The narrator, Sonny, is really the voice of the author, Claude Brown. His relationship with his father is fraught with physical violence and emotional abuse. His father is abusive while his mother stands by helpless, unable to stem the tide of violence in their home. Sonny's father has a fourth grade education while his mother has a fifth grade education.
Sonny's father is either violent or indifferent towards Sonny. During the weekends, he whiles away his time with alcohol and women. Desperately needing a reason to live, he turns to a season of crime in order to make sense of his life of degradation and poverty. Sonny's father derides Sonny's desire to do better for himself at the Wiltwyck School for socially and emotionally maladjusted boys.
“That’s jis what you been doin’ all your life, lookin’ for a pea that ain’t there.”
Instead, Mr. Papanek, the school's administrator, becomes a sort of father figure to Sonny. Another reason Sonny finds it hard to respect his father is because his father becomes obsequious (fawningly deferent) under white authority.