Once upon a time there was a farmer. He lived in a modest house at the edge of a great, dark wood with a wide field in front and a clear running stream at the bottom of the land. He had a young wife who bore him many healthy children and together they worked the land and tended their field. Life was good for them, with warm sunny days and bountiful harvests. There was always the sound of laughter and of puppies barking and cows lowing in the field. The orchard that they planted grew strong and the barn was filled with sweet hay to feed their livestock.
One day the farmer and his wife sat together and looked out upon their field with pride.
“We should clear some of the forest on the other side of the stream.” He said. “With the additional acreage we can grow even more crops and make a profit. I can sell the firewood that I cut and use the coin to pay for two more cows so we can expand our herds and you can churn even more butter and sell it in the village.”
And so they set out to clear the land and expand their farm. The extra work required that the children pitch in and so they did, eager to please their parents. The sons swung their axes and split the wood, sweating and laughing together as they worked. The Farmer tilled the cleared land and planted his crops while the Farmer’s wife and her daughters milked the cows and churned the butter to sell in the village. Soon they had earned enough to buy a fine new horse so that it could carry their wares even further where they would fetch a higher price and so increase their returns. To do this though they needed a cart and so the Farmer worked his sons even harder and cleared even more land and they obeyed his instructions, although they laughed less often and only when someone hurt themselves or looked foolish. The Farmer was so busy with selling their wares and expanding his flocks and herds that he rarely had time to work with his sons and so hired a man from outside to see that they stayed busy and did not sneak away to swim in the stream or pick berries as they had in the past. His wife for all of her efforts spent less time at home and traveled further away to sell her butter and cream and as she spent more time in the bigger towns she felt embarrassed by her simple clothes and dirty shoes, and so she spent their hard earned silver on clothes that would make her look as fine as the other ladies in the town who were married to judges and shopkeepers. Her daughters saw the finery their Mother wore and pleaded and begged for clothes of their own, refusing to help with the milking and churning until the Farmer relented to their demands. At first they were happy with their new clothes but soon went back to their sullen and petulant ways. “We cannot milk the cows in such nice clothes,” They said, “They will get dirty and be ruined.” and so the Farmer’s wife spent their profits on hired girls from the village to milk the cows and churn the butter.
The Farmer, who had seen himself as doing well could not understand why their profits were dwindling away and blamed his sons for being lazy. He worked them even harder now and demanded that his foremen put the branch to them if they complained. From the top of the hill there was the continuous sound of axes and saws, but never a laugh or pleasant voice was heard. The daughters were now dressed so well that they couldn’t even gather the eggs from the hen house, or pick the tomatoes in the garden, so even more help was brought in. Soon there wasn’t enough money to pay for the help, so the Farmer went to visit the Banker and take out a loan.
“You have done very well for yourself.” The Banker said. “You’ve cleared off your forest and tilled up your fields and expanded your herds, what you need now is a fine house to show everyone how successful you are and I will lend you the money to build you a new one.” The Farmer took out the loan with his land as collateral and with it he built a new house of stone and brick. He was so busy with overseeing its construction that he barely had time to sit with his wife in the evening or to listen to his daughters play their flute by the fire. His sons, exhausted from their work, ate their meals and went to their rooms without a word, their efforts barely noticed by their parents.
Soon the magnificent house was completed and they moved in, each member of the family to their own room where they spent their hours alone, involved in their own thoughts. The fields expanded, the animals flourished, the produce was sold and the profits increased. The Farmer could hardly believe his good fortune. One night he woke up trembling in fear from a dream. He had dreamed that there were men who would steal what was his and so when he awoke he hurried off to buy himself guard dogs to protect his home. These dogs were bred to be vicious and to have no master but one and they followed the Farmer wherever he went and when his sons would approach they would growls and bare their teeth. This made the Farmer wonder if perhaps his own sons had designs on what he had acquired, after all it wasn’t their work that had given him all of these fine things, the great stone house and the thousand acres of profitable land, it was his efforts and his alone. And so he began to treat them with suspicion and told his overseers to keep a close watch on them and to never spare the rod should they complain or shirk. His daughters spent all their time dressing up and going to parties, for now the Farmer was well respected for what he had, the stately house, the fine horses and splendid carriage, the beautiful daughters and the haughty wife dressed in silks and satin. There was nothing that they could think of or desire that the Farmer would not grant them, but their appreciation seemed to ebb as quickly as he granted their wishes and their needs to expand faster than he could keep up.
