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“What about Mama? Will you call her Mom? Billy nodded slowly. “We can tell her together when she comes home from school.? They fell silent. Billy chose another cookie and bit into it. He looked at Papa, taking him in. It was strange—Billy wanted to call him Dad, but he still thought of him as Papa.

The above paragraph is from The Year of Billy Miller on page 96. I am not very sure the meaning of 'take him in' in the bold sentence. There are two explanations on Thefreedictionary.com, to cheat or deceive someone and to give shelter to someone. But I don't think these two explanations are good enough to explain the meaning of the sentence.

Personally, I think 'take him in' here is to emphasize the way that the boy, Billy, looked at his father, which means he looked his father and brought his father's image into his mind.

Am I right?

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the phrasal verb to take someone/something in has a surprising amount of flexibility in its usages, not just the two you mentioned.

For example, it can mean:

  1. to understand and remember something that you hear or read

    I’m not sure how much of his explanation she took in.

  2. to allow someone to stay in your house or your country

    • refugees who were taken in during the war
    • We decided to take in lodgers.
  3. to trick someone into believing something that is not true

    • Don’t be taken in by their promises.
  4. to alter an item of clothing so that it fits you.

    Shhe lost weight recently, and had to have her dress taken in.

  5. to accept something as real or true

    • He still hasn’t really taken in his father’s death.
  6. to do work for someone else in your home

    • She has started taking in ironing.
  7. to go to an entertainment or sport

    • We took in a couple of films.
  8. to furl a sail.

    • The wind began to blow hard, so we decided to take in the mainsail.
  9. to receive a specified amount of money as payment or earnings.

    • Our club took in nearly $800,000 in its first year"
  10. to spend time looking at something

    • We sat there taking in the scenery.

The usage you are looking for is a variation of the last one - to spend time looking at someone. In the context of taking in another person in this manner, it generally means more than simply looking at them - there's an element of getting a measure of that person involved, or looking at them more carefully or in a new light than one normally would, which seems to fit the case here.

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