The father and son in the poem “My Papas Waltz” by Theodore Roethke
have a complex relationship mixed with fear, joy, and love. The boy says that he
“hung on like death” when his father was dancing. This implies a sense
of fear between the boy, because he does not quite trust his father to catch
him. He then describes their dancing as romping, which is typically a joyful
action which you do with your friends. The boy is obviously having fun. When the
father finally stops dancing he carries his son off to bed. The traditional
image of a father carrying his son to bed at night is one of true affection.
Clearly “Papa” and the speaker have a relationship sprinkled with
fear, joy, and love.