"Discovery of a Father" is the story of the relationship between a father and a son. The son, who is most likely the author himself, is ashamed and embarrassed by his father. He wants his father to be "proud, silent, (and) dignified," but his father always seems to be showing off. If there was a show being put together in town, the boy's father always managed to get "the chief comedy part." If there was a parade, he'd be right there "at the front of it," and he was not afraid to make a fool of himself for the entertainment of others. The townspeople loved him, but the father's son was mortified.
The boy's father loved to tell stories, especially stories about himself and the Civil War. The stories were not true, but the people loved them anyway. There is not much to do in a small town, but the boy's father could always be counted on to liven things up. When hard times came and the boy's family was "down and out," his father often took off for weeks at a time while his mother labored to feed the children. His father would come home occasionally, bringing a ham or something good to eat, and though the boy's mother was happy then, the boy himself was bitter. Then one night, while his mother was away, the boy's father came home and sat quietly at the table with an inexplicable look of sadness on his face. After awhile, he got up and took the boy to the pond in the rain, where both undressed, and the father, putting his son's hand on his shoulder, swam across the pond and back. Through that strange but wonderful experience, the boy discovered "a feeling of closeness" with his father, and saw in the man he had always scorned "a new and strange dignity." From that day on, the boy felt a kinship with his father, who was a storyteller, just as he himself would one day be.