In "The Fly in the Ointment" by V.S. Pritchett, Harold is a good son, but his father's criticisms have taken their toll. It speaks to Harold's character that even though his father has been an unkind parent, Harold still cares for his dad. Money is an issue. Harold, who is a married man in his thirties, worries about showing up at his father's factory in a cab—we sense that he has been intimidated in the past:
Better not arrive in a taxi, he was thinking. The old man will wonder where I got the money from.
The reader discovers that family fights over money have also been a major concern for Harold and perhaps caused him to distance himself from such turmoil—till now.
Suddenly all the money quarrels of the family, which nagged in the young man's mind, had been dissolved. His dread of being involved in them vanished. He was overcome by the sadness of his father's situation...I must see him. I must help him.
When Harold arrives, uncharacteristically, his father is very amiable. The reader learns of yet another way the father has made Harold feel inferior, unappreciated and unloved.
"Come in, Professor," said the father. This was an old family joke. He despised his son, who was, in fact, not a professor but a poorly paid lecturer at a provincial university.
Yet even though his father despises him, still Harold comes to help the older man as he transitions from success to bankruptcy. Harold watches the older man and realizes something about his father's faces: there are two! He has a bigger face—which shows a hard heart. The small face is gentler towards Harold. Harold is probably used to seeing the bigger, bullying face.
Some essence of this hardness is apparent as the father criticizes Harold's hair loss. The father mentions it twice—in a heavy-handed way:
Do you know, you're actually more bald at the back than I thought. There's a patch there as big as my hand. I saw it just then. It gave me quite a shock. You really must do something about it. How are your teeth? That may have something to do with it. Hasn't Alice told you how bald you are?
Again, Harold is put down. Then we learn that Harold has come to the aid of a father who has "swindled" others in business. In spite of this painful knowledge, Harold supports his dad.
Surprisingly, his father announces:
I've done with money. Absolutely done and finished with it. I never want to see another penny as long as I live.
Then Harold musters the courage to tell his dad why he came:
I'm not rich. None of us is...we can't do anything. I wish I could, but I can't...But the idea of your being—you know, well short of some immediate necessity, I mean—well, if it is ever a question of—well, to be frank, cash, I'd raise it somehow."
He coloured. He hated to admit his own poverty...
One truth, shared on the first page of the story, is that Harold knew his father. Perhaps he is not terribly surprised by his father's response—soon we learn that nothing has changed:
"Raise it?" said the old man sharply. "Why didn't you tell me before you could raise money? How can you raise it? Where? By when?"
Harold comes to the aid of a father who despises him—and to a dishonorable man. He wants to help. His father, however, only values the money Harold might raise—money still means everything to Harold's father.
Harold is a good, caring son, and a fine man who is disturbed by his dad's dishonesty. He is obviously forgiving—he puts aside his own pain to help his father.