It's almost Father's Day, a holiday that gets no respect—well, compared to Mother’s Day.
Let's face it, fathers are not as universally beloved as mothers, probably because there's a persistent cultural stereotype that the dads of the world are a far more mixed bag than the moms. I am quite fortunate to have a dad who is the greatest guy in the world, with only one bad habit (smoking) and oodles of great qualities, such as decency, generosity, patience, humor, and patriotism (he was a cryptographer in the army).
The topic of dads is inescapable this time of year. Here are some words you should know when talking dad-ology.
For more words that touch upon both clichés and contemporary fatherhood, check out this list: Father's Day Words.
While it's a stereotypical idea that all fathers are into sports, mine certainly is, and there are plenty of other dads who can't resist watching (or playing) a game or contest, even if it's bowling. Fathers often try to combine sports and parenting by teaching the quality of sportsmanship. If you have sportsmanship, you respect the rules, play fair, and respect your opponent. In other words, you're a good sport. Shaking hands before and after a game is good sportsmanship. Kicking dirt on an umpire while shouting words I can't use in this column is bad sportsmanship.
Here's another stereotype with a load of truth: a good place to find many dads is in the recliner, a type of soft living room chair that extends back, making it more comfortable to watch the ballgame, read the paper, or take a nap. A recliner reclines. This term has been around since the late 1800s. A use in C. C. Harrison's 1892 book Daughter of South & Shorter Stories shows recliners can be enjoyed by the whole family: "Daughter, stretch yourself out for a half hour every day on the recliner, now, and it'll add ten years to your life."
This word, with French and Latin roots, covers everything father-ish: if there were a whole school of father-related topics, it would probably be called the Academy of Paternal Studies. If a father and mother are battling over custody, then the father is demanding his paternal rights. This word can also be used loosely for anyone acting like a dad, in a positive or negative way. If you patted me on the head and gave me some old-timey advice, that would be a wee bit paternal of you.
Patriarchal is related to paternal, and it refers to all sorts of leaders—as long as they're male. A male-dominated society is patriarchal: the opposite, a female-dominated society, is matriarchal. The classic example of a patriarchy is a monarchy headed by a king, but since America has never had a female president, we're a still little bit patriarchal ourselves. The person in charge of a patriarchy is the patriarch, and you can also refer to a dad as the patriarch of a family, usually as a joke. We all know moms really run the world, right?
Moms, and women in general, are usually considered better at nurturing than dads, but I'm tired of reinforcing stereotypes. So let's blow one up. The fact is plenty of dads are great nurturers in the sense they literally feed their children and also help them grow and flourish as people. Anyone who takes good care of their kids knows how to nurture, include penguin dads. If you've ever seen March of the Penguins, you know penguin fathers protect their eggs for months in freezing conditions, far from warmth or recliners.
Discipline is self-control: if you're very disciplined, you have a tight rein on your words and actions. You can also discipline others, like principals discipline students through detention and other punishments. In families, probably because men are perceived (right or wrong) as being scarier than women, dads are often stuck with the job of "laying down the law" if one of the kids crashed the car, flunked a class, or committed some other atrocity. A classic, if clichéd, threat of moms, when dealing with troublesome kids, is "Wait till your father comes home!" At home or school, kids have a choice: be disciplined or get disciplined.
Yet another traditional role of fathers is providing. Fathers have been expected to bring home the bacon, often literally, but also figuratively in the sense of making enough money to provide food, clothes, shelter, and other necessities of life such as smartphones and fidget spinners. These days, such stereotypical notions aren't dead, but they aren't quite as thriving as before: if a family has a mom and dad, it's a good bet both are providing. The same is true of households with two moms, two dads, or just one parent. Provider would be a pretty good synonym for parent.
Of course, there is so much more to fathers than a bunch of words, but these terms at least cover the tip of the word-berg that describes the culture of fatherhood.
Mark Peters is a language columnist, lexicographer, and humorist who has written for Esquire, The Funny Times, New Scientist, Psychology Today, Salon, and Slate. He contributes to OUPblog and writes the Best Joke Ever column for McSweeney's. You can read Mark's own jokes on Twitter, such as, "I play by my own rules, which is probably why no one comes to my board game parties anymore."Click here to read other articles by Mark Peters
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