Both Quinn and Rashad have significant, but troubled, relationships with their fathers, and both suffer under their fathers’ expectations for them. Quinn’s dad was, by all accounts, an ideal father, dedicated to his family and community. At the same time, he was absent during Quinn’s childhood, at first temporarily while he was serving in the military, and then permanently after he was killed in Afghanistan. This is painful on a personal level for Quinn, and it also leaves his family struggling as a low-income, single-parent household. At a young age, Quinn is forced to assume a significant level of responsibility in order to help Ma and serve as a caregiver and role model to his younger brother, Willy. On top of this, he must live up to the expectations created by his father’s legacy. Particularly after death, Quinn’s father becomes an untouchable, “saint”-like figure to the Springfield community. As a result, there is no hope of Quinn filling his shoes––yet he worries that everyone expects him to. This leads him to feel resentful of his father, despite his great love for him.
The void left by Quinn’s father also makes it difficult for Quinn to condemn the actions of Paul. Quinn explains that after his father died, Paul assumed the role of an older brother/father figure to Quinn, teaching him basketball techniques, looking out for him, and accepting him as an honorary member of the Galluzzo family. In the same way that sons feel pressure to honor and obey their fathers, Quinn feels grateful and indebted to Paul and doesn’t want to betray him. On the other hand, not only is Paul not Quinn’s real father, but he also embodies values that Quinn disagrees with. Ultimately, Quinn must struggle to reconcile his father’s legacy, Paul’s actions, and his own beliefs in order to decide how to behave. The conclusion of this struggle emerges when Ma asks Quinn what his father would think of him going to the protest, and Quinn replies: “I don’t know… but I know he stood up for what he believed in.” This moment represents Quinn’s ability to honor his father’s legacy while not being constrained by it. At this point, he becomes his own man.
Rashad also has a difficult relationship with his father, whose legacy he struggles to live up to. David is a strict disciplinarian, with uncompromising ideas about the right way to be a good, responsible man. He all but forces Rashad to participate in ROTC, even though Rashad has little interest in the army. Even more challenging, after the incident at Jerry’s, David is suspicious of Rashad’s version of events and suggests that Rashad may be partially responsible for what happened. This causes tension and conflict in the family, and raises a difficult question: why is David so harsh to his son, especially when Jessica and Spoony behave in a much more loving, understanding manner? On one level, the novel suggests that this may simply be the nature of many father/son relationships. The young male characters constantly face pressure not only from their actual fathers, but also from father figures, such as Paul and Coach Carney. At times, it seems almost impossible to live up to the expectations set by these older male figures.
On the other hand, the novel also explores specific reasons why David behaves in such a severe manner toward his son. For example, David notes that after Spoony did not listen to his advice about joining ROTC, it became more difficult for him to get a job. David clearly feels guilt over shooting Darnell, and his upset stomach during Rashad’s week in the hospital suggests that even as he projects a tough, uncompromising persona, in reality he is tormented and terrified by what has happened to his son. Finally, when Jessica tells Rashad about his father looking in on him while was asleep, it becomes indisputable that David’s harsh actions partially come from his own fears for Rashad. Given that David himself shot an unarmed black man, how can he expect his sons to be spared such treatment? David turns to extreme discipline as a way of allaying these fears and asserting a sense of control in the face of his own powerlessness to change the racist society in which he lives.
In the end, however, David’s feelings of powerlessness are challenged by the actions of his own sons. While at first David is resistant to the prospect of coming to the protest, the fact that he eventually decides to join shows that he is following his sons’ lead and allowing them to teach him something. Just as Quinn becomes his own man toward the end of the narrative, Rashad and Spoony assert their independence through their involvement in the protest, and in doing so serve as a source of strength and inspiration to their father.
Fathers and Sons ThemeTracker
Fathers and Sons Quotes in All American Boys
I didn’t need ROTC. But I did it, and I did it good, because my dad was pretty much making me. He's one of those dudes who feels like there's no better
opportunity for a black boy in this country than to join the army. That's literally how he always put it. Word for word.
