"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?

  • 9
    It's not from Shakespeare. Seems it's a Jewish proverb. Google it and explore the interpretations. Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 15:37

5 Answers 5


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.

  • What is men in gibt men?
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 17:50
  • 2
    @TimRomano I don't speak Yiddish, but I think it's an article, like the German man. (It's מען, mem-ayan-nun.) Taking the words in order: When the father gives a to son, i.e., to a son.
    – deadrat
    Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 18:06
  • 2
    @TimRomano I found another phrase Abi gezunt dos leben ken men zikh ale mol nemen, which to me is very clear that men in this case means one (the pronoun; not the number). However, this would seem a bit strange in the above text. Seeing English has a double definition, I can only assume that the men in this question means something. Commented Jan 9, 2016 at 18:27
  • Found it, I think, in Mittelhochdeutsches Wörterbuch (Benecke, Müller, Zarncke). meni, menî: "carriage, wagon, vehicle". I.e. ?control of the vehicle, the reins. woerterbuchnetz.de/BMZ/…
    – TimR
    Commented Jan 10, 2016 at 15:55
  • To add to this - it is a beautiful verbal representation of the Jewish Star of David symbol, which shows the opposing and equal nature of existence. When the father gives to his son, both laugh (triangle pointing down). When the son gives to his father, both cry (triangle pointing up).
    – Adam Hayes
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 5:56

"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.


Father giving to son would be the normal course of things. (Father helping his son)

Now, having the son give(help) to his father means that something is wrong and in the worst cases meaning that the father is so sick that he can't provide to himself and so the son should.



Father feels joy when he provides for his young son. It is natural parental feeling. When son has to provide for his father, father is old and crying out of helplessness and son crying because he feels burdened.

  • (copy-edit) A father feels joy when he looks after a son. It is a feeling common among parents. When a son has to look after his elderly father, the father feels helpless and cries because he has become a burden to his son. Whereas the son cries out of pity.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 9:23
  • Unfortunately the grammar weakens what is otherwise a very sensitive and moving message (not my downvote, but it's justifiable on an English language website) I think that is the message Alex wanted to convey. If the OP (original poster) is reading this, and agrees with the above, please edit your answer.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 11, 2016 at 9:30

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