About all he had left at this point was his tremendous dignity. He was tall for a Japanese man, nearly six feet, lean and hard and healthy-skinned from the sea. Ten children and a lot of hard luck had worn him down, had worn away most of the arrogance he came to this country with. But he still had dignity, and he would not let those deputies push him out the door. He led them. (1.1.17)
Papa's an incredibly flawed person, but at this point in the book, he's being set up as the model for a strong man. Everything else that happens afterward needs to be compared to this moment, when he leads the deputies and not the other way around.
Papa had been the patriarch. He had always decided everything in the family. With him gone, my brothers, like councilors in the absence of a chief, worried about what should be done. (1.2.14)
Is it possible to run a family smoothly without a patriarch? That's a real question later on in the book because—arguably—the family does fine without Papa's presence in camp.
He gave us ten minutes to dress, then he came in carrying a broom, a hammer, and a sack full of tin can lids he had scrounged somewhere. Woody would be our leader for a while now, short, stocky, grinning behind his mustache. He had just turned twenty-four. (1.3.6)
Is Woody the better leader? Is he better than Papa at being a father-figure?
He was the oldest son in a family that had for centuries been of the samurai class. He used to brag that they owned more land than you could cross on horseback in a single day. By the time he was born, in 1887, they weren't warriors any longer. Japan was in the throes of that rapid, confusing metamorphosis from a feudal to an industrial nation, which began when Commodore Perry's black-hulled armada steamed into Tokyo Bay and forced the Japanese to open their ports and cities to western trade. (1.6.2)
Maybe things were already getting away from Papa before he was even born. Doesn't he seem like a man born into the wrong era? If he were a samurai warrior, maybe he wouldn't skip from job to job…
This was like bloodying the nose of God. His face, contorted, looked ready to cry, but even his tears were stopped by the knowledge of what he had done. He waited paralyzed for whatever punishment might strike him down. Papa couldn't move either. He stared at Kiyo, his eyes wide with both outrage and admiration that his son had the courage to do this. They stood like that until Papa's gaze went bleary from the drink in his veins and dropped to the damp shirt, to the blood still spattering onto Mama's dress. (1.8.21)
Kiyo has just hit Papa in order to protect Mama, which foreshadows what will happen later in the book… not that one of his sons will hit Papa again, but that Papa's on the downward spiral whereas his sons—young, American citizens—are not (especially in Woody's case).
Woody wanted to go with him, but Papa said it was a meeting for "heads of households" only and he insisted on going alone. From the time he heard about it he purposely drank nothing stronger than tea. He shaved and trimmed his mustache and put on a silk tie. His limp was nearly gone now, but he carried his cane and went staggering off down the narrow walkway between the barracks, punching at the packed earth in front of him. (1.11.25)
This is one of those brief moments when a glimmer of the old Papa reappears—purposeful, decisive, strong, and sober. He's about to go defend his Yeses on the Loyalty Oath even though there's a good chance that people will call him a collaborator and traitor (inu) because this is what a patriarch, in Papa's head, is supposed to do.
Papa already knew the car he'd put money on before Pearl Harbor had been repossessed. And, as he suspected, no record of his fishing boats remained. This put him right back where he'd been in 1904, arriving in a new land and starting over from economic zero. It was another snip of the castrator's scissors, and he never really recovered from this, either financially or spiritually. (2.19.12-13)
Nothing can be clearer than when you use words like "castrator's scissors." Do you think our narrator is being a little overdramatic here? Or is her language just right?
His failures were sharpened, in an odd way, by Woody's return. He came back from Japan with his mustache thicker and bearing a sword that had been in the family for 300 years - a gift from Aunt Toyo. He brought other trophies, painted scrolls, lacquered trays - things he would have valued only slightly before the war. All of this delighted Papa, filled him with pride for his son who had returned a larger man, with a surer sense of himself and of where we all had come from. Yet while Woody grew, Papa seemed to shrink, losing potency. Their roles had been reversed. Before the war he had been the skipper. Now he depended more and more on Woody, who had youth and a citizen's mobility, who could license the boat or cross borders easily. (2.20.27)
This is like the Oedipal complex slowly coming true, only without the whole son-marries-the-mother side plot. Woody's overtaken Papa as the man of the family. Would this all eventually have happened anyway, with or without internment? Is this just a natural result of getting older?
A few days before we left Manzanar Papa decided that since we had to go, we might as well leave in style, and by our own volition. He broke free of the lethargy that had nailed him to our steps for months. He grabbed his Bismarck walking stick and took off, almost at a run, heading for Lone Pine to buy himself a car. Mama tried to talk him out of this. Traveling by bus made much more sense, she said. It was faster, and we'd be there in a day. He snorted with disdain at her advice. (2.19.1)
Papa really doesn't come off looking good most of the time in Jeanne's story. But then again, the story is told from Jeanne's perspective—not only is she female, but she's also always either a kid or an adult looking back on her childhood experiences. What might this whole scene look like from Papa's perspective?
"Important? I'll tell you what is important. Modesty is important. A graceful body is important. You don't show your legs all the time. You don't walk around like this."
He did an imitation of a girl's walk, with shoulders straight, an assertive stride, and lips pulled back in a baboon's grin. (2.21.29-30)
Here's Papa trying to tell Jeanne what a respectable Japanese girl is like. Because of course a Japanese Issei man would be the expert on how to be a Japanese-American girl…