One day they all sat together at the table in front of a feast. The sons all ate with their heads down while the daughters chatted excitedly about the things they were going to do in the city when they went together to shop. The Farmer noticed something was amiss and when it finally dawned on him he was angry.
“Where is my eldest son?” He demanded, for he was not at the table.
The next Son in line raised his face to his Father and said, “He has gone away to make his own fortune. Far away.” And he returned to his plate, wiping it clean with bread. The Farmer was incensed at this rebellion. Had he not given his Sons all that they could ever want, food, clothing, shelter and his protection? All he had ever asked of them was to work as he did on the land and to contribute their fair share and now they turned against him? He decided to cut their rations and to move them out of the fine house and into the stables with the horses to teach them a lesson. Then he instructed his foremen to hire new men from far away to do the work his sons wouldn’t do and to make sure to pay them only what they needed to feed themselves so they would not grow indolent and careless like his Sons. Beside the Farmer at his feet the guard dogs bared their teeth when the sons stood up from the table and made their way to the barn.
The years passed and the Farmer grew older. His wife, once a great beauty was now grey and not as appealing as she had been when they were young, so he got rid of her and found a young beauty from a distant city to take her place. His daughters were spoiled beyond repair and had drifted off with a series of men and when he saw them at all they were alien to him, dressed in scandalous clothes, marked from head to toe and pierced with bits of cheap metal and colored glass. He could barely make himself to look upon them and it grieved his heart to see what they had become. His sons, when he saw them, were hollow and shiftless. Their jobs had been given over to new men from far away who kept their distance and played more at work than they actually accomplished. The foremen were brutal and uncaring and his dogs had become bloodthirsty whenever anyone approached the Farmer’s house, snapping at them and drawing blood for pleasure. The Farmer himself had taken to spending more and more time with the Judges and the Bankers than he did with his own family or neighbors and when they got together they drank until they were half blind. They told fabulous stories that entertained themselves but were without truth, but what mattered was the status of the company, not the character of it.
One day the Farmer sat upon his porch and looked out upon his view — the trees were all gone now and there were no longer cool breezes to relieve the heat. The fine stone walls that had lined his fields were gap toothed and fallen and his workers seemed to always be on break though their demands for higher wages and more benefits grew by the day. His foreman stole from him his produce and sold it on the black market. His maids listened in on his conversations and tattled in the marketplace when they weren’t pilfering his pockets and his drawers. When his statements came from the bank he saw that rather than being a wealthy man as he pretended he was, that his debts were monstrous and could never be re-paid. His beautiful young wife was never around, traveling into the city most nights with the handsome coachman and only his guard dogs remained close by, eager for the treats he handed out to them and a place by the warm fire to lay down at night.
As happens in every story the Farmer came to the last days of his life, alone in his bed, untended and unloved. All he had accomplished was returning to naught; the fields overgrown with weeds and saplings, the stalls empty but for a tired nag and that standing in manure up to its fetlocks. His loved ones long ago having turned their backs on the beloved Father who had become someone they could hardly recognize. His second wife — or was it his third? — had taken everything that wasn’t nailed down and left with the Banker’s son. Even the roof leaked above his bed, soiled and uncomfortable in his old age. As he lay there drawing his final breath he heard a sound of feet on the stairs and in his mind he saw his oldest son returning from afar and his heart skipped a beat and his memory returned to those days when they were penniless but happy, their faces shining and the air filled with laughter. He saw his beloved wife again as she was on their wedding day and tears rolled down his cheeks.
“They have come back!” He thought to himself. “They love me still and wish to pay their last respects for all I have given to them, for all my hard work and leadership as a Father and Husband!”
The steps grew louder and it was not one, but many approaching his stately room to bid him farewell and he looked to the great door with anticipation. It was curious that the dogs made no sound, but then he remembered that even they had drifted off and gone away when he could no longer provide them with treats or build a fire to warm them. He looked to the door with a tear streaked gaze and then it opened and the Farmer reaped what he had sown.