There once was a little boy who was the delight of his father's heart. It was the days of horse-drawn carriages and blacksmiths and more simple ways of life. The boy's father married young, as people often did then, and he and his sweet little wife were quite sure they were the happiest people that ever lived when their little home was blessed with a tiny baby with his mama's big blue eyes and curly brown hair. Sorrow struck the little home just a couple short years later, when one of the fevers that ravaged many homes in those days struck, and the little wife was taken away. Her heartbroken husband found comfort only in the little boy they both loved so much and he worked very hard to raise his son to be a man his mother would be proud of. He was a lovable child, and everyone who met him loved him.
In a few years, it happened that the young father's good sense and hard work led him to succeed very well in business in his town. He steadily grew quite wealthy and well known. He was very kind, and the people of the town all looked up to him. Soon, he owned many of the business buildings in town and few important business deals or political decisions were made without his input.
While all this was happening, the young boy was learning alongside his father. His father made sure to bring him along and teach him all he knew. He was never neglected for all his father's business, and the people who knew them wondered at the father's ability to care for his son while still succeeding so well in business.
When the boy got to be around eighteen years old, he began to show great promise of being as kind, trustworthy, and smart as his father was. But then, one day, rumor spread that the boy had disappeared, run away in the night for some inexplicable reason. No one could guess why. Those who met the father that day were shocked at the agony etched in every line of his face. After a few days, a friend heard that the father had heard from his son. The boy had gone to the city and sent back word that he was all right and that he was going to try his business skills in the lucrative market of the big city. This did not comfort his father at all. His son was gone! Why did he leave? Only very recently the father had noticed an occasional comment made by his son alluding to the excitement and allure of the pictures he had seen of the cities. The father, ever careful, had brought his son to the city and shown him all of it. He had told him of the opportunity and beauty of the city, but had also told him of the busyness and corruption that often lay beneath the charming appearance. His son had seemed to understand the danger, but, why had he gone?
The father traveled quickly to the city and met with his son. He begged him to come home to the people and places he knew. He could keep plenty busy at home and avoid the danger and crime of the city. Why did he need to stay? The son refused to return with his father. He would not fall prey to the corruption,he said, didn't he know better? He would be the most honest businessmen in that city, and then how proud his father would be of him!
The father returned home with a downcast face. Alas, his son would not listen. A few months later he heard from him again. Several of his building had been broken into and many of his goods stolen. Just a while later, one of the buildings was burned to the ground! The boy persisted in his business though, and before long, rumor reached the father that his son had become quite popular in society. An excellent conversationalist and a laughing companion, he frequently attended parties and flirted with the daughters of the rich men in town. The father worried, though. Such parties inevitably involved alcohol and many of those who attended them were so caught up in their riches and education that they seldom thought about anything else. The father wrote many letters to his son, sent him messages by way of traveling friends, and visited him. Each time, he felt his son was growing further away from him. He now drank freely, and caroused away many an evening with the ladies.
The time came when the father ceased to hear from his son anymore. He did not respond to his letters, and, when he went to visit, he found his boy had moved somewhere else. Desperate, the father searched the city over. Finally, one of the rich ladies the boy had spent time with, sent him a note with an address. The father hurried to the place, worried about what he would find. Would it be a mansion, or was his son destitute? He rode up the street, his heart pounding. The neighborhood grew steadily dirtier and noisier, and bedraggled children and bearded men clutching bottles appeared in the doorways. Oh no! It was as the father had feared! His son had fallen into the ways of the city and had forgotten all his father had taught him. As he knocked on the door marked with the number on the note the woman had sent, he wondered what his son would say. The door opened and his son stood there, haggard and with a large cut above his eye. Oh, his dear boy! The son of his sweet little wife. Even now, he could see her curly hair and pretty eyes. The son he had cared for with such love and taught so carefully!
The boy gave him a half-hearted smile and invited him in. He was civil, but seemed a stranger. He spoke politely, but with no warmth. Things hadn't been going so well lately, he said, but soon he would be back on his feet. He still went to church on Sundays as he had been taught and even paid his tithe. But no! His father did not understand. How could he think that things would get better? He had fallen into dishonest business practice to compete with the other businessmen. He had started drinking so heavily and in such disreputable places that a bar room fight and the consequent cuts and bruises that accompanied them had become common place. The buildings he owned were frequently looted and his own employees often stole from him.
Oh, if he would just listen to reason! The father paced the room and then sat down again. He pleaded with his son. What did the amount of his tithe mean? What did his church attendance mean? Nothing! The church had plenty of that. His confessions made at the altar with bowed head, what did they mean? Nothing! The widowed mother who ran one of his stores had little to bring home to her little brood of children! It all meant nothing. What had happened to the kindness, the compassion, and the justice that his son had once shown? Did he not see what his life had become? Open cuts, wrinkled clothing, abandoned and looted buildings...this is what he now was. Why did he not see it? Why did he still think it would get better? Oh, why would he not listen to reason! If he would just come home and return to the values he knew, there would be no more fights, no more robberies, no more of any of it! But if he stayed! It would only get worse. He would lose the little he had left, and then what?