Could you be guilty of elder abuse?

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him.

The UN declared every June 15 to be World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. What is elder abuse? It can take many forms. I invite anyone who has an elderly person in their lives to examine their own behavior and think about this question. According to Wikipedia Elder abuse is “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
My dad asked me to bring him to the store to buy bagels for my kids. When I go to visit him, I typically stay a couple of days. I try to take him where he asks because he doesn’t drive any more. I think he feels comfortable asking me to do things because I’m the youngest son. It has been my natural role all of the lives we’ve shared together. It has given me the privilege of getting to know him perhaps better than my other siblings. I am the son of my father’s old age. But like some of those old people in the bible, my father did a lot as an old person.
Judge Pat Bifulco was 68 when he voluntarily stepped down from being a Judge to help me start a law practice. And he worked like a twenty five year old. He did that for ten years without any sign of slowing down.

They Took Care of Us

Since my youngest memories of him he had always been a vital strong assertive person. Now he is 91. Here is where the elder abuse comes in: he is finally slowing down! Before, if he and I disagreed, if I pushed, he would not budge. It was like pushing on a tree trunk. But at 91 if we disagree about something, he might get confused, or worse, feel bad that we disagreed. It took me some time to realize that I have to be more gentle in tone and manner with my father. It took time because he was always so strong and confident. But also because as my parent and elder, but more, as his child I was dependent upon him. I depended on him for my literal survival and protection. And if he chose to abandon me, or abuse me he could have. As children we are powerless. My father earned respect and deference because he was a great father. But if he had been a bad father, I would have been stuck with him and obedient. But my obedience would have been out of fear and not respect.

Who is vulnerable now?

The thing with elder abuse is that we must realize that now, when our parents are old, the tables are turned. Now we must choose whether to earn respect and deference or compel obedience out of fear and abuse. But our choice is not always obvious. Abuse can creep in now that our parent is the vulnerable one.
Which brings me back to the bagels and driving my father around. It so happens that on this particular visit I was very busy. I did not really have time to go to the bagel shop. I wanted to get an early start and after all our other errands I just wanted to go.
But this bagel thing was special to my father. When he did drive, he would go to several stores to get special things that were his gifts to his grandchildren. Alfonso’s pastry shop for cannolis, Pastosa for ravioli and prosciutto di Parma, Lee Simms for chocolates, another store for the right kind of Italian bread, a case of the best canned tomatoes that could only be had from a certain supermarket who allowed him to buy them and not the general public, and last but not least, a certain bagel shop. There was no way to dissuade him. But now without me to drive, and carry and help, he could not do these things. Well I was in luck this day. Old age had caused him to forget about the bagel shop. I could get my early start, and he’d never know!

Honor your father and your mother so that you may have a long life in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

I put my stuff in the car, and came back in to say goodbye. He gave me a kiss on the cheek, and I turned to leave thinking “I escaped the bagel store trip!” But halfway out the door I thought to myself, “this is not my bagel store trip, it is his”. He was relying on me not merely to take him there, but now he had to rely on me to remember for him as well. Remembering for him was even more important than the schlepping. I turned back and in a quiet voice reminded him that he wanted to go and get bagels before I left. His face lit up. “Oh yes! That’s right. The bagels. Let’s go!”

This post is republished with permission from