What is the difference between a father and dad?
At first thought, you might say dad and father are really the same thing.
Those who have experienced either a fantastic male parent or a terrible male parent, however, will probably tell you there is a big difference between a father and a dad.
You’ll also come across single mothers who will tell you that blood can create a father, but a stepdad can make a really good dad.
After all, anyone can be a father (or a mother of course).
It’s not hard to conceive a child.
But not everyone steps up to be a great and loving parent.
What’s the difference between a father and a dad?
In many languages, there’s a distinction between a father and a dad. Most languages have two different words. The word ‘father’ refers to the biological father (the person who provided the sperm) and the word ‘dad’ refers to the nurturing male figure in most children’s lives.
For the vast majority of people, their father and their dad are the same person. That’s the main reason why some might find the difference confusing; both words have the same meaning in their heads.
Let’s look at the 5 differences between a father and a dad.
Father and Dad #1. Not every father is a dad
In most cases, the biological parent who provides the sperm has a very important presence in a child’s life. In these cases the term ‘father’ and the term ‘dad’ refer to the same person and a child might use both words. Unfortunately, not all fathers have an emotional attachment to their children. Some fathers don’t even know they’ve become a parent. And some fathers, although they know they have a child, choose to not be part of that child’s life. This is the main difference between a father and a dad.
Father and Dad #2. A father provides the sperm
Research shows there’s been a need to differentiate between these terms for a long time. ‘Father’ refers to the biological term. Period. A father is a male parent who provides his genetic material.
The word ‘father’ doesn’t necessarily refer to the person who actively participates in the child’s upbringing. It doesn’t even mean he spends time with the child or even provides financial support. The hard truth is that, sadly, not everybody who impregnates a woman considers himself responsible for her child’s upbringing.
Fathers provide sperm; therefore they share DNA with the child but they might or might not share responsibility with the mother to raise that child.
In some cases, a fathers doesn’t even know is one because the child’s mother hasn’t told him she became pregnant.
A sperm donor can be a father to many children but he won’t be the dad of any of them.
Father and Dad #3. A dad shows up
A dad is a good father. A dad is a person who fathers his child with a caring heart. ‘Dad’ is an affectionate term that indicates a relationship between a father and his daughter or son.
A dad shows up and makes a difference in his child’s life. A dad is a good listener and takes the time to understand each child’s unique personality, interests, critical long-term needs, and the part he personally needs to play to help his children fulfil their incredible potential.
A dad takes care of many different things to provide stability, security and protection for his children.
In some circumstances, a child’s dad isn’t the child’s father.
Kids in foster care, adopted children or children with step-families might regard a person who isn’t their father as their dad .
Children of same-sex parents might have two dads but just one father.
Father and Dad #4. Children can be themselves with their dad
Dads (and moms) are carers that make their kids feel safe. As children grow, they spend more time away from home and interact with other children and adults in school and other places. They will meet other children who have more challenging circumstances in life. Children reflect the relationships they have with their main carers. Home should be a refuge where they can be their real selves. As children grow in a safe environment they create good memories and learn what it means to be a loving parent, for when they start their own families. They also learn to identify what healthy relationships are – and what they aren’t. When both parents are deeply involved and present for their kids, the kids thrive. Their educational achievement is higher and they have greater problem-solving skills as they grow.
This happens because there’s a safe haven at home where they can share whatever’s bothering them without feeling bad or guilty about their behavior. Making mistakes is part of everybody’s learning process. When children make a mistake there’s nothing better for their mental health and development than to be listened to and comforted by kind words from dad or mom, or both.
You’ll find more help with this in our article How To Transform Your Child’s Challenging Behavior – 7 Things You Can Do.
Father and Dad #5. A dad doesn’t fulfil his dreams through his child
Most parents want the best for their children’s lives. However, this sometimes leads to a wrong interpretation of what really is best for them.
Some parents try to fulfil their frustrated dreams through their children, without realizing that what they longed for as children might not be what their kids want in the present.
Ortega y Gasset, a Spanish philosopher, said: ‘I am I and my circumstance’; both weigh equally in who we really are. Of course, our kids will benefit from the most favorable circumstances in their lives. A child with loving and involved parents in a healthy relationship has much more favorable circumstances that a child born into a broken family. However, the other part of the equation is just as important: Children have their own ‘self’ and are not younger versions of their parents. If, as a child, you wanted to be a lawyer but it couldn’t happen, it’s not a good idea to push your kid to become one simply because you can provide the education your parents couldn’t provide for you.
When did ‘dad’ replace ‘father’?
Language is one of the most deeply rooted aspects of any culture.
Not so long ago, every child would refer to the male parent as ‘father’. It was considered a sign of respect. Many fathers would frown on being called by an affectionate name by their children. Words like ‘dad’ and ‘pops’ were not heard in most families in the 1950s to the 1970s.
Even in some cultures where there are different ways of addressing others, depending on the degree of closeness, many children referred (and still do in some places) to their parents in the most polite form.
Most fathers didn’t have a close relationship with their kids and hardly spent time with them. The father provided food and shelter and the nurturing role was the sole responsibility of the mother.
Thankfully, things have evolved and, as dads have become more involved in their children’s upbringing, so has the nature of the relationship. These days, most male parents who have a close relationship with their children are called ‘dad’.
Read more about this in Dad’s Role In The Family | Past And Present.
Why do people say ‘father’ instead of ‘dad’?
Some people say ‘father’ instead of ‘dad’ from personal choice. For them, it might sound more respectful than ‘dad’ or ‘daddy’.
For others, it’s something that has been agreed in the family and perhaps the father prefers to be addressed that way. For most people who call their dad ‘father’, it has nothing to do with the closeness of their relationship but is just the way they choose to do it. The two words ‘father’ and ‘dad’ are interchangeable for many.
What makes a really great dad?
Graham White compiled the following, titled A Father’s Promises, after interviewing many men. We think you’ll love it.
A Father’s Promises
I promise to teach you the importance of doing the difficult things first.
I promise to support your talents and interests and help you discover the special gifts you have to offer this world.
I promise to encourage you to take risks and open your mind to new ideas and possibilities.
I promise to participate with you in a healthy lifestyle and live a life of social grace and emotional intelligence that you are inspired to model.
I promise to support you in discovering your purpose and sharing that unique value in a way you find personally and financially rewarding.
I promise to exemplify the way a man should treat a woman by the way I treat the women in my life.
I promise to remember that you have your own valid feelings and inner guidance.
I promise to set firm boundaries and hold you accountable for your actions, but give you enough room to learn to make your own wise choices.
I will allow you the freedom to fail, I will forgive your mistakes and apologize when I’m wrong.
I promise to be there when you suffer loss, celebrate your success, and tell you the things that I am proud of you for.
I promise to attend your events, find activities we enjoy together, and spend time finding out what is important to you.