"When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry."
I can't understand what this quotation means.
Can anyone help me understand its meaning?
It's a Yiddish proverb, transliterated:
Wen der fater gibt men tsu zun, lachen baiden. Wen der zun gibt men tsu fater, vainen baiden.
And it's literal translation is as given by the OP. Some translations have "stoops to help" for gibt ("gives") to provide the sense. When a father helps the dependent child, it is a happy occasion in the natural course of things. When a grown son must help a father grown dependent with age, it's the opposite.
"When a father gives to his son, both laugh; when a son gives to his father, both cry," although posted as such all over the internet, is not a quote from William Shakespeare. If you disagree, please quote a reference within the published works of Shakespeare. http://tinyurl.com/Not-By-Shakespeare
However, it is still an interesting aphorism. As an old man, I believe it means that gifts from parents are received with laughter and joy when we are young. By the time we are older and financially able to repay our parents for some of the many tens of thousands of dollars they have spent raising and educating us, the joy of both the parents and the adult children are mixed with gratitude, pride, awareness, and appreciation of the sacrifices made by both to arrive at that point in life, bringing both to tears.
To add to the answers given already:
For a father/parent to give (help or whatever) to his son/child is how life always starts and this is a good thing, a cause for happiness
But once the child has to give/help his/her parents, their lives are coming to an end; growing dependent on ones children is also a natural stage in life, but it is also a sign that the lives of the old ones are coming to their end; thus a cause for grief.