Mr. Pignati, John, and Lorraine essentially function as a family unit. Mr. Pignati's wife has died, so he is all alone. John's home life is awful. His father is a drunk that verbally abuses him, and Lorraine's home life is equally abusive. Her mom is convinced that all men are evil, and she constantly criticizes anything and everything about Lorraine. John and Lorraine might be able to make up for rough home lives with solid, loyal friends. However, the text shows that both John and Lorraine are never going to win a school popularity contest. Mr. Pignati is lonely, so John's presence and Lorraine's presence in his life fills a void that he has been missing for years. Conversely, Mr. Pignati is a father figure of sorts that fills in the space that their own home lives are missing. While the relationship does look like a family through most of the book, I hesitate to strongly stamp Mr. Pignati with the "father figure" label. I hesitate because Mr. Pignati often behaves more like an older brother than a father. He is not quick (if ever) to reprimand John or Lorraine. He might show disappointment, but that is about as far as his reprimands go. He is simply too playful too often, and that forces a really cool role reversal in the story. John and Lorraine become the adults in Mr. Pignati's life.