The Prodigal Father
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful girl, born to a large, wealthy, established and traditional family, but who was banished to a life of poverty and obscurity because she had embarrassed her father at an important party. The party promised to change the fortunes of the family, as her father had hoped, finally, to be invited into the local Golf Club. It was essential ‘next step’ for building the connections needed to grow his family owned chain of bakeries.
This wasn’t just any Golf Club, either. It had all the famous faces of the region as members: the local mayor, an admiral from the Navy and the chief editor of the local newspaper, to name but a few, but the most important and powerful person was the wife of the Club’s President. She was not even a member and was rarely seen at any of the Club’s functions, but it was only through her influence that the President had managed to corner the cigar and liquor market and gain a majority share in both local banks. Almost nobody knew that she was the illegitimate daughter of the local Judge, born of one of the Judge’s many mistresses. Had they known this, then they would have understood how it was that for so long the President’s businesses were never prosecuted for trading beyond allowable hours, selling liquor to minors or opening on Sundays. None of it was relevant now, of course, as the laws had all been changed and the Club President had since become known as a trailblazer of modern economics and a respected banker, no less.
The father had wanted to join the Club as a boy but was forbidden by his parents, who objected to its exclusive nature and the fact that most of the businessmen in the Club smoked cigars, kept mistresses and had recently begun opening their businesses for trading on Sundays. And they hardly ever played Golf. Many times the family argued about it around the dinner table. “Sundays are for families and rest and cigars are a dirty habit” the elderly, traditional parents would say in their late years. Angered by this old fashioned prudishness, he never felt he needed any rest and hated seeing all the shoppers spending their money on the competition of a Sunday morning as they leisurely sipped their wine and smoked cigars in up market restaurants. Everything his old, authoritarian parents had criticized had since become legal and even fashionable, and he was secretly glad when they finally died and was free to make the switch and join the Club.
The party was the father’s way of showing the Club President that he and his family were different now, that they’d had a change of heart. All of the important members of the Club were there and even the President’s wife attended. When she arrived, it triggered many looks of surprise and admiration from the other guests. She had had misgivings about the Club admitting a new member whose family was well known for its moral scruples, but the Club President was confident that everything would be settled. Discrete promises had been made to change the family’s stance on Sunday trading in particular and negotiations were underway to obtain a liquor license for the bakery chain. Even cigars were being handed out to guests on velvet pillows by the teenage boys of the family. The evening had been a great success and was drawing to a close and the President was about to present his formal offer of membership to the Golf Club.
During the entire party the young daughter, the only girl, had been kept back in the kitchen and made to prepare food and clean dishes with her mother. Being only six years old, she was oblivious to the business machinations and negotiations that were taking place at the party. She had also been sent up to bed early so that she would not be exposed to the sights and smells of the grown-ups smoking cigars. She was too young to understand, after all, and would probably have nightmares if she saw her father doing it too. She had been close to her grandmother and seemed to have a strong streak of her ancestral conservatism and stubbornness. Although she had obeyed her parents and gone to bed, she couldn’t sleep. Inevitably the smell of the tobacco smoke had reached her bedroom and she went downstairs to see what the matter was. That’s when the terrible thing happened.
The daughter ran down stairs and saw the Club President’s wife standing by the stair, giggling, cigar in one hand, champagne glass in the other. She walked up to the drunk woman and told her in no uncertain terms how badly the cigars smelled and how her grandmother had educated her that a respectable woman ought never to smoke cigars or drink to excess. The woman laughed and, calling the girl a simpleton and a prude, offered her a drink of the champagne. The little girl took the glass and threw the drink over the woman, causing the cigar to be put out. Needless to say a hilarious drunken chase ensued and the girl managed to make the Club President’s wife look like an utter fool. Eventually the girl escaped and hid herself in one of the servant’s huts, a safe distance from the main house. The President had no time to make his formal invitation. Instead he hastily left the party with his wife in order to prevent any further embarrassment. The girl was later found by her father, given a rather painful hiding and put to bed.
The father was so angry that he had lost out on the Club invitation that he locked the daughter in her room and would not let her go out. The President, though still enthusiastic to extend his invitation once more, was restricted in doing so by his wife. He managed to convince her to let him make a conditional invitation.
The next morning, the father went to the Golf Club for a private meeting to apologize to the President. After much negotiation it was agreed that the father would be invited to join the Golf Club, but on probation. He was to promise that his daughter would never cause such embarrassment again and that, as the family representative, he would make a public endorsement of cigar smoking and twenty four hour trading, a new initiative of the Club President. He also had to agree to help the Club President out with a few shady business deals. In so doing, the father would win the President’s trust and all would be right in the world again.
