TROY: It’s my responsibility! You understand that? A man got to take care of his family. You live in my house . . . sleep you behind on my bedclothes . . . fill you belly up with my food . . . cause you my son. You my flesh and blood. Not cause I like you! Cause it’s my duty to take care of you!
Troy responds to Cory after Cory asks Troy why he doesn’t like him. Troy points out that he feeds, clothes, and shelters Cory, which might cause Cory to consider that Troy likes him after all. However, here Troy makes clear that his treatment of Cory comes from duty, not preference. Troy’s point may be that good fathers always look out for their children’s needs and that Cory should appreciate what Troy does for him and also emulate Troy when he becomes a father himself. But Cory’s lesson from this exchange is that, no, his father does not like him.
TROY: Sometimes I wish I hadn’t known my daddy. . . . But I’ll say this for him . . . he felt a responsibility toward us. Maybe he ain’t treated us the way I felt he should have . . . but without that responsibility he could have walked off and left us.
Troy explains that while his father showed no affection for his eleven children, unlike Troy’s friend Bono’s father and many others, he did not run away from the responsibility of looking after them. Troy added, however, that his father was so evil that no woman ever remained with him long: The women left, and yet he stayed with the children. So Troy’s understanding of what being a father means includes taking responsibility for one’s offspring but does not include affection. Such a reality explains why at the age of fourteen, Troy lost respect for his father and left home. Troy’s leaving his father created yet another legacy that he may fear to see played out in his own family.
TROY: Alright . . . Mr. Death. See now . . . I’m gonna tell you what I’m gonna do. I’m gonna take and build me a fence around this yard. See? I’m gonna build me a fence around what belongs to me. And then I want you to stay on the other side. See?
Troy reacts to learning that his mistress, Alberta, died in childbirth. Having already wrestled with death once, Troy believed he could keep death away as long as he stayed vigilant. But now death has come for someone he loves. He hadn’t understood why Rose wanted a fence around the yard until his friend Bono explained that she wanted to “hold on to you all,” to protect her family. To Rose, a fence symbolized holding her family together. Troy uses Rose’s idea and extends the role for the fence: He wants a fence to keep death away and prevent further losses to his family. Troy believes he should, and can, protect the people he loves from death.
TROY: She’s my daughter, Rose. My own flesh and blood. I can’t deny her no more than I can deny them boys. . . . You and them boys is my family. You and them and this child is all I got in the world. So I guess what I’m saying is . . . I’d appreciate it if you’d help me take care of her.
After Alberta, Troy’s mistress, dies giving birth to Troy’s child, Troy asks Rose to help him raise the baby girl. To Troy, the idea of not raising the girl feels unthinkable, although Alberta does have other family. Troy always believed the duty to raise and support one’s children to be fundamental, almost sacred. He learned this lesson from his own father’s example. To Troy, his affair with Alberta makes Rose no less “family” than before, but Rose may feel differently. Troy does seem to realize that what he is asking of Rose seems unfair.
ROSE: I took onto Raynell like she was all them babies I had wanted and never had. . . . Like I’d been blessed to relive a part of my life. And if the lord see fit to keep up my strength . . . I’m gonna do her just like your daddy did you . . . I’m gonna give her the best of what’s in me.
While Rose never really forgives Troy’s betrayal, she never blames Raynell, the product of his affair. She embraces Raynell as her own child, the more so as she always wanted more children. When she tells Cory that she intends to raise Raynell as Troy raised him, the statement feels startling: Rose lost a lot of respect for Troy, and Cory resents Troy’s parenting. But despite Troy’s shortcomings as a husband, Rose still believes he was a good father, in that he sacrificed of himself, he taught what lessons he could, and he did what he thought was best.