Published on Academy of American Poets (

Like Him

I’m almost forty and just understanding my father
doesn’t like me. At thirteen I quit basketball, the next year
refused to hunt, I knew he was disappointed, but never
thought he didn’t have to like me
to love me. No girls. Never learned
to drive a stick. Chose the kitchen and mom
while he went to the woods with friends who had sons
like he wanted. He tried fishing—a rod and reel
under the tree one Christmas. Years I tried  
talking deeper, acting tougher
when we were together. Last summer
I went with him to buy a tractor.
In case he needs help, Mom said. He didn’t look at me
as he and the sales guy tied the wheels to the trailer, perfect
boy-scout knots. Why do I sometimes wish I could be a man
who cares about cars and football, who carries a pocketknife
and needs it? It was January when he screamed: I’m not
a student, don’t talk down to me!
I yelled: You’re not smart enough
to be one!
I learned to fight like his father, like him, like men:
the meanest guy wins, don't ever apologize.


Copyright © 2013 by Aaron Smith. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-a-Day on October 31, 2013.

About this Poem

"I thought I would be less interested in writing from the perspective of a son about his parents as I approached forty. I'm finding that's all I seem to think about. This older speaker seems more aware of (and more willing to talk about) the tricky spaces that exist between fathers and sons. It's also a poem about the expectations of men in culture and what failing to live up to those mean."
—Aaron Smith 


Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is the author of Appetite (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012).

Date Published: 2013-10-31

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