The father took up cigar smoking, but meanwhile kept the daughter holed up in her bedroom for many weeks. Many times he had tried to get her to apologize for what she did that night, but each time she saw him and smelt the tobacco on his breath, she was reminded of her late grandmother’s words and would refuse to budge. Eventually, at a loss of what else to do, the father sent her away to live with some poor distant cousins who lived on a farm cursed by rocky terrain and too little rainfall.
The girl grew up there, almost forgotten by her father. She was educated in the old ways of her grandparents and grew up to be strong, confident and wise. Unafraid of hard work but also blessed with family traits of creativity and intelligence, she became an invaluable part of the farm life. Indeed the farm grew in prosperity despite the difficult conditions and had become a showpiece of the region.
Meanwhile, her father’s business, whilst initially showing some gains, was faltering. He had developed a lung condition and many of his sons were sick for much of the time from overwork and stress. The great family empire was working harder than ever but the profits seemed thin and short lived. In order to make his great expansions, the father had borrowed a large sum of money from the Club President at a very low rate of interest. More and more of the business became dependent on the Golf Club’s support and the situation was becoming precarious. Even the father could see it. Should anything go wrong, the entire bakery chain would be in jeopardy. One of the father’s sons, now an alcoholic, had recently been charged with rape. The Club President of course had the contacts necessary to make sure the charges wouldn’t be successful, but it would take more and more compromises and humiliation on the part of the family to keep afloat.
Eventually the father was at a point of desperation. He could see that none of his sons was fit to take over the business and that, after his passing, it would all be taken over by the bank. His only hope was to some how convince his daughter once more to return and help him run the bakery chain (which was by this time more like a liquor and tobacco store with bread “on the side”). She of course was delighted by her father’s attention and, mistaking it for love, ran towards him with open arms.
When the father asked his daughter to return to the family, she was about to say “yes!”, but was stopped by her farming cousins just in time to ask the most important question – on what terms?
As you can guess, she demanded that the father stop trading on Sundays, stop selling liquor and tobacco and go back to running a traditional bakery chain like the good old days. The father could see her point but was in a fix. His sons laughed and jeered at the idea. Some threatened to leave and the rapist son even threatened to re-offend. The Golf Club got news of developments and the President was informed. His wife knew what to do and gave the Club President his orders. He told the father that if he should make the changes and fail to control his daughter, the deal would be off and all the debts would be charged at regular interest. To add weight to this, the editor of the local newspaper ran a column exposing the whole story, but leaving just enough room to let the father escape the “scandal” with at least some of his pride intact. He was, after all, still a member of the Golf Club, even if it was “on probation”.
The daughter, now a mature, confident woman, made no apologies or compromises. When asked in public for her opinion on tobacco smoke, she reiterated her views on its obnoxious smell and how only the uncultured smoke it and do so at their peril. This quickly made it to front page news, along with another article that quoted one of her poor “red-neck -country-bumpkin” cousins as having questioned the legitimacy of the Club President’s wife. Unfortunately, another of the older cousins remembered the names of the Judge’s old mistresses and this only served to inflame the whole situation. People were beginning to ask questions about the President’s dark past and links with the Judge. Some even started taking their money out of his two banks and depositing it to a rival bank in the next town. It was all becoming rather serious and the Golf Club was like a disturbed hornet nest. People were worried that the daughter might even be taken seriously by the public, since she was not as clearly illiterate and “common” as her poor cousins.
One can only imagine the range of solutions discussed in the Club rooms. Of the many suggested, one was to give the father a pair of cement shoes to wear at the harbor. Others thought of suing the daughter for defamation, but many thought it too risky. There was still hope with some at the Club that the daughter (and her money) could be “brought across” and maybe even become friends with the President’s wife. This was, after all, the father’s initial suggestion.
But in the end, the choice was entirely that of the daughter who, having been beaten, imprisoned and then exiled by her own father, rose to the position of moral righteousness and material strength. Would she relent in order to save the material wealth of her father’s business empire, or would she stand fast on her demand for a return to family tradition? The father, avaricious and morally weak from the outset, finds himself in an apparently impossible situation. He probably never imagined the amount of humiliation that all this would bring him. It’s highly unlikely that the he would turn against his sons in a return to the old ways, since he himself led them to all this and had his hands soiled by previous scandals.
Nobody can yet say how the story will end, as history doesn’t always repeat itself. Sometimes the exact opposite happens.