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The Prodigal Father

Once upon a time, there was a father who had two sons. Each by a different mother. Neither of them the woman he is living with at the moment.

And the younger son went to his father and said, “Hey Dad, let’s have a game of ball.”

Well, that’s what he would like to have said. The fact is, he’s only ever seen his father once, on his fifth birthday.  That day, the father turned up half drunk on his mother’s doorstep, thrust a package into her hands, and said, “Here’s something for the kid.” The first and last time.

Perhaps he’s luckier than the eldest son, though.

The father turned up on his mother’s doorstep when he turned five, a bit more than half drunk this time. When the mother tried to stop him coming in, the father hit her in the mouth and knocked her down. Then he grabbed the eldest son and dragged him off, saying, “I’m going to give my son a birthday treat, and you’re not going to stop me.”

The eldest son cried, and tried to run away. For that, he got a belt around the ear, and pulled into the father’s car. In between shouting at the boy for continuing to cry, and trying to drink from a half-empty bottle, the father crashed the car. So the eldest son’s most memorable gift was a scarred face, which he’ll have for the rest of his life.

Now, being chased by the courts for maintenance payments for the two sons, the father sold some computer equipment he had stolen, and headed to a far country. There he survived on burglaries and booze, and found a woman who was willing to put up with him, as long as he beat her up no more than once a week.

But one day, he did both once too often. She went to the police, and they found enough stolen property lying around the house to put the father away for a good stretch.

Prison was not a happy time. He got beaten up several times, and that was just by the warders. The other inmates did worse. The compulsory drying out from alcohol and drugs left him with the shakes, and he would find himself crying uncontrollably in his cell late at night. Sometimes the face of his son, bloody from the car crash, would swim into his mind.

He found himself wanting to talk, but no-one would listen. Except the chaplain.  A strange guy, this. He didn’t push religion, like the father expected. He just listened, with a great sadness in his eyes. And once, quite unexpectedly, he gave the father a hug as he left.

The father was so surprised he nearly beat the chaplain to the ground. But after the chaplain left, the father suddenly burst into great sobs that he could not control.

And for reasons he could not understand, a vision of everything that had happened to him flashed past the eyes of the father.

The next time the chaplain came, the father burst into tears again, and this time the chaplain just held him and rocked him, like a little child.

The father gets out of prison next week. It’s going to take time, but he wants to go back to the two women and ask their forgiveness. And he wants to be a real father to his sons. It’s going to be very hard, because knows almost nothing about what a father does. Except for what he’s experienced in the embrace of the chaplain. But he reckons that may be a good place to start. He doesn’t know whether the sons will want him around, either. There’s a lot of pain and fear to be overcome…on both sides.

But the chaplain has offered to go with him the first time. So that gives him hope. And he’ll just take it from there.


(c) Copyright John McNeil, all rights reserved. Apart from the purposes of fair review, this work may not be reproduced in whole or in part in any form, physical or electronic, without the express permission in writing of the author. He may be contacted at jandhmcneil<a>