Study Guide

The First Part Last Family

By Angela Johnson

Family

We never talked.

I guess I thought she needed to be here. And she must have thought her being there made everything all better for me.

Yeah.

I get it now. I really get it. (1.2-5)

When Bobby was young, his mom would come and play video games with him. Just the presence of family can help people calm down, and Bobby realizes this now as he's learning how to be a father to Feather.

She only wants Daddy.

That scares the s*** out of me.

Just me. […]

And all I can do is kiss them and pull her closer so she won't see my face and how scared I am. (5.4-8)

The responsibility that comes with having a child is mind-boggling. Feather looks to Bobby for everything—basic needs, yes, but also the nurturing and love that she expects and needs. It's scary stuff for adults to be thrust into the position of parenting, and even scarier for Bobby, who's only sixteen.

Won't do any good to complain about being tired. I already tried that with my mom. She couldn't have rolled her eyes any more than she did when I mentioned how tired I was and how maybe I wanted to go hang out a while at the arcade. (7.22)

Having a new baby is exhausting, and Bobby is feeling it. But his mom, Mary, is determined that he take responsibility for his actions—she's not going facilitate immature behavior; he's a father with the responsibilities of fatherhood.

She didn't want to hear he was being safe. She just wanted him not to do it. Didn't want to ever know that he thought about sex, had sex, or hung out with people who might be having sex too. (10.18)

K-Boy's parents approach sex differently than Bobby's parents. Bobby's mom and dad have always warned him to have safe sex, but K-Boy's mom doesn't want to hear about any of it. Which is the better parenting style? Why?

They swam a lot of moats and ate many feasts. And mostly they've done it together, 'cause a long time ago in the kingdom they became blood brothers, and that's what blood brothers do. (16.37)

Bobby tells the story of a perfect day, when he, K-Boy, J. L., and Nia spend the afternoon together. How is the love Bobby has for his friends different from his love for Feather? And is the bond of friendship the same as the bond of family? Why or why not?

Even if I'm feeling old when this stuff happens I just change her diaper, put my food down and hold her when she cries, and tell the woman on the train that she's mine.

Afterward I always kiss her, my baby, and look into her clear eyes that know everything about me, and want me to be her daddy anyway. (19.12-13)

Bobby feels old as a young father—old and worn down—but he never neglects his daughter. The duty and love he feels for her cause him to step up, even when it's hard, and even when he doesn't want to. Being a family isn't always easy, but it's easier when he knows that Feather accepts him for who he is.

"And that's why I know you two are going to be fine with him. He'll baby both of you."

"Not like you, huh?" (23.19-20)

When Bobby moves into his dad's apartment, he realizes that living with his mom taught him more responsibility because she didn't baby him. And even though this is harsh, Bobby's come a long way in how he thinks of himself and Feather because of it.

The baby was going to one of those happy, smiling people in the pictures. It would live in a house with a yard and a dog and a swing set. (24.13)

Even though Bobby and Nia decide to give the baby up for adoption, Bobby's pretty sad about it. Maybe his instinct here is another reason that he keeps Feather after she's born; they're already family, and even though they won't be a perfect family, that's okay.

But when they looked at the baby through the nursery glass, it was like they were saying good-bye. (29.61)

The Wilkins decide to support Bobby when he chooses to adopt Feather, but we never hear about them in the now chapters of the book. They're Feather's family, but they have no stake in her life. Family, then, isn't just blood, it's a choice—and Bobby makes the choice to be a family with Feather.

Maybe I'll just tell him how I feel like I'm a baby with a baby most of the time. Just playing daddy until somebody comes over and says, "Hell, kid, time's up. No more of this daddy thing for you, and anyway you've been busted." (30.12)

Bobby's not sure what to say to his dad after Paul, Bobby's brother, invites him to visit Heaven, Ohio. There's a lot of uncertainty in Bobby's mind: Is he too young to be a good father? Is he living an imaginary world? What's the right thing for him to do? Congrats, Bobby—parenting is uncertain, and you're doing just fine.

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