I recently read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen in the book club I host with 5th and 6th graders at school. I can’t believe that it was my first time reading this incredible adventure story. I now know why so many of my students have loved to read this book over and over again! At the end of the book, we always write some sort of reader’s response. My response was about when Brian’s mom refers to Brian’s dad as “your father.” Brian reacts by thinking, “Not ‘my father.’ My Dad.” This got me thinking about the differences between a “father” and a “dad.”
To me, the term “father” has a different connotation than “dad.” Father can mean someone who literally fathered a child or it can be more of a formal term for a dad. A child could refer to their father as “father” if he isn’t really in their life or isn’t much of a dad to them. In my opinion, a “dad” is someone who loves you, cares for you, plays with you, listens to you, talks with you, provides for you, disciplines you when needed…but doesn’t necessarily have to have fathered you. I know plenty of people who have a stepdad, adopted father, uncle, or grandpa who’s more of a “dad” to them than their biological father is.
I think Brian reacts so strongly to his mother’s use of the term “father” because he’s still bitter and hurt over The Secret and The Divorce, and when she refers to his dad as his “father,” it’s almost as if she cheapens the relationship he has with him. With all of the worry about The Divorce and the fact that his dad now has visitation rights swirling around in his head, the term “father” further emphasizes the fact that life as he knew it will never be the same.
This got me thinking about my dad. My dad is my biological father, but even if he hadn’t fathered me, he would still be my dad. He has always taken care of me, and I’ve never doubted that he loved me and would do anything for me. Being so far away from my parents makes me appreciate them so much more. I value and treasure the time spent with them. I think that the physical distance between us (I live in China, they live in Texas) actually makes us closer when we do spend time together. I am really looking forward to this summer when I’ll be able to hang out with my mom and dad again. I love them both so much!