First things first: break out the tissues.
Got 'em? Okay, excellent. Let's get started.
Papa is the moral center of the novel. His name, Haven, does a good job of summing up what he means to Rob: he's a protector. He's Rob's closest friend, someone he loves unreservedly, and someone he can always rely on to take care of him. Sounds pretty good to us.
Papa is the head of the Peck family—they're living in a men-in-charge kind of society—but he leads the family with kindness and love. Even though the family could really use another income, Papa insists that Rob stay in school and make the most of his chances for a better life.
Wow. Kind of makes you feel guilty about that C+ you got in Geometry, huh?
Papa Knows Best
Even though Rob is the one who narrates the story, somehow it's Papa's voice that comes through the loudest.
For a man who once said, "Never miss a chance to keep your mouth shut" (10.13), we sure hear a lot of his opinions. Throughout the book, he acts as Rob's guide to everything from the philosophy of fence building to what it means to be a man, and he generally lives according to his words, too.
Papa's not infallible—his regret about his role in the "weaseling" of Ira Long's dog shows that—but we generally trust what comes out of his mouth.
Learning to Be Like Papa
As much as he's rooting for his son, Papa has some dreams of his own. Check out this moment toward the end of the book, when Rob discovers something interesting beneath Papa's tools.
Under the tools, I saw an old cigar box that was gray with dust. Inside was a wore-down pencil stub and a scrap of old paper. Unfolding the paper, I saw where Papa had been trying to write his name. One of the "Haven Pecks" was near to perfect, and he almost had the hang of it. The paper was dry and brown, as if he had practiced for a long time. (15.23)
And that, Shmoopers, is why we brought the tissues.
This discovery helps us see Papa in a new way. His insistence that Rob stay in school and get an education? That probably came from his own scorched dreams, right?
What were Papa's own ambitions as a young man? Did he dream of staying in school and living a different kind of life? Maybe even earning the respect of the townspeople who look down on him for his lack of learning? And what happened that he had to give up on his dreams? We can't really know. But whatever his early ambitions, Papa seems to have managed to make peace with what life has handed him.
Or has he?
All in all, Papa sure plays a lot of roles. He's a farmer and a pig butcher. He's a father and a husband. He works hard, he's poor, and he doesn't seem to expect much help from others. Given all the hopes he's (presumably) had to leave behind, though, is that a good thing or a bad thing? A kind of peace, or a kind of defeat? A triumph, or a resignation? You be the judge.