Elizabeth Davies: Big difference between 'fathers' and 'dads'

Elizabeth Davies

Not long ago, I realized that if you want to raise a child who stops to smell the roses, you have to actually let him stop and smell the roses.

Sometimes that’s hard to do with a 3-year-old. You’re running into the store for a quick gallon of milk, but have to pause at every flower bucket along the way. You’re late for church, but his little sniffer just can’t pass up those violets near the front door.

And if your three-year-old is anything like mine, one simple whiff just won’t do. On a recent family trip to the park, our little boy spotted an entire garden of flowers. So he proceeded to stoop and sniff each one individually. My husband thought to pass the time by quizzing our boy on his colors: What color is that one? he would ask. How about this one?

Two ladies on a nearby park bench stopped us and, mentioning that they were teachers, complimented my husband on how he turned an everyday activity into a chance to learn something.

Indeed, I might be the parent at home with our kids, but my husband will be the one to thank when they head off to kindergarten and are able to tie their own shoelaces.

Perhaps it’s not that way with every family, but in our house, my husband is the one pushing the kids to learn and accomplish more. Where I remain more short-sighted — “let mommy put your shirt on so we can get going” — he has the patience and vision to challenge our kids. Where I am inclined to nurture my babies, he promotes their independence. I might be the one they cry for after skinning a knee, but he’s the one giving them a boost of confidence from a job well done.

Today’s father is seeking out a new, more active role than dads of the past. They’re the birthing partners in the delivery room. They change diapers and rock fussy babies. I’ve even heard of dads who work the night shift with their newborns.

Indeed, we are in the days of paternity leave and men’s diaper bags. I recently saw a young dad with his baby strapped to his chest, and he didn’t even look embarrassed about it. But let’s face it: Those are the dads. There are plenty more men out there who are fathers, but not rising to the title of “dad.”

Think there’s no difference? Think again.

A father might be involved in bringing a baby into the world, but a dad is the person who raises him.

A father might pay to put food on the table, but a dad is the guy cutting it up.

According to the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse, a program aimed at developing better fathers, a full 24 million children — that’s 34 percent — do not live with their biological father. Of those, 40 percent haven’t seen their father at all in the past year. Half of them have never been inside their father’s home.

Those aren’t dads.

It takes time to be a dad. It takes more patience than you ever knew you had. It means making decisions every day that put your children’s needs ahead of your own.

Admittedly, I am not saying those things from the perspective of a dad: I’m not one.

But I live with a father who chooses to be a dad every single day.

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