Many years ago, I realized the difference between a father and a dad.
They both may get up and go to work to provide for their family even if they hate their job. Not just to put a roof over their family and food on the table, but also to give them the ability to afford extras like flute lessons or a family vacation.
They both may be physically “present” at their kids’ sports games or events.
However, the “difference’” I’m speaking of is deeper, more under-the-surface and more vital to each and every kid. It’s a difference, that for me, truly encapsulates what “Dad” means.
Here is a list of these attributes in no significant order. If your dad has these count yourself lucky, if you have them then you have earned, in my mind, the title of Dad.
They think before they comment. Sounds simple right? But how many times have you caught your own tongue when about to answer your kid’s question what do you really think about this Dad? There’s a big difference between being brutally honest and being thoughtfully honest. Consider the child’s real reason for asking, perhaps it’s more out of seeking your approval or in the hopes of making you proud instead of really wanting to hear your philosophical understanding of the issue.
They interact and play on the child’s level. This reminds me of the saying “Real men have tea parties with their daughters.” It’s true, a real dad plays on his kids’ level; he doesn’t just interact with his child when it’s something he’s interested in doing himself. He reads that same annoying and boring book three times until he becomes the voices of Mr. Teddy and Mr. Unicorn, and he lets his nails or hair suffer styling to the point that even his best friend won’t recognize him. These may be minor moments in the day for a dad, but they are lasting memories for his child and they help to form a level of trust and comfort in his son or daughter that will solidify their loving view of him.
They are a good example. A dad shows love, compassion and patience not only with his family, but with people as a whole. He doesn’t participate in road rage when someone flips him off. He doesn’t verbally or physically abuse people, or belittle them when they disagree with him. A dad doesn’t insult his kids’ Mom or use his kids as pawns to get revenge on his ex. You may think some of these examples are obvious, but many times when emotions are running high people don’t stop and take a minute to think how their actions might be physically endangering or emotionally harming to their child. This doesn’t mean you’re expected to be perfect and untouched by the stresses of life. We are all affected by these tensions. What I’m saying is take five seconds to refocus and think before you act. Five seconds to bring yourself back to the reality of what is really important.
They protect their children. If your child ever comes to you and tells you someone has acted inappropriately towards them, your first comment shouldn’t be to tell them they are probably misunderstanding the person’s actions. Dads don’t assume the kid has gotten it wrong; they listen. They ask questions and then they act. Real dads immediately reassure the child they did nothing wrong and tell them they did the right thing by confiding what happened to them. They let their kids know they’ll do everything to make sure nothing bad happens again. It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, some people still assume a child is mistaken if they report that a family friend or relative has touched them, that the child somehow misunderstood the intention of the action. A real dad first and foremost, sees and understands something has occurred to make their child uncomfortable enough to seek comfort and protection.
A real dad immediately lets this person know that the too-long hug or overly-pushy kiss on the cheek is not going to be allowed. If it makes your child uncomfortable, respect their physical boundaries and personal space. This differs from teaching your child to show people respect. Yes, they should be polite and say hello, but they should never be made to hug or kiss someone with whom they are not comfortable. Obviously it goes without saying, if your child reports something much more serious in nature than an uncomfortable hug you need to take things to a more serious and official level to ensure their safety.
Being a father is easy and requires little emotional investment. Being a dad, to me, is a dedicated, difficult and lifelong responsibility.
You automatically become a father when your child is born, but you earn the title of dad. —Kathy Shimmield
(Photo: Getty Images)
Originally appeared at The Good Men Project:
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