Father or Dad, What’s the Difference?

Wondering if you should use father or dad? Objectively speaking there is no difference between the title Father and the title Dad. However, “father” is considered a more formal language. What you call your male parent or guardian can be linked to the following: your own personal preference, guidelines, and norms of your specific culture, or the way you were raised.

It is generally accepted that it is easy to be or become a father, but that only a special person can become a Dad. This might be true but we cannot assume that a male parent who is addressed as Father, is not also a Dad in the true sense of the word.

In some cultures, the word Dad is not accepted or in some cases not even known. For these people, the name Father encompasses all the good, positive and admirable qualities of a father. These qualities include the more informal and subjective qualities of being a good listener, being an inviting, protective, and caring parent.

The above mentioned include abstract aspects such as personality, role models, parenting styles, nature of relationships, and interpersonal communication. These aspects will be dealt with further on.

Father and son standing with arms shrugging wondering the difference between father and dad

Related Reading: Grammar Lesson: “Where Do Your Father Work?”

Father or Dad? What the Dictionary Tells Us…

When we consult the dictionary to explain the difference between Father and Dad or Daddy, we find the following:

The word Father is explained as:

  • a man in relation to his child or children
  • a male parent
  • the person who governs paternally
  • progenitor

The term Father could also be used as a form of address for a priest or person with religious authority. Christians also speak of the Lord as their heavenly Father.

The word father could also be used as a verb, referring to the action of performing the work or duties of a male parent, for example, He fathered seven children in his lifetime.

The dictionary explanation for the term Dad or Daddy entails the following;

  • It is a synonym (same meaning) for Father
  • One’s father
  • A child’s word for father
  • It is the colloquial (everyday, informal) form of address for the male parent.

Where the Word Dad Comes From

The origin of the word Dad is generally accepted as coming from childish speech forms such as “dada” or “tata” meaning father. It was first recorded in the English language as baby talk, way back in the sixteenth century.

 “Father” as Found in Different Languages

ChineseBa (Baa)
Cree (Canada)Papa
CzechTata, Otec
Dakota (USA)Ate
DutchVader, Papa or Pappie
East AfricanBaba
EnglishFather, Dad, Daddy, Pop, Poppa or Papa
GermanVater or Papa
HebrewAbba (h)
HindiPapa or Pita-ji
HungarianApa, Apu, Papa or Edesapa
IrishAthair or Daidí
JapaneseOtosan or Papa
LatinPater, Papa or Atta
NorwegianPappa or Far
PolishTata or Ojciec
SpanishPapa, Viejo or Tata
Swiss GermanVatter

Qualities of a Good Father or Dad

Whether you call your male parent Father or Dad, a caring father should have the following qualities:

  • show respect towards your mother and women in general
  • willing to spend quality time with his family
  • responsible
  • sensitive to emotions and mental issues
  • provide physical and financial security
  • show that he cares
  • be fun to be around
  • respect authority
  • proud of his family and show it
  • unselfish/willing to share
  • family should be his priority

The Personality of the Father or Dad

Like all human beings, Fathers come with different personalities.

A quick overview of the different personality types is provided here.

Personality TypeType AType BType CType D
  Main quality  The DirectorThe SocializerThe ThinkerThe Supporter
-good under stress

Fathers with a Type A or C personality will probably reveal a bit more authority and command more respect from their children. These fathers could be described as more formal and will probably be stricter, set on discipline, time management, neatness, order, good manners, and respect for others.

These Fathers might even seem harsh and cold but they could still be good, caring, and loyal fathers. This does not make them horrible Dads.

Fathers with Type B and D personalities are more likely to have a more informal approach to the relationships with their children.

Role Models You Grew up With

A very important aspect in the way we address our fathers is the culture we grow up in. Different cultures have different norms and traditions when it comes to how a child should address his mother or father. These norms and traditions are usually learned by watching and learning from the role models in our family.

In other words, the way your parents address their parents or other adults in the family will most likely become your model or pattern of addressing your parents.

If everyone in the family calls their father’s Dad, you will probably do the same. Cultural rules and prescriptions are very important parts of our own education and consequently how we educate our children.

The Effect of Different Parenting Styles

The way a child is parented will determine the relationship and also the communication patterns in that family. The four common parenting styles include the following:

1. Authoritarian

For these parents rules should be obeyed without being questioned, children do not participate in the decision-making process and their ideas and opinions are ignored.

2. Democratic / Authoritative

These parents teach children responsibility by allowing them to make decisions and learn from the consequences of those decisions. Children are included in the decision-making process, although it is clear that the parent remains in charge. This parenting style employs positive discipline, praise, and rewards.

3. Permissive Parenting / Laissez Faire

This parenting style is characterised as being lenient and the parent is often more of a friend than a parent. Some rules exist but they are not enforced and the child can do what they want.

4. Uninvolved Parenting

This is not really a parenting style at all because the parent is uninvolved, absent, gives no guidance or attention, and often neglects the child – sometimes unintentionally.

Nature of Relationships Within the Family Set-up

The nature of the relationship between father and child depends largely on the aspects already discussed such as personality and parenting styles. However, external factors could also determine the type of relationship between parent and child.

Factors like poverty, unemployment, divorce, past trauma, disease, health issues, psychological disorders, global events and natural disasters could impact negatively on a person but also on that person’s relationships.

Interpersonal Communication Within the Family

The way we talk to each other in the family becomes our own blueprint for our communication with others. Communication between fathers and children is very important but even more important is the way our fathers talk to our mothers.

Father to son, father to daughter, and father to mother each have their own unique qualities and feelings. If your father communicates with respect and patience, his children will never see him as a harsh and authoritarian dominator or as an absent, uninterested member of the family.

Whether you call your father Father or Dad is not necessarily an indicator of the quality of the relationship or the interpersonal communication between family members.


There might be several different reasons why the male parent is either addressed as Father or as Daddy. One can however not assume that the person being called Father is less of a father figure than the person being called Daddy.

As mentioned above the form Father might be a bit more formal or respectful but the word Dad carries exactly the same meaning if studied objectively.

The term Dad might have connotations (added meanings) of tenderness, informality, and empathy but those added meanings will be linked to the person’s unique culture, personality, and the context in which he or she was brought up.

The most important reason is quite simple: it is much easier to say Dad instead of Father and to say Mom instead of Mother.

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