Have you heard the phrase: “Paying for your raising”? Do something stupid as a child or teenager so that your mother or father becomes infuriated. They punish you, ground you, lecture you, and then, to exhaust their frustrations they say something to the effect, “One day you’re going to pay for your raising.”
Or, you are an adult talking with your parents about your own children. You tell them some dramatic story about how evil and morally bankrupt their grandchildren are, how they have committed some great sin, and of the pain it is now causing you. What do your parents do? They make light of your sufferings, and with evil in their eyes say, “I guess you’re paying for your raising.”
This is the parental cycle of karma, I think. All the sins of your youth and all the ways you hurt your parents, come home to roost in your own children. So you suffer, as this saying goes, as your parents suffered. My father told me regularly that I was going to “pay for my raising.” I didn’t believe him then, and now as the father of three teenagers, I still don’t believe him.
Why? Well, I read recently that a child born into a middle-income family this year, excluding the cost of college, will cost his or her parents nearly $250,000 to get that child to high school graduation. Armed with that information, if you think you can go to your adult parents’ home, and with one fell swoop stroke them a check for a quarter of million dollars and call it even, then you are a moron of epic proportions.
Even? Impossible, for you can’t pump the serotonin you burned up back inside their brains. You can’t undo all their gray hair, heartburn, crow’s feet, and high blood pressure that you caused. Because of you they had weight gain, extensive counseling sessions, hormone therapy, and sleepless nights. You imposed upon them impossible decisions, private fights, monetary sacrifice, countless tears.
As your parents they experienced existential guilt, law enforcement interventions, miserable teacher conferences, and gastroesophageal reflux disease: You did this to your parents! We all did – your kids will do it to you – and there’s no way to repay any of it. But joy and relief, there’s no expectation to do so, because most of us would endure all these heartaches again and again for the sake of those to whom we gave life.
How else can you explain why perfectly sane, highly functioning adults keep having children? It isn’t craziness, it is love (though, if you have ever been in love, you know how close it appears to madness).
Such love has a name. It is the Hebrew word, “Chesed,” usually associated with God’s fatherly love for his children, and a word for which there is no easy English equivalent. Some call it grace, mercy, or kindness, but these attempts fail. “Chesed” is all of these things and more, the central Hebrew virtue to which all acts of charity and goodness are attached.
Dr. Ralph Davis writes, “‘Chesed’ is where love, strength, and steadfastness interact with each other, not merely kindness, but dependable kindness; not merely affection, but affection that has committed itself.” And I will add that such a commitment is always there – whether it is deserved, earned, justifiable or otherwise.
One rabbi, explaining so plainly, says, “When a person works for an employer, and then he gets paid, that pay is really a recycling of his own deeds. It isn’t love. It isn’t kindness. It is earned. But an act of ‘chesed’ cannot be recycled. It is something given or granted without cause.”
Parenthood is based on this kind of unfailing, non-recyclable love. It is an act of steady, secure, unshakable, unearned, uncaused, and sometimes unappreciated love. That’s nothing that you or anyone else can pay back, even if you wrote your dad a big fat check for Father’s Day this weekend. He could use the money, I’m sure, but he would do it all over again for the sake of love.