Father vs Dad – Vast Differences (Science Confirms)

man carrying a baby in silhouette

Is there a difference between a father and a dad? If you speak to children, you’ll discover that many of them have their own opinions about who is a father and what makes a dad.  Even science is proving that the father vs. dad roles are vastly different. 

Main Differences Between a Father and a Dad

A father is often seen as a paternal figure, playing the role of a disciplinarian and provider. A dad is fondly referred to as the person who shows love, warmth, and affection while still being respected for his authoritative role. These differences highlight that not every father is a dad. 

Definitions of Father and Dad According to Dictionaries

In my search for deciding if there are vast differences between a father and a dad, my first approach was to see what online dictionaries had to say. Dictionary.com came up with the following definitions for “father”:

  • A male parent
  • A father-in-law, stepfather, or adoptive father
  • A man who exercises paternal care over other persons; paternal protector or provider

The same dictionary gave the verb definition of a father as:

  • To perform the tasks or duties of a male parent; act paternally

The word “father” sounds awfully formal if you go with these definitions so I looked up the definition of “dad” in the same dictionary:

  • A person’s father or one’s father
  • A person who is corny or embarrassing in the way that a father figure might be (this caught my attention!)
  • A term of endearment used to refer to a man or a boy who is admired

The verb definition of dad is described as:

  • To act as a father toward; act paternally toward
  • To refer to (an admired man or boy) as “dad”

Clearly, the word “dad” is a more informal title of the word “father” while also being used to express a person’s love or admiration for a male “father” figure. These definitions also made me feel that being called dad came with more emotional connection than being called a father. 

Famous Father vs. Dad Quotes

With the dictionary definitions, I still wasn’t convinced on the major differences between the words “father” and “dad.” However, I can accept that dad holds more emotional meaning for the person using it. 

And, whenever I hear a child (or adult child) say “my father”, I do wonder about the relationship between father and child. The formality of using “father” seems to indicate a stilted connection but how valid is this reasoning?

These quotes gave me a broader perspective on the use of these two titles for male parents.

“A father is a man who expects his son to be as good a man as he meant to be.” – Frank A. Clark (American lawyer and politician)

“He adopted a role called being a father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a protector” – Tom Wolfe (American novelist, journalist, and social commentator)

These two quotes support the dictionary’s more formal definition of the word “father.” They express the important role father plays as setting an example, being a responsible parent, and being the protector. 

“Dads are most ordinary men turned by love into heroes, adventurers, story-tellers, and singers of song.” – Pam Brown (American newscaster and television reporter)

This wonderful quote shows more emotion and endearment towards a man who becomes a “dad.” I get the sense that Pam Brown expresses the awe and love a child shows towards a father who’s his or her superhero. 

“I hope I can be as good a father to my son as my dad was to me.” – Calvin Johnson (American footballer)

Calvin Johnson realizes the important role a father plays in a child’s life but is able to equate the role with love by using the word “dad” as well. 

“Father is the noblest title a man can be given. It is more than a biological role. It signifies a patriarch, a leader, an exemplar, a confidant, a teacher, a hero, a friend.” – Robert L. Backman (Utah lawyer and politician)

This last quote by Robert L. Backman identifies both the role of the father and dad by stating a man can be both a leader and a friend to his child. 

Qualities of a (Good) Dad vs. a (Bad) Father


A father is essentially the male parent of a child. They share DNA but the father doesn’t necessarily share the responsibilities of raising the child. Many children who grow up in a home with an absent father often portray developmental problems as they grow up. 

The role of fathers in the healthy development of their children doesn’t only require being physically present. But, it also means being a dad that is emotionally available to their child. A dad is someone who takes full responsibility towards raising his child while showing affection, warmth, and love freely.

Emotional Connection

A (good) dad openly shows his love towards his child and is not scared for the world to see it either. This love is shown through his actions and gestures such as hugs and use of loving words. A loving dad goes all out to create a healthy emotional connection with his children while reassuring them that they are cherished and cared for.

