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Updated for Father’s Day, 2021

I’ve been asked more times than I can count why I wrote a post about the true definition of dad and why I feel the meanings of dad and father are distinctly different.

Can we also just talk for a moment about definitions versus meanings, too? Dictionary sites that provide definitions of words like dad and father don’t really do a good job of explaining the true meanings of these words.

I get it – it doesn’t matter to everyone. But it matters to me. And I suspect, because you’re here, it also matters to you as well. I know there are plenty of people out there that may not be a “father” or a “mother”, but they feel like they are in a lot of ways.

The post below about my new definition of a dad was originally written back when I was a single dad struggling with my time away from my son. I spent a lot of time thinking about what it meant to be a co-parent dad and what the difference was between dad and father. I tried to find answers to my questions.

My REAL definition of



noun informal

a male parental figure that is present and participating in a child’s life

“the child went to the zoo with her dad”

synonym: daddy

Let's take a look at Google's Definition of "Dad".

Shown here is 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.

Google Definition of Dad

The meaning of dad means a lot to me.

Some of my questions didn’t have easy answers. I suspect you’ve come seeking those same answers.

I took to Google for answers and was told that “Dad” and “Father” were the same thing. I didn’t agree with that definition, so I decided to write my own definition.

What is a dad? What does it mean to be a dad?

What is a father? What does it mean to be a father?

What is the difference between dad and father?

Fast-forward now to 2017 and I’m no longer a single dad, but how we define a dad vs. a father resonates with me even more. Sure, we see some dads stepping up to the parenting plate and being present in their childrens’ lives, but there are still so many others that just disappear.

What do you think when you read my definition of a dad? What do you perceive to be the difference between dad and father? Which are you or which do you have in your life – 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 on social media.

My REAL definition of




 a reproductive term referring to the male biological parent of a child

 “after the birth of his child, the boy became a father”


be the father of

 “he fathered three children”

If dad and father are the same, why bother with separate words?

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. Fathers need only contribute the biological components necessary to produce the child. After that, 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.

I know there are single moms out there that understand there’s a distinctive difference between the two. They understand the importance of a father being present and being a dad. They see every single day what the differences are between being a dad and being a father mean to their child’s life.


Come on – is there really a difference between dad and father?

Yes, there is a difference.

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 (vs. a 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.

There is no excuse for fathers that don’t step up and also play the role of dad.

On one hand, some fathers are setting an unfortunate precedence: absence

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.

On the other hand, some “dads” are treated like second-class parents

I am a dad to two boys, but sometimes, I feel like a second-class parent. I think a lot of involved dads share this feeling with me. Many times I feel like a second-class parent, especially in my oldest 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.

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.

What do you think?

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 hashtag #DefinitionOfDad on social media to share your thoughts and your story.

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