At first the child is a child and the parent is a parent. Years later the child assumes the parental role and has to be the one who gently ushers the parent into old age, making the decisions, tending to the bruises, holding the parent by the hand.
It’s hard for both to face. But as we live longer there is often no alternative.
Are there any ground rules for the new situation? The answer is there in the halachah.
As summarised in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, section 143, these are the ground rules.
A child, however adult him- or herself, must:
1. At all times honour and revere a parent.
2. Not take over the parent’s place, at home, in the synagogue or in the community.
3. Not insult the parent or show aggravation at what they do or say.
4. Provide their needs “with a cheerful countenance”, not angrily or impatiently.
5. Not say to others, “Do something for my sake,” but “Do it for the sake of my father (or mother)”.
6. If the parent has become senile, “endeavour to deal with them in accordance with their condition until the Lord will have mercy on them. But if their condition is grave, he may delegate others to undertake their treatment”.
7. Honour a parent even after their death.
8. Respect for parents also applies to step-parents, parents-in-law and older siblings.
The sidra shows how No’ach’s three sons handled an embarrassing situation in their father’s life. It was not so much that No’ach had moved into what is commonly called second childhood, but he had drunk too much and in his inebriation had “uncovered himself in his tent” (Gen. 9:21).
One son “saw the nakedness of his father”, about which Rashi tells us, “Some say that he castrated him; others that he indulged a perverted lust upon him”. The other sons, however, walked in backwards and covered their father in order to preserve his dignity.
The story not only relates an incident in history. It also serves as a parable of the problem of children who metaphorically (or perhaps literally too) see a parent’s nakedness.