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In a documentary I watched recently, Una Stubbs, remembering her father, said someone once told her

"When they were handing out fathers you were at the front of the queue."

What is the meaning of handing out fathers?

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    This question appears to be off-topic because it is literary interpretation. – Kris Dec 13 '14 at 13:31
  • @Kris I think this asks for interpretation of a common colloquial idiom and is fair game. – StoneyB Dec 13 '14 at 15:44
  • @StoneyB True. However, what looks like a "fairly common trope" to us may be hard to get for a non-native speaker. There's little that is literal in this idiomatic expression. For some, it may fail to make sense and for others the meaning may be rather weird, just because it is alien. (That applies many idiomatic expressions of this type in general.) – Kris Dec 14 '14 at 6:55
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This was the speaker's jocular way of saying that Ms. Stubbs had a very good father.

The speaker imagines that some entity (the Fates, the Norns, God, wyrd) is responsible for allocating ('handing out') parents to newborn children—deciding which child gets what mother and father. Whoever is at the front of the line gets the best parents available, but if you're at the back of the line you have to settle for whatever junk is left.

It's a fairly common trope; here are a few instances I found by Googling "when they were handing out"

When they were handing out brains you must have arrived late and got a rain check.
When they were handing out noses I thought they said "roses" and I asked for a big red one.
My mother always said, “When they were handing out patience in heaven before you were born you didn't have enough to stay in line.”

  • Oh, now I understand. I should've google "when they were handing out" first. You gave me not just an answer, but also a googling tip! Thank you very much! – korima Dec 13 '14 at 13:11

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