Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mamas and Papas

Two day's ago I was reading an old Time magazine. One article quoted Victoria Osteen saying "Our Daddy G-d is the strongest!"

I remembered that during my youth—and later employment—in parochial school, some preachers/teachers/spiritual-cheerleaders found it helpful to argue that there were places in the bible where the writer referred to the paternal role of a deity with a word closer to "daddy" than "father" in the original Hebrew, Aramaic, Koine Greek, Old English or whatever.

Then about twenty minutes ago I read something a friend had written, and she used the phrase "my mom". This was a very light, very tongue-in-cheek exchange, and yet I couldn't bring myself to write "your mom" in my response. It just didn't feel right.

Then about sixteen minutes ago, I saw that earlier today John McIntyre posted his thoughts on this very topic as regards journalistic conventions. He, like me, tends away from the less familiar 'Mom' (and I assume the same goes for 'Dad').

I know this is influenced largely by the fact that I refer to my parents as 'Mother' and 'Father.' My friends have always thought this sounded stilted and distant. But those are for me the less loaded terms. Calling them 'Mom' and 'Dad' strikes me as similar to calling my sisters "Sis."

To be clear: I'm not saying that this is what the words mean, or that other people should equate the words that way, or that I even hear it this way when other people speak. This is my idiolect that I'm talking about. All my sisters refer to our parents as 'Mom' and 'Dad' and it doesn't sound odd to me. Somewhere along the line, many many years ago, I attached some sort of overly familiar—and somehow, at the same time, distant—spin to those words. I recognize that my reaction to uttering Mom and Dad isn't in line with general use and connotation.

McIntyre writes that the formality offers respect and that it creates a distance, and I think the paradox of my usage arose out of an attempt to do the former but not the latter.

The old preachers' claims about a heavenly "daddy" versus "father" strikes me as simple and silly. I'm not a biblical languages scholar, but I do know that there is such a range of familiarity in these terms, and it's driven by individual preferences, and there's a wide and sprawling variety of connotations for words like dad and daddy and dada and da and pa and papa and pappy and pops and father and old man

If Mrs Osteen wants to argue that her daddy in the sky is stronger than ours, that's fine. But once she argues that her daddy told us to call him Daddy, I'm calling shenanigans. That father doesn't speak English.


  1. Arguing that one's father-familiar deity is the strongest also, interestingly, indirectly acknowledges the existence of other deities. I'm sure that was not the intent.

    In any event, I see no difference between this claim than that in a schoolyard tussle in which participant A tells participant B that "My dad can beat up your dad!"

    In any event, I think that McIntyre (unusually) misses the point on this one. There's no such phrase as "soccer mothers," for example, where the familiarity of "mom" is part of the very definition of the term.

  2. i agree, mike. in that sentence, "mom" is the better term. it's used with the awareness of the difference, and it's even followed by the unmarked "mother."

  3. I grew up saying Mom and Dad, even for other people's. But Gretchen says "Mother" and "Father," when referring to hers (although she called them Mom and Dad), and I liked the distinction... so now I could go either way. I like this.

  4. My brother is six years older than I am, and at some point (he was seven or so) he experimented with calling our parents "Charles" and "Janet". They didn't respond in any particular way, and after a few months he began saying "Mother" and "Father". So we (me and my younger sibs) all grew up saying that. Friends say Dad, Daddy, Pop, and one even Pappy.

    Now I'm the only one who still does; the others say "Dad" or "Pa" (that slightly jokingly) or "Daddy". They all still live in Tennessee, near him. I don't, and get back there only once or twice a year. I expect that's the reason for the difference.

    Why did they change? They don't know. It just happened.


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