Thoughts have been running through my head about what makes a dad and what makes a father. It isn’t enough for me to sit still on such immense questions. I have even steered some of my dad-mates into the banter with a genuine desire to land a correct answer. “Dad” or “Father”?
To me, there is a heartfelt warmth to being a dad. Father sounds more formal, somewhat elusive and too-busy-for-play because reports need writing. I think of dad as chipper, relaxed.
Father seems a bit serious. Dad conjures up a soft-hearted bloke who dives in to dust off roughed-up knees and is straight down the line with doing the right thing by his kids.
In my world, a father is sometimes aloof and doesn’t get involved in the kids’ homework. A dad has fun with the homework on Friday night and rattles a bit more off on Saturday so that Sunday is clear for some wholesome connection time.
Quite clearly, I identify with being a dad. At times, I have even politely corrected friends who thought of me as Father, gently asking them to use my self-appointed moniker.
Still, there are men out there who apply all the meaning I have for dad to the role of father. There are men who will only identify with Father because Dad is a bit light, sometimes flaky and over-emphasises fun at the expense of needing to get real with their children.
Naturally, dads or fathers come in the widest variety of shapes and sizes, with as many different parenting styles. What works for me as a parent to my two earthly angels may seem mature and sensible to some and light and too free-form to others.
Ultimately, my parenting style is uniquely mine. Sometimes it has been carefully thought through and other times it is spontaneous and challenging to the wisdom of supportive dads such as Steve Biddulph and Michael Grose. But I claim it as my own and am proud of how I go about being a great dad.
Ultimately, I have concluded that it does not matter whether I or any other male parent shapes themselves up as a dad or a father. The words — dad or father — will have a unique definition in the understanding of every dad and granddad. Of the dad or father debate, the best to come of it is some deliberation about my parenting and how I shape up.
What matters to me is how my conversations with other dads remind me of how I go about being a dad. Other dads are a great source of inspiration. A separated dad of a teenage girl recently shared that he struggled to initiate conversations about puberty.
He realised that he owed it to his daughter to deliver information that related his profound love for her. He also knows that he has to get it right because another fortnight passes by before he and his daughter are face-to-face.
So, his refined technique is to catch his daughter in between FaceBook and the iPhone with a strong opening line: “Ok sweetie, it is awkward conversation time!”
And they have a very real conversation. That dad connects strongly with his daughter. He connects because he voices the importance of being guided by a strong moral code and treating herself with respect and the best of care.
By having the deep conversation, that single dad demonstrates the depth of the meaning he has for being a dad. When they are done, he wraps up with a smile and prompts: “Awkward conversation over!” His conversations are so much from the heart that they are still there a fortnight later to pick up on again.
Of course, there are dads who aren’t always face-to-face with their children. Playtime is fleeting. Cooking up pancakes can’t be a weekly Saturday morning treat, but once a fortnight.
Yet, the value behind the word Dad is with me all the time. It runs across that time I am not with my girls. So, whether I am a dad or regarded by others as a father, is not important.
The importance is in drawing out all the value I place in being a dad and converting it into the most wholesome parenting. And the value I place in being a dad must meet the needs of my most precious six- and ten-year-old daughters, who put a whole heap of value in being owed the finest care.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk.