‘Like Slips of Olive Trees All Around My Table’
As told by Porfirio Caicedo, of Colombia
ACCORDING to the criterion expressed in the Bible’s one hundred and twenty-eighth Psalm 128, verses three and four, I am a very blessed man. There it says: “Your wife will be like a fruit-bearing vine in the innermost parts of your house. Your sons will be like slips of olive trees all around your table. Look! That is how the able-bodied man will be blessed who fears Jehovah.”
You see, I am the father of eighteen children. My dear wife Belén (Bethlehem), my “fruit-bearing vine,” has borne me twelve sons and six daughters.
My own life began sixty-four years ago in the town of Líbano, Tolima, Colombia. I was the youngest of twelve children. Because my father died when I was just a baby, at the age of twelve I was obliged to go to work in a foundry in order to help support my mother and youngest sister. Then when I was twenty-six I married Belén, and soon thereafter we moved to Bogotá, the capital.
By correspondence I improved my qualifications as a carpenter, specializing in wooden pattern molds for metal casting. So that I could have better oversight of my growing children, I opened my own little shop at home. However, until I became known in my profession, I had to look to another source for income. So, when there were no molds to make, I made guitars, mandolins and violins.
Learning has always fascinated me. That is one reason why, for as long as I can remember, I have been allergic to the world’s religions. Their ritualistic hocus-pocus never satisfied my yen for learning.
In contrast, I discovered something of real value in two books that I obtained from one of Jehovah’s Witnesses when he called at my shop one day in 1950. I wanted to learn; the Witnesses had something to teach me—clearly, simply, without any mysticism. By my study of the Bible with him I began to lay a foundation for properly bringing up my children.
‘HAPPY IS THE MAN THAT HAS FILLED HIS QUIVER WITH THEM’
It is a joy to raise children. In spite of the work involved, the struggle, the anxieties, it is a joy. I am in complete accord with the wise man Solomon, who said: “Look! Sons are an inheritance from Jehovah. . . . Happy is the able-bodied man that has filled his quiver with them.” (Ps. 127:3-5) A person becomes so attached to youngsters that he misses them keenly when they are not around.
I love little children very much. I find a lot of joy in their peculiar ways. A young child has a certain grace that is hard to define. A small child is so innocent. And it is able to amuse itself with almost nothing. With a little piece of paper or string it is happy. Then, if the child loses its toy, it is sad. That is when I especially like to be with them, to help them.
Having a real love for our children, my wife and I were naturally concerned with giving them proper guidance, and even more so once we learned the truth from God’s Word. This included both instruction and correction. The Bible itself shows that “the one holding back his rod is hating his son, but the one loving him is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Prov. 13:24) We have always been zealous in disciplining our children. It is frightening to contemplate what the results might have been otherwise.
THE VALUE OF GOOD PARENTAL EXAMPLE
All of us know that children are born imitators. Be it language, manners, or customs—everything they copy with such ease. In particular, what their parents do becomes as a law to them. Because of this imitative instinct, I think the finest schooling that children can receive at home is a good parental example. Underscoring this is the Bible proverb: “The righteous is walking in his integrity. Happy are his sons after him.” (Prov. 20:7) The upright, integrity-keeping parent will be imparting something of great value to his children that will indeed result in their future happiness.
In this respect, the knowledge that I have gleaned from God’s Word has been a great help. How so? In that it has taught me how I should live. In its pages I have learned the value of truth and obedience. I have learned the standard of conduct that I, as a husband and father, am obligated to observe before God and, hence, before my family. I am convinced that, if one knows God’s unchangeable laws and lives by them, the rest with regard to life, including child training, is comparatively easy.
One of the greatest single influences for good in the lives of our offspring has been the very fine relationship existing between my wife and myself. We affectionately respect each other. It would hurt me even to raise my voice at my wife. It would be an injustice on my part ever to mistreat her. I am helped in this attitude because there is nothing in her manner that displeases me. She is very submissive, cooperative and gentle. She sets forth her ideas on any given matter but then leaves the decision to me, and respects it. If one of us is not in the best of humor, the other does what he can to eliminate the source of discontent. And, if one is correcting a child, instead of interfering, the other will help.
