Published in 1972, Ernest Hemingway's short story "Fathers and Sons" is part of The Nick Adams Stories, linked episodes that chronicle a young man's coming of age, written in the 1920s and 1930s.
In this story, Nick Adams ignores a detour to pass through a small town as his son sleeps on the front seat beside him. Nick reflects that although it is not his country, all of this country he passes is good to see in the fall. Since he has come to hunt quail, he scrutinizes each clearing he passes.
As he anticipates hunting, Nick recalls his father, who taught him the skills he treasures. Nick notes that whenever he first thinks about his father, he envisions his eyes "that saw farther and much quicker than other human eyes." Having this superior faculty made Nick's father nervous. Then, too, he was sentimental, Nick recalls; and, "like most sentimental people, he was both cruel and abused." Nick ponders, too, how all sentimental people are betrayed so many times as his father had been when he died in a trap "that he had helped only a little to set."
Nick drives on in a stream of consciousness: he recalls the misinformation of his father about sex in contrast to the skills that he taught him in hunting. His father's odd ideas about sex did not really matter since "each man learns on his own anywhere." However, his father "brought him to a passion for hunting." Then his thoughts wander to his father's burial, and how the funeral director executed repairs, although, Nick believes, his father's face had molded itself in the last three years. Nick knows his father's is a good story to write, but he also knows there are still too many people alive for him to tell it.
Taking yet another direction, Nick's thoughts turn to a wish that he could again feel the old trail by the cottage. There, the hemlock bark that the Indians cut lay in long rows for the tannery at Boyne City. When in the woods as a boy, Nick would lie against the trunk of a huge hemlock with his friend Billy Gilby, with whom he hunted, and Billy's sister, Trudy, with whom he learned to make love.
As he drives along the highway, Nick notices that it grows dark, so he ends his thoughts of his father:
The end of the day had always belonged to Nick alone, and he never felt right unless he was alone at it.
Nevertheless, Nick recalls, the memory of his father always returns to him, in the fall, even though the towns that he inhabits are not the towns in which his father lived. After he was fifteen, Nick had shared nothing with his father.
Startled by the voice of his son asking, "What was it like Papa, when you were a little boy and used to hunt with the Indians?" Nick realizes he has felt quite alone until now. Turning to answer this question, Nick cannot tell his boy about Trudy, who "did first what no one has done better." So he likens the experience of knowing the Indians by their sweetgrass smell--it was good--in contrast to his memory of his father's smell. "But, now it is no good," either. "They all ended the same," Nick thinks to himself.
About hunting, Nick feels that when a person shoots "one bird flying, he has shot all birds flying" because although they are different and fly in different ways, the sensation is the same: the "last one is as good as the first." This feeling, Nick realizes, he owes to his father. Still he says nothing to his son. The boy then asks when he will get a shotgun. Finally, he queries, "What was my grandfather like?"
"He's hard to describe. He was a great hunter and fisherman and he had wonderful eyes."
"Was he greater than you?"
Nick tells his son that he was, for he shot very quickly and beautifully, and was disappointed in the way Nick shot.
Abruptly, the boy asks his father why they do not visit the tomb of his grandfather. When Nick says his grandfather is too far away, the son replies that he hopes that Nick will not be buried somewhere too far for him to pray at his tomb. Nick assures him that they will arrange it so he is near. The son tells his father that he wants everyone buried at a convenient place because he does not feel good to never have visited the tomb of his grandfather.
"We'll have to go," Nick said. "I can see we'll have to go."