Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As she does in some of her other poems, in “The Father of My Country,” Wakoski is writing about the failure of a human relationship. She deals with this failure on the one hand by venting emotion in expressions of anger, grief, and longing, and, on the other hand, in a contrasting stoicism by which she takes all responsibility onto herself and re-creates herself in her poetry.

Men have powerful roles in Wakoski’s poetry. In this poem, the father is much more powerful than the mother because of his power to come and go, to control the choices in the family, and to affect others more than they apparently affect him. Because she is a “maverick,” Wakoski is bound to identify with and envy that masculine power more than she identifies with the mother who is left behind. The speaker in the poem, however, is also left behind, and this is the source of much of the sadness and anger in the poem.

Wakoski’s themes sometimes parallel or incorporate the metaphors of psychoanalysis, and the situation she explores here suggests the Electra complex. Though there is little about the mother in this poem except by inference, it is still an example of the theme of longing for the father while rejecting the mother, which appears in other examples of her work. She is also writing about the pain of breaking through silences surrounding taboo subjects. She uncovers negative aspects of childhood that prevent the adult from living an emotionally healthy life, then faces and purges them.

In the last stanza, the speaker addresses George Washington—symbolic father, surrogate, and possibly even a living person to whom she has assigned this mask. She says, “I need your/ love,” and although the poem ends with a question (“have you really come home?”), that question is charged with feelings of relief and resolution.