The wayward son story could be the most famous ever. Broadway theater plays and movies have repeated the plot, not to say how many times the end has been used for moral lessons, except for one often overlooked item at the end that changes everything. For those who can’t remember how the story goes a younger brother grows sick of life on the farm with his father and older brother. Country living drives him crazy with boredom and the smells and nastiness of livestock nauseates him. Desperate for a little excitement, he has a plan how to escape the rural life and has been waiting for just the right moment to spring it on his parent. No spur-of-the-moment impulse, he’d been sweet-talking and trying to please the old guy until he believed he had him wrapped around his little finger, so to speak. The farmer had actually done pretty well for himself and built a sizable spread worth a considerable sum and the kid wanted his share but not after the best years of his life were gone, so he had to bide his time for exactly the right moment. One evening when the oldtimer was in a good mood in his favorite chair sipping a glass of sweet tea and more importantly the older brother was still out after dark digging rocks out for plowing, the kid sees his chance. He’s thought a lot about how best to go about his proposal and so begins by sharing his heart, saying although he’s tried and tried hard, he’s just not cutout for farming, that his heart wasn’t in it, and that handling dirt and planting stuff was just not his ‘thing’. He prefers investing and deal-making. Before the old man has a chance to object, the kid hurriedly changes the subject, saying he’s worried about the old fellow, that one day the farm will be too much for him as age and crippling diseases were around the corner and think of the medical bills. Then the kid hits him with the kicker before his brother comes in from the field, saying it’s time to sell half the farm—only to lighten the workload, you understand, and invest the proceeds in solid securities as a safety net against calamities like droughts or locust swarms or whatever wipes out farms. The kid says finally he knows of some wonderfully safe bonds that pay twice the normal interest rate. Of all the miracles, the doddering codger falls for the deal and signs over half the farm. Never once thinking it would be that easy but suspecting all along farmers were none too bright business-wise, the kid already had prospective buyers lined up and soon converts to cash. Happy-go-lucky for once and with his pockets full, the kid heads for Vegas, or whatever comparable Sin City at the time. He didn’t even have the decency to shelve away his parent in a nursing home until the old fellow kicked the bucket like is done today, but that’s an aside.
Everything couldn’t have worked out more to his liking. With boyish good looks and natural charm, not to mention a generous, free-spending nature, he was Mister Personality himself among the regulars at the Chug-a-Lug Honky-Tonk. For a while, it was high times with one toga party after another among that jolly glad-handed bunch who spent their days doing nothing more than wiling away the time. Then the day came when one of those bad breaks hit the kid warned his dad about. After running out of the money he’d made off selling the farm, he maxed out his credit and then, of all the bad luck, the economy took a downturn and he couldn’t make the payments, ending up without a shekel, or whatever pennyante coin they had in those days, and none of his pals or ex-girlfriends offered to bail him out either. After all he’d done for them. The bunch of ingrates!
Declaring bankruptcy was not allowed in those days nor was there welfare, so the kid had to find a job, any job, in a hurry too. Unskilled and having gotten his face and neck covered in tattoos one night when his judgement was not up to par, who would hire him and to do what? Hungover, half-starved and longing for his mom’s roasted chicken, the only job opening he could find was working for the meanest, stingiest tightwad in the county, rumor had it, and not at the supervisory position the kid thought himself qualified for either. Talk about wasting top grade executive material, the skinflint set him to feeding the very same livestock he ran off from home to escape, only worse—pigs in a mud hole. However, in order to save up enough to start his own investment advisory firm, the dream he’d told his father about, he had no choice but to tramp around in the slop.
As if there hadn’t been enough setbacks already, the cheapskate miser cheated the kid of his wages until he contemplated going mano-y-mano in a 15-rounder with the biggest baddest hog in the pen for a share of his pod supper. Before doing that, though, he came up with a brainstorm–why not eat humble pie instead? After all, it was all the rage these days to move back home to mommy and daddy’s. There was room in the basement and he’d always been good at make-work chores around the place. He’d have to endure a royal chewing-out from the old man and big brother’s liable to deliver a head-thumping or two, but on the trip home he’d come up with a sob-story that’d have them all blubbering.
The Pork family had dinner without him as he headed back to the farm. As things turned out, his father was not angry with him, if that can be understood, but instead all but busted a gut with the hugging and kissing. Before the boy was able to get out his tale of woe the place erupted in a barn-storming hoedown and hayride. The hoopla turned out a better blast than anything at the honky-tonk except for his stodgy older brother who shunned any part of joining in. This hurts the father who tried every argument imaginable to persuade his stubborn older son to come in and have the best T-bone steaks and Champaign ever. All in all, the story ends on as high a note as any “happily-ever-after” Disney movie, except for that one often overlooked detail that was mentioned at the beginning—the kid lost everything! He’d blown it all and the father, who most would acknowledge a real Prince of a fellow, didn’t restore to him any part of his older brother’s inheritance. In fact, the younger brother ended up another hired hand. Read the fine print at the end of the story as the father tells the older brother “…all that I have is yours.” Worse yet, when the father dies the younger brother will have to work underneath his hyper-strict older brother.
Moral: Bad decisions may be forgiven, but the results endure.
How then can those among the ‘learned’ proclaim, always with a professorial air, “There is no afterlife judgement” when at the same time in this life judgement is universal. Poor investments result in lost funds; marry the wrong person and regret it for life (even after divorce when considering all the years wasted arguing); be profligate and face a meager retirement; become addicted to alcohol or drugs and die early in bad health; promiscuity leads to disease and broken hearts; and on and on the list goes. Bad results invariably begin with the same lie—”It’ll be fun!” And then follows the other inevitable falsehood—”There’ll be no consequences.”