J & Grandpa 2010

Padre, Babbo, Papà, Nonno

Father, Daddy, Grandpa

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. In the United States we celebrate fathers on the third Sunday of June. I welcome any chance to honor the men we love so much–whatever the date and whatever we call them. 

A father (padre) is a Babbo (Daddy} in Tuscany, Sardinia and several southern regions) but a Papà (pronounced pa-PAH) in other parts of Italy. The most famous Daddy of all is Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). Il Papa (PAH-pa) is the pope or Santo Padre (the Holy Father), while God remains the eternal father (Padre Eterno or Padreterno). 

Both fathers and grandfathers (nonni) have a long tradition of trying to fare da babbo a qualcuno (help or guide someone). In the fifteenth century the esteemed Cosimo the Elder, the Medici patriarch immortalized as “pater patriae” (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 him to make him a whistle. Cosimo 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.”  Our daughter's grandfather (above) would have said the same.

Fatherhood also implies authority. The master of the house, the owner of a business or the big boss is the padrone. One of the pet phrases my husband has memorized to unfurl at the appropriate moment with Italian friends is, “Il padrone sono io, ma chi comanda è mia moglie.” (“I am in charge, but the person who gives the orders is my wife.”)

A padrone di casa is a landlord; a padrona di casa, a landlady. Anyone can acquire 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).

Words and Expressions

Padre padrone — tyrannical, domineering father

Tale padre, tale figlio — Like father, like son

Padrone! Padronissimo! — (literally, “Master! Very much the master!”) Suit yourself! You’ll be sorry!

L’occhio del padrone ingrassa il cavallo — The eye of the master fattens the horse. (Any business prospers when the owner pays attention).

Un figlio di papà –- a spoiled boy

Dianne Hales is author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

Who can forget the most famous of Italian father figures: Il Padrino?