for the Family:

Heavenly Father, you have given us the model of life in the Holy Family of Nazareth.
Help us, O Loving Father, to make our family another Nazareth where love, peace and joy reign…

Help us to stay together in joy and sorrow in family prayer.
Teach us to see Jesus in the members of our families,
especially in their distressing disguise.
May the heart of Jesus make our hearts humble like his
and help us to carry out our family duties in a holy way.
May we love one another as God loves each one of us, more and more each day, and forgive each other’s faults as you forgive our sins.
Help us, O Loving Father, to take whatever you give with a big smile…  Amen.