The Defining Qualities Of Father Vs. Dad

Updated August 22, 2023by Regain Editorial Team

'Father' and 'Dad' may seem to be synonymous words. However, a closer analysis of the words typically align the word ‘father’ to mean a biological title and nothing more. While, when you hear the word ‘Dad’, you might think of a nurturing and supportive parent who has stuck with you throughout your life. What is it about the qualities of a father vs. the qualities of a dad that set them apart? Which kind of parental figure do you align yourself with?

Where fathers tend to have more negative qualities, dads are every kid's dream. By closely examining the definition of a father and a dad, you can determine which title you currently have. It might also make it apparent if changes are needed for your parenting style. Read on to discover more about the complexities of being a dad and how this title is distinct from that of simply being a biological father.

Your Relationship With Your Father Figure Can Be Complex

Definition Of A Father

According to Merriam-Webster, a father is defined as "a man who has begotten a child." This means that a father is a term used for a man that reproduced and created a child. This particular definition does not include any parenting or being present in the child's life. Children are negatively affected when their fathers neglect their parenting responsibility and simply contribute their biology to the relationship. The following characteristics of a father who only contributed his biological material reveals the effects an absent parent has on a child’s growth and development. 

Relationship With Children

A father may have played a part in creating children, but if he has no relationship with his children, he is not lacking, but is also missing out on the joy of being a good dad. In fact, a father who is absent inflicts emotional and psychological harm that, if left unresolved, can persist into adulthood. 

Some of the problems that a daughter might have because of the lack of a healthy father-daughter relationship include substance abuse, fear of attachment, and lack of direction for their life. Having a parent who is not interested in their life or well-being does not go away the moment they reach adulthood. Furthermore, an absent father typically does not contribute financially to the family and a child may experience poverty or a lack in resources. As adults, children of absent fathers may manage feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem, have trouble with following the law, and are at a higher risk for mental health disorders. Many children with absent fathers need mental health therapy to move past that absence in their lives.

Lacks Family Priorities

Fathers tend to have priorities that exclude their families. They might claim that they work hard to earn money for their family, but if he does so at the expense of missing out on his child's life, his priorities are askew. If he works far more than necessary, his intentions are likely for selfish reasons. A father tends to care more about outside opinions, his hobbies, and interests, and having fancy things.

While it would be nice to make a man switch up his priorities, it will not be something that sticks until the decision is his own. If you are a father at this point and looking to better yourself as a parent, you are taking a step in the right direction by simply attempting to do better. A father becomes a dad by putting in the effort.

Fathers Children, Fails To Parent Them

Becoming a father is simply biology. Parenting the children that a man has created is a choice. Men should be equally responsible for the child they played a part in making, but fathers tend to have the idea that since it wasn't his body that held the baby as they grew, parenting is not something in which he needs to partipate. This is not true.

A father may not have wanted children, but he chose to partake in sexual intercourse that created his child. That decision alone makes him just as responsible for the child as the mother. The courts can make a father pay child support, but they cannot force him to spend time with his kids. He does not discipline his children, talk to them about what happened at school, or attend their sporting events or band concerts. A father is not a parent.

Definition Of A Dad


Merriam-Webster's sole definition for 'dad' is "a male parent." The presence of 'parent' in this definition describes the role that a dad takes on when he has children. Because of these qualities, children thrive when they have a great dad. Take a look at the following qualities of a healthy dad. 

Warm Relationships With Kids

Developing a warm relationship with children requires being present in their lives. A dad knows his child's dreams and ambitions, reads books with them, and listens to them when they speak. Doing these warm, dad-like activities make better parents and well-rounded kids.

Dads are great huggers and love having warm relationships with their children. They feel no shame in losing their tough-guy image when they become emotional about their children's achievements, feelings, or as he watches them grow. Dads are always there for their children in times of need.

Has Priorities Straight

There is something about dads always being there that makes them extra special to their kids. It doesn't matter what is going on at work; if there is some way for a dad to make it to his daughter's soccer game or his son's school play, he will be there. He has his family at the top of his priorities and makes sure good kids know it.

Kids feel no need to question how important they are to their dad because he is always present. If his kids are not interested, a dad puts his children's needs first. He is happy to take time for himself and his hobbies when his kids have other plans.

Duties Of A Parent

He changes diapers, takes the kids to school, and makes sure teeth get brushed before bed. Although a dad likely has a job that keeps him fairly busy, he always makes sure that his kids are cared for.

Dads never feel like a parenting task is his co-parent's job. He might not enjoy changing diapers, but he does it anyway. Maybe bath time makes a mess, but he will clean up after. A dad plays an equal role as his partner and makes a real attempt at being the best dad he can be.

Working To Be A Better Dad

If you found that you (or your partner) match more with the qualities of a father than a dad and you want a serious improvement, start with making a real effort to be more involved. Dads are men that stay true to their word, so tell your children that you plan to be more present in their lives and hold up your promise. The best of dads are those that can always be counted on.

Show up on time and as promised. Do not make promises that you are unable to keep. Be realistic so that your kids do not expect more than you can but ensure that you make your children a top priority. If you are co-parenting, ask your parenting partner if you can take on more responsibility.

Your Relationship With Your Father Figure Can Be Complex

While these are all great ways to start becoming a dad, you must keep it up for the rest of your child's life. Being in the stands at one sporting event is easy - making it to 90% of their sporting events is being a dad. Decide to be a dad instead of a father and have kids that know you love them.

Seeking Professional Advice

If you are trying to improve but have been unable to uphold your promises, you might benefit from counseling. Speaking with a counselor can help you determine why you cannot stay true to your word or what roadblocks you are putting in your way. It might take a lot of effort and several sessions with a professional, but you can become a great dad if given the opportunity. 

You might be an involved parent but have a partner that is less so and is acting more like a “father”. If you and your co-parent are in a relationship, there are ways to get him more involved as a “dad”. However, it is often best for you to do so with the guidance of a professional. A counselor can help you communicate the importance of being a present parent and working together better to raise your children. Even if you and your co-parent are no longer together, counseling might make raising children together easier.

If you are interested in couples counseling but are nervous about going to a therapist’s office, you might try online therapy, which research has shown to be just as effective as in-person therapy. With Regain, you and your family can engage in online therapy without leaving home, which may be more comfortable if this is your first time speaking with a therapist. This can also be an effective option if anyone in your family lives or works in a different area. You can all connect remotely from wherever you have an internet connection. 


Becoming a father can be a truly life-changing phenomenon. Fathering children is just the first step and is the easy part. The parenting journey that follows the birth of a child is what matters most. It can take a lot of effort, time, patience, and energy to be a good father, but it will be worth every second. Your role as a dad could be crucial to your child's success and as part of your own personal journey. Cherish the responsibility and be the best dad you can be.

Becoming a dad is challenging and exhausting, but it is worth all the difficult obstacles you will go through. If you recognize you have not been the best parent, know you can still become a great dad. Healing old wounds can take time and require patience, but it is important to be involved in your child's life. If you are unable to work on becoming a better parent on your own, do not hesitate to reach for the help of an online therapist

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