In the poem, the speaker reveals that his father is trying his best to appear bold and confident in the picture. When he states that the father has a “[s]heeping grin,” the speaker refers to his father as being docile or bashful. This could further confirm the theme of appearance versus reality; although the father may outwardly appear calm and casual, he is very bashful, and may be considered a coward. Thus, the author feels that his father is a “sheeping grin” because he is not as bold as he appears to be.
By stating that the father “would like to pose bluff and hearty for his posterity, / wear his old hat cocked over his ear,” readers are able to understand the photograph by creating its meaning on their mind and determining the date on which the photograph was taken. In the 1930s (as mentioned in the poem), America faced its great depression at its peak with the onset of the World War II. From the description (phrase above), readers can imagine that the father of the speaker is putting a false appearance in the photograph or camera. This can be confirmed from the other stanzas. In the third stanza, for instance, the speaker states, ‘but the eyes give him away.” This means that the father is different in real life compared to the way he appears on the photograph. Additionally, using the terms like “would like” would mean that the father of the speaker is struggling to appear good on the photos amidst his contradicting reality.
When the speaker states that “he can’t hold his liquor either,” he tries to connect his experience with that of his father. From the statement, readers can conclude that the speaker believes he turned out like his father in the photograph since he is the one who directed him as he grew up. The speaker does not want to be like the father who never showed him any valuable thing or memory. The statement may further mean that the speaker is drunk himself, and feels that this is all his father ever taught him how to do. This, therefore, evokes sympathy among the readers.
The father in the poem would be considered a neglecting parent. He fails to do his duties of a parent; he fails to nurture his son to be a man. He does not teach him how to fish or do other male-gendered activities. That is why the speaker admits that all he does not even know how to hold his own liquor, something that at least his father knew best how to do. The son would be considered a dependent individual; amidst the fact that his father had failures, he could have learnt to become a man by himself. Instead, he blames his father for not holding his hand through the process of growing. He is dependent of the dad, and this is why he appears a failure like the father. The son’s attitude towards the father is negative; he considers his father a failure. The speaker feels that since the father camouflages in the photograph, yet he is a weak man, he remain a failure. His negative attitude is evident when he suggests that he cannot even “know the place to fish;” this is evident that he feels his father failed in molding him to be a man.