The Meanings and Variations of “Father”
Father derives from the Old English term faeder, which is cognate with the Latin and Greek word pater. (From the Latin term such words as paternal and paternity are derived.) The term refers not only to a male parent but also to an older man who serves as a mentor; it was also long employed as a respectful term of address for an elderly man, though this use is almost obsolete.
A stepfather is a man who marries one’s mother, and a father-in-law is the father of one’s spouse. Fatherly describes paternal behavior, and fatherlike alludes to a resemblance to the qualities of a father. Fatherhood and the less common fathership describe the quality or state of being a father. A father figure is an older man one looks up to as to a father, whereas “father image” pertains to an idealization of someone in that role.
Figuratively, the term father may pertain to one who originated or was significantly responsible for the development of something (such as a founder of a movement or as in the epithet “Father of our Country” for George Washington) or to a leading man of a community, or, impersonally, to a source or prototype. In religious contexts, it is a title for a priest or, capitalized, for God. (A father confessor is a clergyman who hears confessions or, by extension, any man a person trusts with secrets.)
The verb father pertains to the act of contributing to biological or figurative birth. Fatherland describes one’s home country, although the term is tainted by its association with Nazi-era Germany. Father Time is the personification of time as an elderly man.
Idioms referring to the word include the proverbs “The child is father to the man,” which expresses that a person’s personality forms in childhood, “Like father, like son,” alluding to a resemblance in behavior or qualities between a man and his son, and “The wish is father to the thought,” with a figurative meaning that beliefs often become perceived as facts because someone desires them to be so.
Expressions that use the term include the stock phrase “Not your father’s,” followed by the name of a product or other object, to communicate that something is not to be associated with an outdated counterpart, and “when (one) was a twinkle in (his or her) father’s eye,” referring to a period when a man had a notion of being a father but the child had not yet been conceived or born.
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