“Papa” by Theodore Roethke    

Papa and the man were fixing the well. They had the top off. You could lie on your stomach and look way deep into the black water. He thought it would be wonderful to spit down there. He did. It went floating down like foam, then bobbed like a paper boat. Just when he felt so nice and dreamy, Papa grabbed him by the collar and boxed his ears until his head reeled. “You dirty boy!” he yelled. “Schreckliches Kind!” echoed Bob, the foreman, who always agreed with Papa.
No, Papa didn't like him much. He always gave Bud everything. Bud had a whole pot shed for a pirate’s den and wouldn’t even let him play. “Don't be such a whiner,” Papa said.
But Bud didn’t always talk nice about Papa. When John said that his father used to be the best old pitcher around, Bud would whisper to the other fellows like some smarty. “Aw,” he said one day, “My dad says that Uncle Otto may be the president of the company but he’s really nothin’ but a watchman and coaldriver.”
That made John good and mad. He walloped Bud, and tore his shirt, and made him eat dirt. It wasn’t often that he licked him, either. Just when he’d flopped Bud over after he’d wiggled away a little, Papa came up, swearing like everything. “My God, Otto, you shouldn’t shake that child so,” Mama said. Sometimes he dreamed about Papa. Once it seemed Papa came in and danced around with him. John put his feet on top of Papa’s and they’d waltz. Hei-dee-dei-dei. Rump-tee-tump. Only babies expected dreams to come true.
There must be something wrong with himself, he thought. He often looked in the mirror to see if he looked funny. Mama loved him all right. Bet even old Mrs. Wilson next door called her kid, “Honey-boy,” and he was “Monkey-face” to everyone else.
One afternoon, John slept on the bed in Grandpa’s house. Grandpa had swords and things. He knew lots of stories. Grandpa would start telling a story about Bismarck and John would fall asleep. Then Grandpa would go to sleep, too.
This time Grandpa was gone when John awoke. There was laughing in the next room. When he looked through the door, he saw Grandpa’s maid in Papa’s arms. He gasped and stared. The world seemed to spin around.
Then he crept out the back door, feeling quite happy. He wouldn’t have to worry any more. He hated Papa.

Contributing author: Michelle Ephraim, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Responding to “Papa” by Theodore Roethke

Answer the following questions in your notebook—this will be collated so that you can print or e-mail your work when you are finished.

1). Compare Roethke’s portrait of his father in this story and in “My Papa’s Waltz.”


2). Compare and contrast how Roethke uses the symbol of the waltz to represent his relationship with his father in both story and poem.

3). Could “My Papa’s Waltz” be characterized as a poem that allows Roethke to work out feelings toward his father?


Bedford/St. Martin's | Order a Book | Instructor Registration | Contact Us | Contact Your Sales Representative