THE VALUE OF VIGILANCE
One way in which we have avoided unnecessary problems with the children is by keeping a loving eye on them, by being vigilant. Like any young plant, they need to be protected. We have always insisted on knowing where they were and what they were doing. If any of the young boys left the house, he was to be accompanied by an older member of the family or by a trustworthy person. The girls, no matter what their age, always were to be accompanied.
There is so much insecurity and so little respect for the person of others nowadays that I have always felt justified in being protective of my daughters in particular. I have not denied them the privilege of having friends among those whom we know and of associating with them. But to allow them in the street alone—never—not in this city.
The danger being less in the case of the boys, they have been allowed more freedom than the girls. Yet, notwithstanding their age, as long as they are under my care, they have to be in the house by a certain hour. Very seldom has any one of them come home late, but if he has, he has found the door bolted. I leave him out in the cold night air for a while, then later open to him. Knowing the way I feel when this happens, they seldom let it happen a second time.
When one takes the precautionary measure of keeping a watchful eye on the children, the need to punish is often avoided. In other words, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Parents who are lax in this matter of oversight may find themselves chastising their children for wrongdoing for which they themselves, by reason of their negligence, share some of the blame.
FINDING REST FOR MY SOUL
As important as good parental example and vigilance are in successfully raising children, more is definitely needed. When there is deliberate disobedience, the literal rod, appropriately applied, works wonders in children. That, in turn, produces a restful, pleasurable effect in parents, as suggested in Proverbs 29:17: “Chastise your son and he will bring you rest and give much pleasure to your soul.”
If I ask my child to do something and he does not do it pronto, then I will remind him of it. Then, if he does not do it, on seeing that the disobedience is deliberate, I will chastise. Because I have consistently tried to follow this policy, hardly ever do I have to speak twice to my children.
However, before using the literal rod, I will take the child and reason privately with him on the need for it. I want him to understand clearly why he is going to be punished. Moreover, I thereby avoid making him a plain and simple victim of my wrath.
Of course, other forms of discipline may prove to be just as effective. Each child is different; not all respond in the same way. A disapproving look may constitute a severe reproof for some. Others respond well when something they like very much is withheld.
I recall a form of punishment that worked effectively on Horacio, my fifth son, when the literal rod failed to do so. He was about eight years old. He was too insistent in associating with undesirable neighborhood boys. So I had him dressed in one of his sister’s dresses. Not daring to be seen with that on, he stayed in the house and off the street.
Once, noting an impudent streak developing in my third and sixth sons, Efraín and Cicerón, I decided to send them to their grandfather’s farm. The boys were about eighteen and fifteen years old at the time. As soon as they arrived, my father-in-law knew they were being punished. It was a source of joy for him to put his grandchildren to work. An energetic worker himself, a lazy or idle person vexed him no end. The boys had to get up every morning at five o’clock and then contend with snakes and wasps and blistered hands while working in the fields in the equatorial sun. A month of that served exceptionally well to enhance their appreciation of how they should act around home.
More recently I remember asking four of the boys to get their hair cut. To my way of thinking, it was too long. Efraín, the eldest of the four, was then about twenty. A few days later they still had not gone, so I said to them: “Efraín, Rafael, Horacio, Cicerón, come on! You’re going with me.” “Very well, papa.” They did not know what I had in mind—until we arrived at the barbershop. To the barber I said: “Please do me the favor of cutting the hair of these boys as if you were going to cut mine—short, good and short!”
SECULAR EDUCATION AND TRAINING
For economic reasons the schooling of my sons has been limited to the elementary level. Nevertheless, some have later taken specialized courses in certain subjects. I feared that, if I provided an advanced education for some, they might become puffed up and seek to lord it over their less-educated brothers. To avoid that possibility, what I could not provide for all, I provided for none.
My circumstances, though, have permitted me to follow the precedent of ancient Israelite parents. Besides teaching their children to read and write, they taught their sons a trade. It was their opinion that whoever failed to teach his son a trade was in effect teaching him to steal. For me, it has been a great joy to have all my sons, without exception, work at my side in the shop upon leaving primary school.
Not only have I been able to teach my sons a specialized art, a trade, but by having them at my side, I have also been able to teach them other important matters that have to do with daily living, such as how to work, how to overcome problems, how to stick to a job until it is done, how to reason and how to make decisions.
