We love celebrating those wonderful mothers in the world, and they certainly deserve the praise. However, while we all know how important fathers are in a child’s life, good fathers sometimes get a little less appreciation. In the world of poetry, fathers and fatherhood are celebrated with depth, reverence and truth. Whether it’s Father’s Day, your dad’s birthday, or another of life’s milestones, here’s a list of 8 wonderful poems about fatherhood that capture the essence of what it means to be a dad.
1. Walking with my Father (2014), by Linda Hogan
Linda Hogan an American poet, storyteller, academic, playwright, novelist, environmentalist and writer of short stories. “Walking with my Father” is an excerpt from her book of poems, Dark. Sweet. which provides an intimate look at our connections to the natural world.
In the dark evening, my father and I
walk down the road to the old house
where my grandmother lived,
and we see through the door an old woman’s feet
lifted up, tired, on a footstool,
still in her thick stockings,
the feet with legs and stockings
looking just like Grandma’s
after bearing nine children who lived,
standing, working all day,
the kind of woman who made stacks of toast, platters of eggs
for all of us each hot morning,
did laundry, then lunch,
supper, and worked with the animals
or cleaning fish
the rest of the day.
I want to go open that door as I did
so many times in the past, remembering
not to slam the screen, as everyone would yell
although I am now also older and finite,
the seams of myself coming apart.
How I wish I could go to that woman
with her legs up and rub her feet,
put liniment on her legs.
Years have passed through the doors
of that house, of memory, doors of the past
and my father’s eyes
are sad, looking in,
his own memories, not mine,
thinking maybe of his mother
and some of his old belongings,
the stolen Colt of his own father,
the bracelet he gave me with his R.A. number.
Her memories are unremembered,
as my grandfather’s,
as those before them,
I think of what this poem is about,
only partly about memory,
our many losses.
And walking with my father
I walk with my grandparents,
among the first to be numbered:
2. My Father and Myself Facing the Sun (1993), by Lawson Fusao Inada
Lawson is a Japenese American poet. In this poem, he compares and contrasts himself with his father about personal history and world history. “My Father and Myself Facing the Sun” is from a collection of works published in Legends from Camp.
We are both strong, dark, bright men,
though perhaps you might not notice,
finding two figures flat against the landscape
like the shadowed backs of mountains.
Which would not be far from wrong,
for though we both have on Western clothes
and he is seated on a yellow spool
of emptied and forgotten telephone cable
and I recline on a green aluminum lounge,
we are both facing into the August sun
as august as Hiroshima and the autumn.
There are differences, however, if you care
to discover, coming close, respectfully.
You must discover the landscape as you go.
Come. It is in the eyes, the face, the way
we would greet you stumbling as you arrive.
He is much the smooth, grass-brown slopes
reaching knee-high around you as you walk;
I am the cracks of cliffs and gullies,
pieces of secret deep in the back of the eye.
But he is still my father, and I his son.
After a while, there is time to go fishing,
both of us squatting on rocks in the dusk,
leaving peaks and tree line responsible for light.
There is a lake below, which both of us
acknowledge, by facing, forward, like the sun.
Ripples of fish, moon, luminous insects.
Frogs, owls, crickets at their sound.
Deer, raccoon, badger come down to drink.
At the water’s edge, the children are fishing,
casting shadows from the enormous shoreline.
Everything functions in the function of summer.
And gradually, and not by chance, the action
stops, the children hush back among rocks
and also watch, with nothing to capture but dusk.
There are four of us, together among others.
And I am not at all certain what all this means,
if it means anything, but feel with all my being
that I must write this down, if I write anything.
My father, his son, his grandsons, strong, serene.
Night, night, night, before the following morning.
3. Little Father (2001), by Li-Young Lee
Li-Young Lee is an Asian American poet who was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents who eventually fled to America after wide-spread anti-Chinese sentiment swept Indonesia. Today he’s an influential voice in Asian American poetry. Upon first reading, many believe “Little Father” will be a sad poem (published in Book of my Nights), as it begins “I buried my father / in the sky”, but the poem is actually about how we carry people we love in our hearts.
I buried my father
in the sky.
Since then, the birds
clean and comb him every morning
and pull the blanket up to his chin
I buried my father underground.
Since then, my ladders
only climb down,
and all the earth has become a house
whose rooms are the hours, whose doors
stand open at evening, receiving
guest after guest.
Sometimes I see past them
to the tables spread for a wedding feast.
I buried my father in my heart.
Now he grows in me, my strange son,
my little root who won’t drink milk,
little pale foot sunk in unheard-of night,
little clock spring newly wet
in the fire, little grape, parent to the future
wine, a son the fruit of his own son,
little father I ransom with my life.
