A Mexican bullfighter named Luis gets drunk and takes part in a parade on the day he is supposed to fight. The first-person narrator is with a man named Maera, and they both watch as the drunken Mexican dances to the rhythm of the music in the parade. Maera urges the narrator to get Luis, but when he does, Luis ignores him and continues dancing. When the narrator grabs his arm, the Mexican tells him to leave him alone, that he is not his father. The narrator then meets with Maera back at the hotel. They are both disgusted with Luis, and they call him a Mexican savage. Maera wonders who will kill his bulls after he gets a cogida. They both know the answer: they will kill the bulls for the savage.
"My Old Man"
The story is narrated in the first person by a boy whose father is a jockey. The boy and his father love each other very much and spend a lot of time together. The narrator begins by describing how his father would stay in shape: he would go for long runs and would skip rope in the road. People would stare at him. His strenuous workouts served to keep his weight down--the narrator explains that his father had more trouble than other jockeys keeping his weight low enough. He remembers a small jockey named Regoli who went to the bar one time right after weighing. His father watched Regoli with envy but could not follow him, because he had to watch his weight. His father rode at Mirafiore and San Siro, and they rode back and forth often on the train. The narrator explains his deep love for the horses and the exhilaration of watching them race.
Right after his father won the Premio Commercio, they left Italy for Paris. The narrator describes a scene in a cafÃ© where two men are very angry with his father, and when they leave his father looks very frightened. They leave three days later. Paris seems huge and complex to the narrator, but he only goes into the city once or twice a week from Maisons. In the city they sit at the CafÃ© de la Paix. They live at Maison Lafitte with Mrs. Meyers. He loves Maisons and has fun at the lake and in the forest with the other kids.
The narrator's father gets his license from Italy but still has trouble getting any mounts to ride. He spends most of his time at the CafÃ© de Paris. Every day they would go wherever the races were held. One of his most prominent memories is of a big race at St. Cloud's where the jockeys fixed the race. It was a 200,000-franc race, and the big favorite was a beautiful horse named Kzar. The narrator is fascinated by Kzar. Right before the race he and his father go into the jockey dressing room, and his father asks his friend George Gardiner, who is riding Kzar, who will win the race, and he tells him that a horse named Kircubbin will win. His father bets a lot of money on Kircubbin, who ends up winning. His father makes a lot of money from the race, but it ruins the race for the narrator, and it permanently takes away some of his love of horse racing.
After the race, he and his father spent a lot more time in Paris at the CafÃ© de la Paix. One time he saw a good-looking American girl, and they smiled at each other, but nothing ever came of it and he never saw her again. His father continually bet money on horseraces at the tracks and drank a lot. He no longer rode and did not make an effort to keep his weight down. The narrator fondly recalls his father's stories about when his mother was still alive and when his father was riding in Egypt or St. Moritz. He also would tell stories about his boyhood in Kentucky, but he explained to the narrator that everything in America was "on the bum there" now.
One day his father bought his own horse for thirty thousand dollars and began his training again. The horse's name was Gilford. Owning his own horse breathed new life into his father. Tragically, on the second race with Gilford, his father was killed when he fell off his horse. The narrator remembers crying uncontrollably while George Gardiner tried to console him. While they waited for the ambulance they heard two men say that his father got what he deserved since he was a crook, but George told the narrator to ignore them, since his father was a great man.
The vignette focuses on the preparation for bullfighting. The narrator and Maera try to force the matador named Luis to prepare for his bullfight later in the afternoon, but he refuses to listen and instead gets drunk and dances. He tells them to leave them alone by noting that neither is his father, signaling fatherhood as a mode of control and power. Once the narrator and Maera realize that Luis will not fight the bulls, they are resigned to do the killing themselves.
"My Old Man" deals with the issues of fatherhood, death, and youth. The narrator remembers going on runs with his father. His father worked hard. He remembers that sweat would pour off his father as he tried to lose weight. The narrator clearly loves and needs his father, and there is no one else to protect him.
On the day that two men got angry with his father, it was the first time he saw someone insult his father, and this experience made an impression on him. He wonders how people could get away with this insult that shatters the innocence of his youth. The lesson from his father: "You got to take a lot of things in this world, Joe."
Even so, as his youth continues in Paris, he looks up to his father and loves what he does. Meanwhile, though, his father has trouble getting work and starts drinking a lot. But the narrator loves horseracing as much as his father does. Again, he focuses on a memory of the day at St. Cloud where his feelings were challenged. His father took part in fixing the race, and the knowledge of this fault ruined the race for him. It even diminished some of his love of horseracing forever. But his adoration of his father seems never to lessen. He fondly remembers the period when his father did nothing but sit at the CafÃ© de Paris and drink. As a boy, the narrator did not truly understand the implications of his father's actions.
Similarly, when his father told him they must go back to the States for his education, he did not understand. It might seem that his father talks to him more as an adult than as a child, but he never truly explains things to his son. As a result there remains a significant distance between them, while Joe adores his father.
Hemingway creates this relationship as another example of a personal relationship that seems perfect from one perspective but has major flaws. From the child's perspective it is wonderful, but looking back--and to an observer--it is not. Joe has no one to take of him but his father. His father should be looking out for his son by looking out for himself. Yet, even after he has made a fortune from gambling, he continues to live a risky life, and he finally dies racing his own horse.
The death of his father leaves Joe destitute and alone. This death tears the little boy apart. This loss cannot be restored. Meanwhile, for others the death represents justice. Death is a victory to them, while for Joe it is devastating.
In this tale of loss, Hemingway never approaches directly the pain of loss. Instead, the pain constantly invades the narrative. First, they leave Italy, and his father loses his opportunity to work. The narrator loses his pure love for horseracing when his father fixes the race. Through the narrative of this father, Hemingway subtly weaves in the loss of his mother years ago. Finally, at the end of the narrative, Joe does not seem convinced about "how swell a guy" his father is. He says, "But I don't know. Seems like when they get started they don't leave a guy nothing." Having lost his father, he gives this final thought a touch of cynicism that suggests a loss of much of his youthful innocence.