Prodigal Father is narrated by Patience Montgomery. She is a woman who had married into an east-coast, Polish-Italian family but longs to be reunited with her not-so-traditional west-coast relatives. She misses the siblings who can hardly comprehend the stark generational differences that Patience has found in the New York City-metro area, where eastern Europe's Old World culture still lives and thrives.
The culture clash Patience had observed had only been a conversation piece until it stared her right in the face, with the passing of her mother-in-law, Rita. Struggling to pick up the pieces left behind by his wife, the father-in-law of our narrator becomes less interested in coping than in pointing the finger of blame toward those who had tried to surround him with their love, as he first began to grieve.
The more he blames, the more Patience's father-in-law alienates those around him. Having lost his mooring, the erratic patriarch creates fatal divisions in the family until his self-centered behavior is suddenly understood. The explanation satisfies some, but not others, sheds some light, but not much, on the head of the family who had once been respected, but had now descended into something far less than a father.
The hero of the story is the nurse in the family. She withstands every onslaught from the man who had once accompanied her on piano, as she sang to his playing, during regular family occasions. Her inner strength is elusive, yet intriguing, to our narrator. She wants some of what her sister-in-law exhibits but struggles with how to ask about it. Patience heads back to her California home wondering if she'll ever learn what, or who, had helped get Cheryl through the many strange days brought on by her husband's prodigal father.