The Prodigal Father

Inspired by Shakespeare’s “Henry IV Part One. Have you ever wondered what happened after the Prodigal Son’s return to his father?

Twenty years or so after the Prodigal Son’s return, his father occupied a table outside a cafe on a small street near a city park. The old man lifted his half-filled wine glass, saluted the spring morning, touched the liquid to his lips, sipped the nectar, then smiled at his mouth’s delight as he waited for the younger of his two sons.

His thoughts elsewhere, he occasionally raked his fingers through his white beard, unknotting the long, fine strands. He lifted a pipe to his mouth and inhaled a slow puff of tobacco.

He remembered asking his son in that long ago time of the boy’s return, “Tell me. What was it like?”

“It was glorious. Until the money ran out. Stuck my thumb out and headed West, cause West was where the night life was. And I had one rip roaring time. There was down on my luck days and full house nights. Did the Vegas thing and lost everything, including the seat of my pants. Robbed a train or two. Me and my outlaw buddies. Spent some time out Siberia way. Cold so bad it froze the bones. Fell in love seven, eight, nine times. Prayed at the Ganges.”

Listening to the boy spill his stories out like he was tossing dice, he couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to just take off toward the horizon without a care in the world.

“So. What made you come back? The farm sounds like it’d be Boredom City compared to the life you were living?”

“Don’t know. Guess I got tired of mining for gold and coming up pyrite. When I tired of a life on the run, I got into my head to settle down. Thing is I didn’t have much job experience. Even for a swineherd job, I needed a resume. So I lied and made everything up. Then I got to feeling guilty. Lying just wasn’t in my blood. You’d taught me well where that was concerned.”

As his son talked, the father realized he’d missed so much. He’d taken over his father’s farm because his father couldn’t do the work anymore. If the farm had depended on happiness to prosper, it never would have prospered. But it had prospered as he sowed the seeds of his misery. That’s when he realized he had taken a hankering for the wondering life. It’s like they say. You don’t know you’re lonely till you glance at a happy couple.

That night he called his two sons into his library. Right there and then, he did a Lear. Handed his older son the deed to the farm with a check for enough money to manage. He gave his second son, the prodigal boy, another check. That left him with just enough cash to head for parts unknown.

He’d been places. He’d gone East when he could have travelled West. He’d wanted to find the place where the sky drew back a curtain and gave the opening act of the sun, a new day to play with. He’d never found that spot, though he tried. It was just as lost as the end of the rainbow.

Scanning the park nearby, he recognized his son, walking briskly toward him. The once-upon-a-time young man had put on some pounds but otherwise he’d prospered in the intervening years since the two had last seen each other.

The old man called the waiter over and ordered a second bottle of wine.

The younger man saw his father and hurried toward him. The two men embraced, then sat down. At the table, they took a long look at each other, and tears rolled down their faces.

“Where’s your brother?”

“He wouldn’t come.”

“Figures.”

“How are you, Pops?”

“Still ornery enough to kick your butt.”

“I bet you can.”

The old man poured out two glasses of wine. Then they sat silently gazing into the park. They had never been a talkative bunch, he and his sons. His long dead wife had done most of the talking, often carrying on both sides of the conversation.

The sun slipped out of the sky and slowly the evening settled into shadows. In the silence, the father reached across the table and squeezed his son’s hand.

“I love you, Son.”

“I love you too, Pops.”

It was close to midnight when the two stood up and embraced.

“You sure you won’t come home with me? For just one night. Liza would love that.”

“No, Son. It wouldn’t be right. Your brother would think I was playing favorites again.”

The Son nodded. He knew what his father meant.

“‘Sides I got to get on. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore.”

The two embraced one last time, kissing each other’s cheeks. Then it was goodbye.

The son walked away, glancing back at his father several times, each time a longing in his eyes, a longing for another time and place when the two had shared a meal with his brother, when the three had laughed heartily at bad jokes and good wine and a mother’s love as his mother served up a feast of a meal. That time was gone, only a memory that would fade into the dust of time.

The old man sighed, then finished the wine. He decided it was time to go West finally to the sun’s setting and catch a wave off to Avalon. He stood up, dropped his pipe into his pocket and strolled off to the park. He’d hitch a ride the next morning.

In the dark and under a tree nearby, his older son watched his father. He started to call out, but something stopped him. He just couldn’t do it. So he turned and headed back to the farm. He had cows to milk early the next morning.