A comment I wrote on Jim’s blog, in response to a debate on whether a son is required by Dharma to absolute obedience of his father’s commands, which I think is worth publishing as its own entry (edited for clarity):
I disagree that absolute obedience of father by son is commanded by Hindu Dharma. On the other hand, the story of Hiranyakashipu and Prahalada clearly shows that a son has no duty to follow his father to hell, and indeed, it is adharmic if a son does so. Prahalada clearly disobeyed his father by refusing to acknowledge him as greater than Lord Vishnu himself. So clearly there are limits on obedience as a virtue.
In the Ramayana, Lord Rama honoured his father Dasaratha, who was a Dharmic soul and who had given a rash boon to his wife Kaikeyi. Rama sought to honour his father by keeping the promise. If the promise had entailed the destruction of Ayodhya or the Solar dynasty, Lord Rama would never have fulfilled such a promise, but rather found a way to save his father’s honour and at the same time disobey him. The fact is, Dasaratha’s boon to Kaikeyi was not adharmic, in the sense that the decision to anoint Bharatha as the crown prince was not adharmic or destructive and in fact Lord Rama considered his brothers to be a part of Himself. In fact, such a drama was ordained by the Lord himself as part of the Avatara, to freely pursue and destroy the adharmic Ravana.
I take the postion that if a father commands his son to do adharma and which would result in bad karma towards his ancestors, family or clan, the son has a duty not to obey him and in fact oppose him if he attempts such destruction. If a father commands his son not to have any children or even convert to another religion, that is a grave sin against his ancestors, because the continuance of his lineage is a duty to his ancestors and breaking that by either voluntarily choosing not to have children or converting to a different religion directly affects his ancestors who are, in fact, as per Hindu belief reborn as his own descendants. In fact, I would argue that such a family with such an adharmic father might be bearing the curse of their ancestors. In that case, the best duty that a son can perform is to honour his father, but not obey him and in fact, take steps to lead his father back to dharma and mitigate the ancestral curse. That is the best duty and the only duty.
A drunk father cannot command the absolute obedience of his son, but dharma commands that any father should be honoured by his son and a son’s duty is to protect his father from his own adharma, even by force if necessary.