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You might not see much of Mr. Saunders in "The Man Who Was Almost a Man," but he's a pretty big deal. Not Ron Burgundy big, but still.
All jokes aside, Mr. Saunders is Dave's primary male role model, shaping his son's coming-of-age experience in key ways.
To be honest, Dave is a little intimidated by his dad. Think about how Dave "did not want to mention money before his father" (61), instead setting his sights on Mrs. Saunders because she's an easier target. Similarly, Dave is too afraid to shoot his pistol that first night because he's afraid that his dad might hear the shot. Don't get this confused with respect, however—Dave fears his old man.
Later, we understand why. We watch as Mr. Saunders threatens to beat Dave, who "remembered other beatings" as "his back quivered" (206). While beatings are a big no-no for us in general, this one is particularly bad because it shows that Mr. Saunders still views Dave as a child who needs to be spanked—despite the fact that his son works, and hard. He should look at his son as someone who just needs a little kick-start in order to become a man, but alas, Papa S. clearly does not.
Mr. Saunders's refusal to see Dave as a man is a real bummer. Although Dave makes plenty of bad choices, some of the blame lands on his parents for enabling him. Mrs. Saunders could have refused to give her son the money in the first place, and for his part, Mr. Saunders could have paid more attention to the gun catalog Dave reads at dinner. We could toss out a million hypothetical scenarios, but the result is always the same—Mr. Saunders lets Dave down, not vice versa.