The Love of the Father

The Love of the Father

As I looked at him cradled there in my arms, the dark downy velvet of his head against my chest, love for him poured into my soul like the morning mist that pours over the hills into our valley. His name was engraved on my heart; the depth of his dark, liquid eyes imprinted in my soul.

His soft, pink wiggliness, his fingers helplessly grasping the air, the very fragrance of his fresh newness to the world. I loved him. So help me, I loved him with my every nerve, every muscle with every drop of blood flowing through my veins.

My son grew. I couldn't help but delight in his every new accomplishment, every first step. I love both my sons, of course, this one and his older brother. But the older one was a more serious lad; he played little and reluctantly but worked with determination. This younger one was different. In those early years there was an unconscious joy about him that made me smile.

My family and I are farmers. We make a life on this dry plain by subduing the earth, by making plants and animals work for us and give us the sustenance we need. As my sons grew, sometimes the older one became impatient with his playful brother. I didn't like them to argue and fight, but I supposed that all brothers do.

Too late I began to notice the change in the younger lad. Too late I noticed a distant expression about his eyes, a disappointment that rested on his brow. At first the change appeared only when he was working with his often-disapproving older brother. Too late I realized that the sadness had found a permanent home on his face. Perhaps that's why I overlooked his carelessness, why I said nothing when he failed to appear for work, when he caroused late with his friends. It was because only then, only when he turned from responsibility, that the anger and disappointment faded from his brow. Only then did I glimpse the face I had loved when it was still innocent and untroubled.

And when he came to me one evening and told me he was leaving, it was too late to change his mind. He'd had a fight with his brother. Certainly not their first fight, but this time the relationship was beyond repair.

My serious older son would inherit the bulk of my farm and possessions; the younger would be left with the remainder, and the thought of life as his brother's inferior was more than he could tolerate.

Give me the value of my inheritance now," he said, "and let me go somewhere else and start my own life."

In my heart, I knew that he had the right to make it on his own. Still, I pleaded with him to change his mind. As distant and disobedient as he had been, I couldn't face life without him. I knew that if he left, I might never see him again. But it was already too late to recall him to our life.

Only his body remained with us; in spirit he was already gone.

I sold animals and land and handed him a leather bag with some gold coins in it. "Be careful," I said. But he wasn't listening. He was living in his dreams of distant places and great adventures. He turned with hardly another glance and walked away.

I went down the road with him as far as I could, still pleading with him to change his mind. Finally I could follow him no farther. I turned him toward me, a hand on each shoulder. I looked him in his eyes and said, "You know I will always love you." For a moment, there was a glimmer of the affection I remembered. Then his face hardened, and he turned and walked away. As he disappeared behind the next hill, tears coursed down my face. 

My older son merely kept working. He was angry about losing part of the farm's assets to his careless brother, but if he missed his brother, he didn't show it. He was an excellent manager, and before too many years had gone by we had more cattle, more land, more crops than we'd ever had before. We were successful.

But only in possessions. My heart was broken. Each day I walked to the place on the road where we'd parted. Each day I wept there. Each day I prayed there that my boy had found happiness—and that he would come home. Sometimes I saw a distant figure on the path, and sometimes I would imagine I recognized his energetic gait.

But as the traveler came nearer, it always turned out to be someone else. Some neighbor returning from the market, some stranger. Those were the bitterest days of all.

This article originally appeared in the Signs of Times magazine in 2000.

Signs of Times 2000, v127, mar p16-17, 23