Definition of Dad vs. Father and a Father’s Right to Parent

Updated for Father’s Day, 2015

I originally wrote this post back when I was a single dad with a blog. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a dad. I was frustrated that I wasn’t able to see my son as much as I wanted to, and took some of that frustration out in written form.

Fast-forward now to 2015 and I’m no longer a single dad, but how we define a dad vs. a father still resonates with me. I see some dads stepping up to the parenting plate and being present in their childs’ lives and others that still just disappear. What do you think when you read my definition below? Which are you – a dad or a father?

The words ‘dad’ and ‘father’ are very similar on the surface and yet, I think to many people they hold very different meanings. Father’s Day seems to ignite something in a lot of people as it did with me as well.

What’s the difference between the words “dad” and “father”? Can they be used interchangeably? Are they basically the same thing?

I say NO, they are not the same thing and I’ll tell you why. Whether you agree or disagree on what I see as the difference between a dad and a father, I’d love it if you would share your thoughts in the comments below.

First, Let’s Define Dad

Here’s Google’s definition of “dad”:


I disagree, Google. There is a difference between being a dad and a father.

A dad is someone that is there for his children.  A dad watches and actively participates in their lives.  A dad helps them grow up, raises them, nurtures them, attends dance recitals and baseball games and is present.

Next, Let’s Define Father

A dad is someone that is there for his children. A father is something else; a father is more of a biological term than a role or relationship.

On the surface you’d think the definitions between dad and father would be the same – but they’re not. They are very different, in fact.

A father is something else; a father is more of a biological term than a role or relationship.  A father is a the birds and bees version of a parent. They are a reproductive assistant, if you will.  Father’s need only contribute the biological components necessary to produce the child.  After that, the their role and obligation to the child is over.

A father doesn’t need to be present to have a have a child.  They don’t need to participate to make their biological contribution.  A father doesn’t need to be present to be a father. Therein lies the difference when attempting to define the difference between a dad and a father. Of course, this distinction is my own and you may or may not agree or buy into my differences. Though, I know there are single moms out there that know there’s a distinctive difference between the two. They see every single day what the differences are between being a dad and being a father mean to their child’s life.

Defining a Father’s Rights vs. Dad’s Rights

I attempt to make the distinction between a dad and a father so that I can carry those definitions into a discussion on dad’s (father’s) rights.  The U.S., and to an extent, the world, has seen an epidemic of fathers that abandon their families and children, often before the child is even born.

For whatever reason they don’t want to be parents.  They choose not to participate in their child’s life.  They choose to be selfish over being selfless.  Many (too many) men have taken this path of fathering a child but leaving the ‘dad’ part up to someone else – sometimes mom or sometimes another man that’s not afraid of stepping in to fill that role.  In many cases I get that the mother and child truly would be better off without the father in their lives.  That’s a shame, really and it’s no excuse.

There is no excuse.

Some Fathers Setting the Unfortunate Precedence

It’s not just up to dads to be dads. It’s up to moms to allow dads to be dads, too.

I would argue that the trend in fathers abandoning their children and choosing to not participate compelled the courts in this country to pass laws (or at least have some sort of unwritten preference) that attempted to protect the rights of the child, and to some extent, the mothers that were left to raise the child on their own.

Often, the courts would default to siding with the mother and the father (or dad) was left to prove his worth or value in the child’s life to the court. But what about when a father decides to also be a dad?  What about when a father has to be a dad? When it’s so engrained in his soul that he’s nearly incapable of not being a dad?

Many states make this dad’s outlook on spending time with his child, being involved in his child’s life and actively participating in the child’s life very much an up-hill battle.

Dads as Second-Class Parents

I think a lot of involved dads share this feeling with me.  Many times I feel like a second-class parent in my son’s life.

It hurts. It hurts a lot, actually.

I feel like, in the eyes of the court and in the eyes of my ex, she’s the parent and I get to ‘borrow’ my son now and then.  I see no reason why dads shouldn’t be afforded the same rights and access to their children as mothers do.  I see no reason why the default sharing shouldn’t be 50/50 unless one parent or the other can prove why it should be something less than equal.

I understand that women carry the child, give birth and, more often than the father, raise the child solo.  But how much are the laws (and some individual’s behavior) actually discouraging fathers from participating in their children’s lives?  A father should fight to be a dad tooth and nail but a father also shouldn’t be required to fight so hard.  The chips shouldn’t be quite so stacked against the dad that genuinely wants (or needs) to participate.

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How do you distinguish between the definition of dad and the definition of father? Do you have a story you’d like to share? Use the comment form below or contact me to tell me your story.

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  • Andrew

    I agree with all but one thing I read on this website: my father should not have to be the one to take me to a dance recital as a partner. I am also a male.
    I must say one thing though in addition to this website. When I was 12 1/2-years-old, I had a 56-foot fall that resulted in a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). I was advised to sign my legal guardianship over to my father in 2005 or 2006. I am 36-years-old now. I had surgery June 2014 to try and stop seizures. I cannot drive. Otherwise, I would be a fully functional adult. One thing I can say from personal experience is that fathers need to learn when to let go sometimes.