Being a Father Versus Being a Dad

As you’re probably well-aware, Father’s Day was about 10 days ago.

And while I loved the additional TLC from my kids and Mrs. Meisel, the thing I loved MOST about this past Father’s Day was an old article I revisited on the Good Man Project by writer Kathy Shimmield.

The article—similarly titled The Difference between Being a Father and a Dad—is one of my all-time favorites.

In the article, Kathy discusses the disparity between the roles of “father” and “dad”—two titles often used interchangeably but in her eyes distinctly different.

While she spends the article diving into a variety of defining characteristics for each role, the crux of Kathy’s argument is this:

“You automatically become a father when your child is born, but you earn the title of dad. Being a father is easy and requires little emotional investment, [but] being a dad…is a dedicated, difficult and lifelong responsibility.”

THAT statement is why I not only revisit this article, but revisit it often.

The day my first child was born, I became Ari Meisel—author, entrepreneur, son, husband, and father.

But I didn’t become dad.

Dad is a knighthood that cannot be given, it must be earned in the eyes of your children. They are the ones who decide if you’re going to be a “dad” or a “father.”

Yes, there are things you can do to improve the likelihood of being perceived as the former rather than the latter, but ultimately the decision isn’t up to you.

As a male parent, you have a choice to make whether you’re on your first child or your fifth:

You have to decide whether you want the title or the reputation?—you must choose an avenue to pursue.

Earning a title is comparatively easy.

Adopt a child or facilitate your spouse’s pregnancy and BOOM—just like that­—you’re a father.

But if you want a reputation, specifically the reputation of being a dad, then you’re going to have to earn it over the long-haul by cultivating a strong, heathy parent-child relationship.  

And this idea really goes beyond fatherhood. It permeates everything we do.

In a single weekend someone can easily obtain a SCUBA certification, or a motorcycle license, but are they really masters of either craft?—of course not.

They’ve secured titles. They haven’t earned reputations as skilled SCUBA divers or motorcycle riders. Those are reputations that take months if not years to create, because a reputation is based on real-life acts—not what an “official” piece of paper says.

When my first daughter Chloe was born this past winter, I—by the letter of the law—became father to a beautiful baby girl.

But I didn’t become her dad, and I won’t for some time, because I have to earn that through my behavior. “Dad” is a distinction only Chloe can give me with her words and actions.

Do I think I’ll earn it?—yes.

In fact, I know I’ll earn it, but for now, I’ll settle for being the best father I can possibly be.

In the wake of this recent Father’s Day, I’d like to encourage all the dads out there in the Less Doing Community to sit down for a few minutes and really reflect on what it means to be a father versus a dad.

Evaluate your relationship with your children. Where is it strong, and where could it be better?

Identify those areas for improvement and make a conscious effort to do so in the coming weeks and months. I promise that the effort you make—no matter how small—will not be lost upon your kids or family at-large.

Here’s to making the rest of 2016 all about being the best dad you can possibly be.

-Ari