Tobias Wolff explores the idea of a conventional 1950's family. In Wolff's personal recollection of his childhood "This Boy's Life"," Wolff's failure was ordained, because the real family he and his mother had set out to imitate does not exist in nature. Wolff recalls his longing for a stable family during his childhood, and highlights the reality of the family Wolff had. However Wolff also explores the idea of a single parent family and the happiness and stability is brought him. .
Throughout Wolff's memories he is always longing for a better family. With Wolff constantly being brought up in an unstable environment he constantly craves for a better environment and a better family. Wolff uses his imagination as a way of escaping the various hardships he faces while living with a single mother, specifically during his time in Salt Lake City. Wolff "imagined being adopted by different people [he] saw on the street"." Tobias uses emotive imagery to paint the image of a young child walking alone in the streets longing for a father, a family and a stable environment and a place to call home. Tobias's ideas of a family are based around the 1950's stereotype of the American family, which consisted a working father, stay at home mother, two children and a dog, who would all live in a suburban house. Wolff wants this lifestyle as it offers him a sense of security as he would no longer have to move from different locations as well as a sense of belonging. .
Wolff reflects on these memories as a way of highlighting the effect of being abandoned by his own father had on him growing up, especially his lack of stability within the home and within his life. Wolff does this to draw sympathy from his readers making them feel as if Wolff's abandonment by his father scarred his childhood. Furthermore while Wolff is residing in Chinook under Dwight's tyranny, Tobias still does not feel complete even though he has his mother, three siblings and a dog, Wolff still yearns for a better family life.