Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. (1-5)
These first few lines set the scene of the poem and introduce us to the speaker’s father, who works really hard, every day of the week, to support his family. He does physical labor (that’s why his hands are cracked and ache) and he wakes up really early in the morning to warm up the house for his family. This is how the father expresses his love; not through hugs, but through waking up at 5 am. That's dedication.
No one ever thanked him. (5)
Sounds like the guy could use a break! Or even just an occasional thank-you hug, right? Maybe a nice watch on Father's Day?
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him, who had driven out the cold and polished my good shoes as well. (9-12)
Here the speaker, as a child, seems only to focus on his emotional relationship with his father—the “chronic anger” of their home. What he neglects is the way his old man lit the fires and polished his kid's shoes. His father shows love by doing, not by saying, and this flies over the head of the little guy. Understandable, but still heart-wrenching.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices? (13-14)
Shmoop confession time: this line breaks our hearts. Here, the speaker acknowledges that he, as a child, knew nothing about the expression of love—how love can be expressed through actions, and not through words. His father’s intense devotion—waking up super early, working hard every day of the week, lighting all the fires—is something that he can only appreciate now. Even though his father’s love was there all along. Tragic. (But hey, better late than never, Shmoop says.)