Puzzles are like eyes, they're windows to a puzzlemaker's soul. Choosing a handful of words--78 words for a daily puzzle--is an intensely biographical act. If you want to get into a puzzlemaker's head (I don't recommend it, but if one is so inclined . . .), study her grids. It's all there in black and white.
We choose and discard words for the same reason--they resonate with us on a personal level, positively or negatively, for good or for ill. By their very nature, words that never make the grid aren't noticed; but they carry special meaning, simply because they've been consciously excluded.
There are certain words and phrases I won't use in puzzles, such as: Mr. Mom. Mr. Mom is the title of a cute movie starring Michael Keaton in the role of a stay-at-home dad. The film was funny, but based on my childhood experience I promptly dismissed "Mr. Mom" as an anemic, inadequate descriptive of the stay-at-home dad. There is a better word to describe this man.
Technically, my Dad was a stay-at-home-dad . . . except that, when his "house" work was done, he went to his "work" work. Dad worked the night shift at the paper mill. When he returned home in the morning, he took over for my mom, and she'd leave for work at the dress factory. They were a precision tag team, parenting in different and complementary ways.
Dad was different--quiet, methodical, precise. He'd vacuum, wash floors, iron clothes, cook, tend the garden . . . in a graceful slo-mo. He'd have lunch on the table when we came home from school to watch Jeopardy! Dad did all this, on about three hours' sleep each night, for the better part of 20 years. I rarely saw him angry. I grew up assuming that all dads were like that.
Though Mom worked just as hard, it never occurred to me to define Dad in terms of my mother. "Mr. Mom" doesn't cut it for me. I have a better word.
What do I call the man who taught me how to tie my shoelaces, who drove me to tennis practice, who tuned my violin, who walked me to school on my first day of kindergarten?
I call him a Father.