Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Crime without a Name

Eight of the Ten Commandments enjoin us not to do certain things: make graven images, covet our neighbors goods, steal, kill.  We have names for the sins of breaking those eight: idolatry, murder, theft, adultery. Deadly sins--envy, slander.  Strictly speaking, only some of these taboos are universal enough to make it into the legal definition of a crime here in the USA.  (Some are proscribed by law in other societies, but not since the Salem witch trials have we had to pay with our lives for blasphemy.  I am glad of that!)

There are two positive Commandments:  they instruct us to take specific actions.  But the transgressions against those two don't, as far as I know, have names.  For now I will leave the fourth Commandment alone.  Keeping holy the Lords Day is not my issue today.  I want to talk about the fifth: Honor thy father and thy mother.   

Over the past few years, I have encountered criminal behavior on the part of children in this regard.  Well, maybe not actionable by a District Attorney, but in the figurative sense.  The behavior of these people is BAD.

We are not talking here about adolescents.  We all know what they are likely to do—at least in our culture.  Most of the guff teenagers dish out is expected; if we are honest, we did it ourselves.  I know I did.  Puberty is a period of temporary insanity.  But “temporary” is supposed to be the operant word here.

These criminals of which I speak are not of that age group.  They are in their thirties and forties, one approaching fifty.  They are not mentally impaired, the victims of child abuse, or uneducated.  One is a physician.  Another a business executive.  Another a social worker!!

These are people whose parents raised them with care and affection—gave them lovely homes, educated them, went to their school events and tennis matches, paid their tuition, in one case through medical school.  Some of them were supported and are still being supported into their adult lives.  Need your child taken care of after school?  Grandmother will do it.  Take your dog to the vet?  Sure.  Then, suddenly, they cut their parents off completely—will not speak to them, will not see them, will not let them see their grandchildren.  They don’t send a Christmas card.  Or visit them when they are sick.

One set of parents, getting on years, have taken the precaution of finding  a lawyer who will act as power of attorney for them if one of them should die and the other find him or herself with no one to look after their interests.  Another pair have left their home and moved to a faraway state in the hopes of lessening the acute pain they feel over being eliminated from their child’s life.  It isn’t working.  They weep still.

The three guilty offspring that I have known since childhood are not the only transgressors.   An acquaintance has a daughter who takes her mother’s money to support herself but will communicate with her only through an attorney.  A lawyer friend told me of a client who has had a stroke and can no longer pay his adult child’s bills.  She abandoned him.  I wonder if she will show up when the will is read.

Crime writers understand that criminals do not see themselves as bad.  Evil doers can rationalize even their most brutal behavior.  Undoubtedly these little snots all think they have reasons to despise their progenitors.

The Fifth Commandment does not, however, give them any leeway.  Honor thy father and thy mother, it says.  There is no phrase following letting you off the hook if you think your mother didn’t bake you brownies or your father never took you fishing.  There are NO ifs.  Honor them.  Period.

A possible name for this crime is Serpent’s Tooth Syndrome.  Whatever we call it is a crying shame, and I have a strong feeling it is not limited to my broken-hearted friends.

“How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child!” 

Annamaria Alfieri 


  1. This is a powerful statement!!! And an issue that needs airing in our lives more. At the risk of being personal, I went through this with my only sibling, a younger brother, who died this March. He tried to treat our widowed mother in such a way that left me fighting to keep her safe her last years. I commuted from NYC to Norfolk for several years and I believe she went into the next world feeling safe... Thank you for this piece, Pat. Thelma

  2. I can't understand that behavior at all. I put myself through a hell of guilt for sticking my poor father in a nursing home when he fell prey to a dementing illness. I went to see him nearly every day, and when he could still walk I took him out for ice cream and rides around the countryside. When he died after three years the janitor came to me and praised me for paying so much attention to my father. "Why wouldn't I?" I said. "Most people just leave them here," he said. "They never come to see them."

  3. I hope more people will be frank about their own life experiences... we never know what the other guy is going through... most people put up so many fire walls we rarely know the real story of the real persona... tjs

  4. Kate and Thelma, I am glad this struck a chord with you. I had to get it off my chest. I really do think Thelma is right, that there are MANY people who suffer from a version of this and will not talk about it because they don't want people to think ill of their children.

  5. A chilling, powerful cri de coeur, Annamaria! Worth saying and repeating.