Saturday, July 10, 2010

My Father's Son

He came back yesterday. He had been gone so long that I had stopped thinking about him every hour – like a foot heals slowly from a sharp stone which was stuck in your shoe for too many painful miles. Of course, if he had been such a stone I would have cast him away at the first wincing moment of pain – but he is my father’s son, and I had never thought I could be rid of him. But he did leave, of his own accord, and the manner of his leaving was so insulting to our father and our family, that it was a while before I recovered enough from the shock and the shame to happily think, “Good riddance!”

He had asked for his share of the inheritance – while our father was still alive! That was tantamount to wishing our father dead, or at the very least saying that all he wanted was the riches, and not the relationship. What amazed me even more (since such brazen effrontery, such carelessness, was, after all, only to be expected) was my father’s reaction. My father would have been well within his rights to give an affronted refusal (who ever heard of asking such a thing?) or even to punish him (which would have been quite fitting, and long overdue) – at the very least he should have thrown him out and disinherited him. But no, the hopeless scapegrace makes his ridiculous demand, and our father gives him exactly what he asks for!! I never could understand it. And no sooner has he got his share than he converts it all to cash, and leaves...

I was glad that he went far away. Imagine if we’d had to put up with his disgraceful behaviour on our doorstep! It hasn’t surprised me to learn, now, that he spent all that he had, living a life of total self-indulgence, with no thought of being prudent, or working to make money for the future. He says he spent it on his friends, but that is ridiculous! Why would anyone do that when money is a man’s best friend in this world? And what value were these friends anyway, They were no use when he ran out of money – a very poor investment. He even lowered himself, in the end, to being a swineherd – consorting with unclean beasts!

And now he has come back, my father’s son. And what did my father do? Turn him away, demand repayment, or organise him to work off his debts as a bond slave? Not a bit of it! This fool, this wastrel, this idiot unfit to bear our family name, appears on the road bedraggled and dirty, and there is my father, most honourable of men, forgetting his dignity and position and running down the road to embrace him. I winced when I saw it. Everything is turned upside down. The fatted calf, we one we had been preparing for some special occasion, was killed in celebration, and next thing I know, the fool has been dressed in fine robes and given the family ring to wear. I wondered if running down the road in the heat had addled my father’s brain.

I couldn’t join the party, it was too much. And when my father himself came out to plead with me to join, it was too much. Out it poured, all the rage I was feeling, all my contempt for the idler and his filthy life. In the end I heard myself saying, “But you never did this for me, even after all I’ve done for you!” Even to my own ears that sounded lame and pathetic. But true. He hadn’t. My father looked at me, and before his sorrow I lowered my eyes in shame. “Everything I have is already yours,’ he said, and I knew that it was true. The only reason I had never seen his crazy, impossible love for myself, was because I had never asked for it. All these bitter, tight-wound years I had tried to earn my father’s approval, and all those years his heart had been bursting with love for me, not because I worked so hard, but because I was, I am, his son. What a waste – not of my work itself, I had worked well for him, but my closed, lonely, sullen heart!

Now I was crying too, and as I wept in my father’s embrace, our tears mingled together. “Come inside,’ he said, “and celebrate with us, for your brother, who was lost, has been found, my son is not dead, but alive!” I went in, stiffly and awkwardly, but I went.

My father’s son came home yesterday. This time I am going to learn to call him my brother, so that I, too, might truly be my father’s son.

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