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This poem is one of the many on the subject of parents and children, although it is unusual inasmuch as the poet was President of the United States from 1977 to 1981. The point is that no one is immune from the difficulties and pains of life, and that the experiences described here are common to all—secretary, businessperson, teacher, student, painter, president. The attitudes described by President Carter’s speaker are those of uncertainty resulting from a boy wishing to please his father and being unsure of whether that is actually taking place. The speaker states that “This is a pain I mostly hide” to indicate (a) that the nature of the poem is to reveal and to confess his long-standing attitudes, and (b) that to a high degree he has become reconciled to his father and has “put away childish things” (see I Corinthians 13:11).
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