Peter Oresick’s ‘My Father’ is a poem that delves into the narrator’s complicated relationship with his father. While he feels that his father is cold and emotionally distant, he recognizes that this is a symptom of the hardships he has faced. In this poem, the narrator expresses his desire to better understand him and what he has been through.
Explore My Father
‘My Father‘ focuses on the complex relationship between a father and son.
The poem begins with the narrator stating that his father spent 4 years in the war. He says that his father had nothing to say about it afterward. According to the narrator’s mother, the trauma caused him to tremble in his sleep for 4 years. Then, the narrator states that his dad lost two sons due to miscarriages, which he also never spoke about. He then tells the reader that his father went on strike 4 separate times. Once again, he had very little to say about this. In the second, and final stanza of the poem, the narrator describes his personal feelings about his father. He states that his father has always felt more like a guest in his life, rather than family. The narrator ends the poem expressing the desire to understand his father’s pain, even though he feels that he is unable to.
You can read the full poem here.
The poem’s main themes are centered on family, fatherhood, and identity. The narrator of the poem expresses the desire to understand his father and the hardship he has been through. However, this trauma has created a wedge between them, as his father finds it difficult to express himself. The narrator still views his dad as an important part of his identity, but finds it hard to relate to him. Our parents often have a big role in shaping who we are and who we become. As such, the narrator feels the need to better understand his father, even if he feels he may not be able to relate to his experiences.
Structure and Form
The poem is two stanzas long. The first stanza is 6 sentences, and the second is 7 sentences. ‘My Father’ is a free verse poem, meaning it does not have a rhyming scheme. The lack of structured rhyming makes the poem sound very similar to normal everyday speech. This makes it feel personal and from the heart, as though the poet is speaking directly to the reader.
My father was four years in the war,
and afterward, according to my mother,
had nothing to say.
The poem begins with the narrator telling the reader that his father spent four years in the war. He then states that according to his mother, his father was silent on the matter. It is interesting to note that it is his mother who tells him about this. He does not receive any information directly from his father. This demonstrates that there is a degree of separation between them.
She says he trembled
in his sleep the next four years.
In this next line, the narrator learns from his mother that his father was traumatized by the war. However, he never expressed this outwardly; she only noticed because he would shake in his sleep. This further characterizes the narrator’s father as a very stoic and cold man. Once again, the narrator hears about this from his mother, further demonstrating the distance that exists between them.
My father was twice the father of sons
My mother keeps this silence also.
The next line delves into another traumatic event that the narrator’s father experienced: the death of his two sons as a result of miscarriages. However, the narrator’s father never says anything about how he feels about this. This further demonstrates the emotional separation between the two of them. The narrator also mentions that his mother keeps quiet about this event. This suggests that it was a trauma that she and her husband experienced together privately.
Four times my father was on strike,
and according to my mother; had nothing to say.
In the next line of the poem, the narrator states that his father went on strike four separate times. As with the other traumatic events in his life, the narrator’s father had very little to say about this. Once again, the narrator is hearing about this from his mother, rather than directly from his father.
She says the company didn’t understand,
to a man tending a glass furnace in August.
Line 6 opens with the narrator’s mother explaining why her husband chose to go on strike. She states that both the company and the narrator couldn’t understand the importance of that 15 cents per hour. His father worked tending a glass furnace during the hot summer months, which is an extremely physically taxing job. This is once again demonstrates that the narrator feels disconnected from his father: his own mother states that he is incapable of understanding his father’s point of view.
I have always remembered him a tired man.
and expected nothing.
This is the first time the narrator explicitly states how he feels about his father. He sees him as a tired, worn-out man. He respects him, but as a “guest” rather than as somebody close to him, and he has expected nothing more from him.
It is April now.
enticing as the woman at my side.
In lines 9-10, the narrator describes the current place that he is in in his life. He says it is April, as the spring symbolizes new beginnings. He is excited about the life that lies before him, and he has a beautiful woman by his side.
Now, in April, I want him to speak.
like a coat that does not fit.
While the narrator is excited about his own life, he still finds himself thinking about his father. He says that he wants to try on “the worn body of his pain” like a coat that does not fit. This is a metaphor: the narrator is saying that he wants to better understand what his father has been through, even though he knows that he may not be equipped to do so.
‘My Father‘ delves into the complicated relationships that often exist between fathers and sons. For many young men, their father is their first male role model in life. As such, the narrator feels that his father is an important part of his life and identity. This makes the distance between them feel even more significant and painful. The narrator utilizes this poem as a way to express his desire to better understand him.
About Peter Oresick
Peter Oresick was an American Poet, publisher, printer, teacher, and painter born in Pennsylvania in 1955. His poetry primarily focused on the working class experience in America. He is best known for his poetry collections Warhol-O-Rama and Iconoscope: New and Selected poems. He passed away from cancer in 2006.
- ‘Daddy‘ by Sylvia Plath. This is another poem in which the narrator delves into their complicated relationship with her father.
- Any of the poems from this list of 10 best poems for fathers day on poemanalysis.com. This list includes a multitude of poems that also delve into father-child relationships.
- ‘My Papa’s Waltz‘ by Theodore Roethke. This poem also explores the complex relationships between fathers and sons.
- ‘Father‘ by Edgar Allen Guest. This is a far more lighthearted poem, but still focuses on father/son relationships.