I wasn’t a stand-in for Dad. Nobody could be that. When the IED got him in Afghanistan, he became an instant saint in Springfield. I wasn't him. I'd never be him. But I was still supposed to try. That was my role: the dutiful son, the
All-American boy with an All-American fifteen-foot deadeye jump shot and an All-American 3.5 GPA.
I begin almost every day the same way: Ma's voice in my head, telling me what I needed to do, what I needed to think about, how I needed to act. But on mornings like this one––or if Coach Carney was making us do suicides up and down the court for fifteen minutes, or when Dwyer dropped another five-pounder on either side of the bar on my last rep in the weight room––it was Dad's voice in my head, or at least what I thought was his voice. I hadn't heard it in so long, I couldn’t even tell if it was his or if I was making it up. Whatever it was, it got me to where I needed to get.
PUSH! If you don't, someone else will. LIFT! If you don't, someone else will. Faster faster, faster, faster FASTER!
Honestly, I just wanted to take it easy for the rest of the day. I didn’t want to hear Spoony preach about how hard it is to be black, or my father preach about how young people lack pride and integrity, making us easy targets. I didn't even want to think about the preacher preaching about how God is in control of it all, or my mother, my sweet, sweet mother caught in the middle of it all. The referee who blows the whistle but is way too nice to call foul on anyone. That’s her. She just wants me to be okay. That's it and that’s all. So if football was going to be the thing that took our minds off the mess for at least a few hours, then fine with me.
I felt like such an ass. I'd quickly convinced myself I had no idea who that kid with Paul was that night. And yeah, there were like a thousand kids in each grade at school, or whatever, but I did know him. Or know of him, really. I'd seen him––Rashad––in that uniform, and it'd made me think of my dad wearing his own at college. How my dad had looked proud in all those pictures.
“I mean, it's Paul. This is the same guy I’ve seen carrying my mom up the front steps, for God's sake.” I was thinking about that time Ma got trashed because it was her first wedding anniversary without Dad. Paul had been so
gentle. He'd taken the frigging day off just so she didn’t have to spend it alone. “She was tanked,” I said to Jill. “And he helped her home. I remember him putting her down on the couch and pulling the afghan over her.”
“Paulie's always been the good guy.”
“That's what I want to think.”
“Why does it automatically gotta be Rashad's fault? Why do people think he was on drugs? That dude doesn’t do drugs. He's ROTC, man. His dad would kick his ass. You do drugs, asshole.”
“Just a puff here and there, man, come on. I don’t do drugs."
"I’ve seen you smoking a blunt. Metcalf sold you that shit. Metcalf––a white dude, by the way. Man, that shit could have been laced with crack, or fucking Drano. You don’t know what you talkin’ ‘bout.”
My dad, my dad, had paralyzed an unarmed kid, a black kid, and I had had no
idea. My dad shot a kid. I mean, to me, my father was the model of discipline and courage. Sure, he was stern, and sometimes judgmental, but I always felt like he meant well. But to that kid––and now my head was reeling––to that kid, my dad was no different than Officer Galluzzo. Another trigger-happy cop who was quick to assume and even quicker to shoot.
I did not want to be a hero. I did not want to make any of what had happened in the last week about me. There was a guy who'd just spent six days in the hospital because the guy who'd been my personal hero for four years had put him there.
I'd been thinking about that all day, but I didn’t have the words for it until Ma brought up Dad. Everybody wanted me to be loyal. Ma wanted me to be loyal. Guzzo wanted me to be loyal. Paul wanted me to be loyal. Your dad was loyal to the end, they'd all tell me. Loyal to his country, loyal to his family, they meant. But it wasn't about loyalty. It was about him standing up for what he believed in. And I wanted to be my dad's son. Someone who believed a better world was possible––someone who stood up for it.
What about Dad? Talk about a man who died for his convictions. How many times did he re-up after 9/11?. Three. I was old enough now to know he wasn’t fearless. He'd probably been scared shitless every time he went back. He wasn’t strong because he wasn’t afraid. No, he was strong because he kept doing it even though he was afraid.