Americans honor fathers on the third Sunday in June, but in Italy La Festa del Papà falls on March 19, the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph), the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. According to legend, the staff of this humble carpenter bloomed with entwining flower blossoms, which singled him out from Mary's other suitors as her husband-to-be. For me, San Giuseppe brings back fond memories of my father (above), who enjoyed wood-working and carpentry throughout his long life.
A father is called a Babbo (Daddy) in Tuscany, Sardinia and a few more southern regions and a Papà (pronounced pa-PAH) everywhere else. Il Papa (PAH-pa) is the Pope or Santo Padre (Holy Father), while God remains the Padre Eterno (Eternal Father). Grandfathers (nonni) have a long tradition of doting on their grandchildren (nipoti). In the fifteenth century the esteemed Cosimo the Elder, the Medici patriarch immortalized as “pater patria” (father of the country), was meeting with foreign ambassadors at his palatial home. One of his grandsons came to him with some reeds and a small knife and asked Cosimo to make him a whistle. He broke off the conversation, fashioned a whistle and told the boy to run off and play. The ambassadors were indignant.
“Oh my brothers, are you not also fathers?” he laughed, “You marveled that I made him the whistle. It is well that he did not ask me to play it, for that I also would have done.”
Fatherhood also implies authority. The master of the house, the owner of a business or the big boss is the padrone. A padrone di casa is a landlord; a padrona di casa, a landlady. Anyone can demonstrate padronanza (mastery) and be padrone di sé (in control of one’s self). After many years, I am still striving to avere padronanza della lingua italiana (have a good command of Italian).
In Frances Ford Coppola’s epic Il Padrino (The Godfather), Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino, padreggia (takes after his father) Don Vito and learns the art of padroneggiare (ruling or controlling). In many cases, from his perspective at least, he is only trying to fare da babbo a qualcuno (help or guide someone). “Tale padre, tale figlio,” (“Like father, like son”) some might say.
Words and Expressions
Babbo Natale –- Father Christmas
Padre padrone –- tyrannical, domineering father
Padrone! Padronissimo! –- literally, “Master! Very much the master!” (Suit yourself! You’ll be sorry!)
Un figlio di papà –- a spoiled boy
L’occhio del padrone ingrassa il cavallo –- The eye of the master fattens the horse. (Any business prospers when the owner pays attention.)
Dianne Hales is the author of LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian the World's Most Enchanting Language and MONA LISA: A Life Discovered.