4. Poem for My Father (1996), by Quincy Troupe
Quincy Thomas Troupe, Jr. is an American poet, editor, journalist and professor emeritus at the University of California, San Diego, in La Jolla, California. In “Poem for My Father” (published in Avalanche), Troupe’s poem has a dedication to his father, Quincy T. Trouppe Sr., and is filled with admiration and pride.
for Quincy T. Trouppe Sr.
father, it was an honor to be there, in the dugout
with you, the glory of great black men swinging their lives
as bats, at tiny white balls
burning in at unbelievable speeds, riding up & in & out
a curve breaking down wicked, like a ball falling off a table
moving away, snaking down, screwing its stitched magic
into chitlin circuit air, its comma seams spinning
toward breakdown, dipping, like a hipster
bebopping a knee-dip stride, in the charlie parker forties
wrist curling, like a swan’s neck
behind a slick black back
cupping an invisible ball of dreams
& you there, father, regal, as an african, obeah man
sculpted out of wood, from a sacred tree, of no name, no place, origin
thick branches branching down, into cherokee & someplace else lost
way back in africa, the sap running dry
crossing from north carolina into georgia, inside grandmother mary’s
womb, where your mother had you in the violence of that red soil
ink blotter news, gone now, into blood graves
of american blues, sponging rococo
truth long gone as dinosaurs
the agent-oranged landscape of former names
absent of african polysyllables, dry husk, consonants there
now, in their place, names, flat, as polluted rivers
& that guitar string smile always snaking across
some virulent, american, redneck’s face
scorching, like atomic heat, mushrooming over nagasaki
& hiroshima, the fever blistered shadows of it all
inked, as etchings, into sizzled concrete
but you, there, father, through it all, a yardbird solo
riffing on bat & ball glory, breaking down the fabricated myths
of white major league legends, of who was better than who
beating them at their own crap
game, with killer bats, as bud powell swung his silence into beauty
of a josh gibson home run, skittering across piano keys of bleachers
shattering all manufactured legends up there in lights
struck out white knights, on the risky edge of amazement
awe, the miraculous truth sluicing through
steeped & disguised in the blues
confluencing, like the point at the cross
when a fastball hides itself up in a slider, curve
breaking down & away in a wicked, sly grin
curved & posed as an ass-scratching uncle tom, who
like old sachel paige delivering his famed hesitation pitch
before coming back with a hard, high, fast one, is slicker
sliding, & quicker than a professional hitman—
the deadliness of it all, the sudden strike
like that of the “brown bomber’s” crossing right
of sugar ray robinson’s, lightning, cobra bite
& you, there, father, through it all, catching rhythms
of chono pozo balls, drumming, like conga beats into your catcher’s mitt
hard & fast as “cool papa” bell jumping into bed
before the lights went out
of the old, negro baseball league, a promise, you were
father, a harbinger, of shock waves, soon come
5. Those Winter Sundays (1966), by Robert Hayden
Robert Hayden was an American poet, essayist, and educator. He served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, and was the first African-American writer to hold the office. “Those Winter Sundays” (published in Collected Poems of Robert Hayden), he’s brevity makes his words about dads and love that much more powerful.
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
6. Heperus (2013), by Shann Ray
Shann Ray is an American poet, short story writer, novelist, psychologist, and social scientist, who writes poetry and literary fiction under the name Shann Ray in honor of his mother Saundra Rae, and social science as Shann Ray Ferch. “Heperus” is a unique poem with a sentimental twist at the end that will tug at your heartstrings.
My four-year-old daughter handed me a card.
To Daddy written on the front
and inside a rough field
of five-pointed lights, and the words
You’re my favorite Daddy in the stars.
In this western night we all light the sky
like Vega, Deneb, Altair, Albireo,
the Summer Triangle,
Cygnus the Swan, our hair
tangled with wood and gravel,
our eyes like vacant docks
that beckon every boat.
Tell me about the word
stars, I said.
Oh, she said. Sorry.
I didn’t know
how to spell world.
7. To Her Father with Some Verses (1678), by Anne Bradstreet
Anne Bradstreet was the first published poet in North America. She arrived in Salem, Massachusetts in 1630, and was one of the many Puritans seeking refuge in the New World. She was passionate about her faith and family, which can be seen in this poem which honors her father.
Most truly honoured, and as truly dear,
If worth in me or ought I do appear,
Who can of right better demand the same
Than may your worthy self from whom it came?
The principal might yield a greater sum,
Yet handled ill, amounts but to this crumb;
My stock’s so small I know not how to pay,
My bond remains in force unto this day;
Yet for part payment take this simple mite,
Where nothing’s to be had, kings loose their right.
Such is my debt I may not say forgive,
But as I can, I’ll pay it while I live;
Such is my bond, none can discharge but I,
Yet paying is not paid until I die.
8. The Story of Ferdinand the Bull (2013), by Matt Mason
Matt Mason is an Americna poet whose written about fatherhood, relationships, religion and the Bible, and themes of Midwest and Great Plains life. Mason’s early work gave him a reputation as a humorous poet, but he has since written comedy, drama, and tragedy. This poem (published in The Baby That Ate Cincinnati) is quiet and sweet, and will leave you with similar feelings as “Those Winter Sundays”.
Dad would come home after too long at work
and I’d sit on his lap to hear
the story of Ferdinand the Bull; every night,
me handing him the red book until I knew
every word, couldn’t read,
just recite along with drawings
of a gentle bull, frustrated matadors,
the all-important bee, and flowers—
flowers in meadows and flowers
thrown by the Spanish ladies.
Its lesson, really,
about not being what you’re born into
but what you’re born to be,
even if that means
not caring about the capes they wave in your face
or the spears they cut into your shoulders.
And Dad, wonderful Dad, came home
after too long at work
and read to me
the same story every night
until I knew every word, couldn’t read,