“My Father on the Verge of Disgrace,” like other Updike works (for example, The Centaur, “Pigeon Feathers”), is an initiation story set in rural Pennsylvania before and just after World War II and typically carries a heavier weight than its slight appearance. The story is almost anecdotal in its first-person narration: A young boy living in a large house with his parents and his maternal grandparents during the Depression worries that his father will “fall from his precarious ledge of respectability.” His father lost his job as a china salesman the year the boy was born, and it was three years before he found a position as a high-school chemistry teacher. The house they live in—purchased by the grandfather during better times—is too large for the family, and they have to economize. Two incidents epitomize to the boy his father’s precarious position, one involving his father’s relationship to a fellow teacher courting a student, the other the fact that the father sometimes has to borrow from the high-school sports receipts to cover household expenses. Although the boy is proud of his father’s position in town, he shares his mother’s anxiety about him.
During World War II, things ease, and the father finds summer work, but when the boy enters the high school, he discovers more to worry about. The father is “the faculty clown,” the boy discovers, confirmed in the annual faculty-assembly program when the father plays...
(The entire section is 442 words.)