In some ways, Frank’s father can be considered the antagonist of Angela’s Ashes, because his actions keep the McCourts destitute. (As antagonist is a character or obstacle in a literary work that opposes the protagonist and causes the major conflict.) While his family suffers from crippling hunger, and his children contract diseases caused by weakness and malnutrition, Malachy drinks excessively and comes home roaring that his sons must be ready to die for Ireland.

Frank’s father drinks himself into a stupor partially to dull the pain of the deaths of his twin sons and baby daughter. But McCourt emphasizes that Malachy’s drinking is more than just a means of coping with bereavement; it is an illness that constantly jeopardizes the survival of his family. Despite the burdens that Malachy’s alcoholism places on Frank’s shoulders, Frank almost always remains loyal to his father. He treasures the times that he and Malachy sit chatting and drinking tea in front of the fire and loves his father’s way with words, his lively imagination, and his flair for storytelling.

When Malachy goes to work in England, he uses his physical distance to justify abandoning his family, leaving them without his emotional or financial support.