Penny Baxter is basically the best dad ever. In the world. No, seriously. He pours his whole heart and soul into making life easy and happy for Jody. What more could any kid want?
Penny has a good reason for being easy on Jody: he knows just how rough a childhood can be, thanks to his super strict dad: "His own father had been a preacher, stern as the Old Testament God. […]" (2.5). Think lots of nasty punishments and not many hugs.
His dad put them all to work so hard that "their small bones ached and their growing fingers cramped" (2.5). On top of that, there hadn't been much food to go around, so Penny's growth had been stunted, as he grew "to maturity no bigger than a boy" (2.5). You think coffee'll stunt your growth? Try starving and being worked to the bone. Even his nickname—Penny—came from Lem Forrester's taunts about his size. (His real name was Ezra Ezekiel Baxter: there's that Old Testament coming through again.)
So yeah, Penny had a rough time of it, growing up. Is it any wonder he decided to make himself a little oasis in the forest, away from other people, where he could raise his own family in peace? Where, as he put it, "The wild animals seemed less predatory to him than people he had known" (2.12)?
Penny doesn't just care about his child, though. He's a tender husband who worries about his wife having to live so rough: "Hit frets me, you makin' out with so leetle. I'd love to fetch you a bolt o' silk, and do the Lord spare me, one day you'll have a well o' water at the house, and not have to wash no more at the sink-hole" (25.25). Aw. Who needs a diamond ring when your husband promises to dig you a well?
Since Jody is the couple's only child, Penny's entire focus is making Jody's world safe and carefree. Check out this description of paternal love: "Penny's bowels yearned over his son. He gave him something more than his paternity" (2.22). Okay, we admit, having yearning bowels sounds more like a disease than love, but think about it: haven't you ever just ached with love for someone or something? That's what it means.
Penny's not just loving—he's principled, too. He stands up for what he believes in, and even suffers for it, whether it's honesty or fairness or kindness. He won't poison predators, won't shoot more than his family can eat, and once walked miles to return an extra dollar in change to a shopkeeper. As Ma says, "Ezra Baxter, if your heart was to be cut out, hit'd not be meat. Hit'd be purely butter" (23.77).
That buttery heart (yum?) helps him to understand Ory Baxter, though. She's become hard-hearted over the years, but Penny puts up with her sharp tongue and general…grumpiness. He defends her behavior to anyone who questions it, like Jody: "Don't think hard o' your Ma. […] She cain't he'p it, livin' rough" (11.234). But at the same time, he's determined to act "as a bulwark for the boy against the mother's sharpness" (2.23). Basically, Penny is like Cliff Huxtable and Carlisle Cullen all wrapped up into one rustic bundle of dadliness.
Unfortunately, he can't shield Jody forever. In the end, he has to explain to his son that "life goes back on you" (33.137). You can try your best to live a good life, but there will always be trials and tribulations, cruel people and harsh conditions. So what's Penny's advice to his son? To "take it for his share and go on" (33.141). Just like Penny does.