A (bad) father remains detached from his child and while he may fulfill his role as provider and protector, he’s not able to prioritize his family over other activities. A father may miss his child’s first school play, always put himself first over his children, and ignore the mother. 

He might even hate his child and this is why I wrote about this in a separate article on why your dad might hate you.

Listens When the Child Talks

Ask any child what they loved about their fathers and one of them would be that dad was a good listener. When a dad takes time out to hear what his child has to say, his son or daughter will feel valued and heard. One of the most valuable traits of being a good listener is being present. And, when you’re present you’re hearing and seeing clearly what’s being said.

A dad who listens to his child, no matter how old they are, will discover more about their children and their personalities. A father who ignores his child when they speak won’t develop an innate understanding of the unique qualities that make up their children. 

Acknowledges and Respects the Mother

A father may take his paternal responsibilities seriously but can’t acknowledge the vital role of the mother when raising their children. A (bad) father would disrespect the many qualities of a good mother while ignoring what she brings to the table when raising the children.  

A dad is someone who values the role of the mother as both his partner and as a mom to his children. A good dad would also respect the mother even if their relationship is rocky or they’re separated. He’ll choose to co-parent with the mother, acknowledging her role is as essential as his when raising healthy and happy children. Here are some great co-parenting quotes to cheer you up. 

Fun and Laughter

A dad knows how to have fun with his children. He never passes up an opportunity to partake in a tea party with his toddler daughter or throw a game of ball with his five-year-old son. A dad knows how to find humor in most situations without losing sight of his role as a teacher. Special bonds between a father and his child can be developed through times of laughter and games.

“Being a father means you have to think fast on your feet. You must be judicious, wise, brave, tender, and willing to put on a frilly hat and sit down to a pretend tea party.”Matthew Buckly, Fatherhood: The Manliest Profession

Psychiatrist and associate clinical professor at the Yale Child Study Center, Dr, Kyle Pruett talks about how fathers are seen as disciplinarians rather than a parent who wants to create an emotional relationship with their child. Instead, he claims, good fathering should be seen as being authoritative, not authoritarian. This is also the style I chose for my daughter. 

Actively Involved

A father who is actively involved in his child’s upbringing is a dad who attends school events or takes his son or daughter to the doctor when mom can’t. An active father is a dad who stays at home to care for his child when no one else is available. 

Dads will actively teach their children life skills such as how to defend themselves when no one else can and how to change the tire when there’s a puncture. Over 82% of studies performed by Paul R. Amato and Fernando Riveria have proved that father involvement in their child’s life shows improved wellbeing. These studies highlight the significant influence a father can have in his child’s life. 

Watch Dr. Anna Machin, an Oxford University-based anthropologist, as she talks about the vital and special role of new fathers in their childrens’ lives. 

Connection to my Website’s Name – Projectfather

When I became a father to my own daughter, Amelia, I valued my fatherhood role. It’s been a journey, and still is, of discovering what it takes to be a father. For sure, fatherhood is not a piece of cake! By assisting my fiancee in raising our daughter, I’ve gained great insights into what it takes to be a dad. 

My blog Projectfather came about as a project showing other male parents how to be great fathers who can turn into awesome dads. If you’re anything like me, you would have found the role of being a first-time father comes with its ups and downs. It’s all about accepting the full responsibility of being a dad. 

My mission, ultimately, is to take you through the A-Z of fatherhood, sharing all the tips and tricks I’ve been learning to cope with the challenges of being a dad. 

Final Thoughts

From my own personal experience, I can tell you fatherhood is a truly honorable, fun, and rewarding stage in one’s life. My research has shown me that there are vast differences between being a (bad) father and a (good) dad. I’m proud to be a father who has learned to be a dad to my daughter. I hope your fatherhood experience is as uplifting.

To increase your chances of a great outcome, I recommend that you choose a hobby as a new dad. One of mine is certainly blogging. 🙂

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