Our working together has, in addition, resulted in a oneness, a closeness, a communication that means a lot to them and to me. From the time they used to sit on my workbench to watch me work and to chat with me, my sons have felt confidence in approaching me with any problem whatsoever. They are my constant companions and friends. I enjoy their respect and they enjoy mine. In our working relationship, orders on my part are not necessary. Kind suggestions bring the same results and contribute to a very wholesome atmosphere in the shop.
Knowing that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” I am happy I have been able to share something with my children that has also served for their diversion. I have always liked music very much. While single, I studied it and learned to play the bandola, guitar and tiple (a small treble guitar). Several of the boys play the guitar well, and when we have get-togethers my daughters enjoy singing to our instrumental accompaniment.
THE EDUCATION THAT REALLY COUNTS
Aside from the secular education and practical training my children have received, they have received another kind that pays much higher dividends. Of course, I refer to their spiritual education.
Here again Belén and I have tried to provide our offspring with a worthy example. Our own study of God’s Word has revealed to us what Jehovah expects of us in worship and obedience. Naturally, we try to live in accord with His will in all respects. Doing God’s will is not a complicated ritual. It is, rather, the constant performance of certain basic, logical functions and living by His righteous standard of conduct.
One of those basic functions is regularly studying God’s Word, both privately and in association with other true worshipers of Jehovah in Christian meetings. From the time I began attending the meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses, I have taken my wife and children with me. In time our home came to be used for the meetings, for the entire congregation or a part of it, and has been ever since. All in the family prepare for and participate in them. That is our custom, one that has contributed immeasurably to our spiritual welfare.—Heb. 10:25.
Unlike many families in this part of the world, we have another agreeable custom—eating together as a family unit. If my ‘olive tree slips’ were too numerous to sit around one table in the dining room, then some sat around a smaller one in the kitchen.
Eating together has definitely contributed toward our unity, affording us, for example, the opportunity to pray together. And it has enabled me to inculcate in my children the sayings of God ‘when sitting in my house,’ in harmony with His will that I do so. (Deut. 6:6, 7) It has also helped me to keep my finger on the pulse of the family, to observe attitudes or trends, and to apply whatever I perceived to be the remedy according to the spiritual needs of all of us.
Of course, not all is positive Bible instruction at mealtimes. It is a time for chitchat and humor, too, with possibly a little guitar strumming as a form of after-dinner relaxation.
Aware of the fact that my Christian love should extend beyond the confines of my own home, my wife and I have the custom of taking the good news of God’s kingdom to the homes of others. All my children are busy in this most worthwhile activity, five of them having devoted their full time to it at one time or another.
In this connection, I recall an incident involving my second son, Raúl, when he was about seventeen. One Sunday morning I said to him: “Well, son, let’s go in the service.” He replied: “No, I’m not going.” Surprised, I asked: “And why not?” “Because it’s not obligatory,” was his response. I answered: “True, it’s not obligatory. Very well.” I said nothing more to Raúl about it. Neither did I say anything to him about going with me the next Sunday. Nor was I angry or glum with him. I do not know what he felt within himself, but the following Sunday he again went out, quietly, without saying anything.
Ever since that episode, Raúl has willingly and eagerly devoted himself to God’s Kingdom service, for which Jehovah has richly blessed him. He was privileged to attend the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in New York city, then later to serve his Christian brothers throughout Colombia as their district overseer. Now he and his wife serve in the branch office of the Watch Tower Society in Barranquilla, where he helps to supervise the work of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Colombia.
REASON TO BE HAPPY
Even though I have more in a material way now than I had a few years ago, it is not for this reason that I am happy today. Material things in themselves never produce true happiness. But spiritual blessings—yes, they bring happiness! When there is harmony in the home, for example, and serious difficulties have not entered, then there is cause for happiness. And when I see the devotion of all my children to their Creator, and the four eldest sons serving as elders in the Christian congregation, my joy and satisfaction are indeed great.—Prov. 10:22.
Now that ten of my children are married, most of them with “slips” of their own, it makes me happy to see that they visit us frequently. They like to be with us. Their mother and I like to be with them too. That closeness is still there. Of course, we have that one very important ingredient in common, our love for our heavenly Father, Jehovah, ‘to whom our family owes its name,’ its very existence. To Him also we owe our hope that our family relationship may never have to end due to death, because “there are new heavens and a new earth that we are awaiting according to his promise, and in these righteousness is to dwell.”—2 Pet. 3:13; Eph. 3:14, 15.