Wineskins Archive

February 12, 2014

A Parable of Two Sons (Mar-Apr 2002)

Filed under: — @ 1:45 pm and

By David Keller
March-April 2002

A Parable

A certain man had two sons. The brothers were as different as day and night.

The older son, Robert (never ever called Bob), was left-brained, right-handed, and politically right-winged. Robert loved math, computers, and puzzles. At Southern Technical College, he had majored in business and then taken an M.B.A. with an emphasis in accounting. He had passed the C.P.A. exam on his first try, and then married Alison, a member of the D.A.R. and the local garden club. They lived in an upscale suburb of Atlanta. Robert read The Wall Street Journal and wore three-piece suits and color-coordinated ties to work. Alison and Robert had two sons, Samuel and John, who participated in Boy Scouts and attained the rank of Eagle in record time.

At church, Robert was a deacon in charge of finance, and buildings and grounds. He loved the old hymns, especially “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” He preferred the New King James Version of the Bible, and when he prayed he still addressed God in the formal pronouns. He favored moderate use of the church building for non-religious activities such as scouting, election balloting, and the like. He voted against the idea of allowing an A.A. chapter to meet in the fellowship hall because of their insistence on using tobacco. When asked to teach the adult Bible class on Sunday morning, he ordinarily taught the book of James, though once he had taught the Gospel of Mark.

The younger son, Clayton (always Clay), was right-brained, left-handed, and politically left-winged. Clay loved art, music and literature. He had majored in liberal studies at the College of New England and began working as a free-lance writer, poet, sculptor, and editor. He lived in Taos, New Mexico, on what he called a ranch, but what church friends referred to as fifty acres of desert. He read Unte and wore jeans and tee shirts almost all the time. His wife, Zoe, wove rugs and dug for Indian artifacts. Clay and Zoe also had two sons, Zeb and Blaise, who participated in Boy Scouts and attained the rank of Eagle in record time.

At church, Clay was a deacon in charge of missions and benevolence. He loved the contemporary hymns, especially “Pierce My Ear” and “The Greatest Commands.” He was occasionally heard to refer to God as “Daddy” in prayer. He thought the church building was an extravagance and was delighted when the air conditioning broke down and the church held services in members’ homes. When asked to teach the adult Bible class on Sunday mornings, he taught from Psalms, Job, Revelation, and even once from the Song of Solomon.

Robert and Clay, being so different and living so far apart, rarely communicated except for annual birthday and Christmas cards. Robert sent Hallmarks; Clay painted watercolor landscapes on postcards. When they went home to visit their father in Minnesota (their mother had died when they were still very young), they went at different times of the year. Robert and his family went in the summer to escape the Georgia heat and humidity. Clay and his family went in winter so they could ski and snowshoe. Robert and Clay hadn’t seen each other for years when one March day they got the call that, from somewhere in the center of their brains, they both knew would come eventually. Their father had died.

Leaving the wives and children behind to tend to domestic duties and school obligations, the two sons met in Minnesota for the funeral. To honor the memory of his father, Robert gave a large donation to the American Heart Association. Clay wrote a poetic eulogy and read it at the funeral. Even though they were genuinely grieving, both sons wondered what inheritance might be in store for them. They were surprised when they found out from their father’s attorney the day following the funeral that their father had donated all his assets to charitable organizations, primarily orphanages and missionaries. As both sons were comfortable in their lives, Robert with his upper-upper-middle class life-style, and Clay with the upper-lower-middle class life style, they were not distressed by their father’s altruism, but each had a nagging sense of a need for a tangible bequest.

As they waited at Gate 24/25 in the Duluth airport for their respective flights to depart to Atlanta and Phoenix, they sat facing each other on the bolted-down, black plastic chairs. They spoke little because of the hubbub of the airport terminal, but did occasionally glance at each other. During a brief moment when Robert was gazing at the ascent of a 747, Clay eyed Robert and saw something in his older brother’s face. It was the shape of his father’s brow. He had never noticed the resemblance before, and he was so taken aback that he smiled and looked away toward the climbing airliner. When the plane was out of sight above the clouds, Robert turned toward Clay and caught a glimpse of the amused expression on his younger brother’s face. He also noticed something in Clay’s features that he had never seen before. It was the faint cleft of his father’s chin. When Robert’s flight was called (it was departing twenty minutes early than Clay’s), they both rose. Robert looked at Clay, found it difficult not to focus on his brow, and said, “Good-bye. Take care of yourself.” Clay looked back at Robert, found it difficult not to focus on his older brother’s chin, and said, “Be well.” Then, with little conscious awareness of what they were doing and less understanding of why, they embraced.


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