06/16/2012 12:40 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2012

Making a Difference: The World of Giving for Your Dad -- and for You

Fathers. Fathers are complicated. Their role in society is just as laden with stereotypes and expectations as mothers. Which can make Father's Day a lot more awkward than Mother's Day. We know what's supposed to happen on Mother's Day; do absolutely everything for Mom and, finally, give her one day of celebration and release from the zillions of things moms do.

So how can you truly honor your dad on "his" day? Or your granddad? Or your son or brother or uncle or any of the men who are fathers in your life? There must be more than a tie or socks or card or barbecue (not that there's anything wrong with that).

And there is. It's about taking an extra step to recognize what your dad does every day, often unseen and unacknowledged, to make a difference in your world and in the world. Volunteering in your community. Coaching. Being a mentor. Leading a Boy Scout troop or a camping trip. Cheering on his kids in sports or at recitals. These activities are an important part of how dads share in kids' lives (their own kids and others) and actually make a big -- very big -- difference in their communities.

And there's more. Dads build homes for the homeless. Serve in volunteer fire departments. And rescue squads. This week an article in The New York Times showed the recertification training of the members of Mountain Rescue-Aspen, volunteers who save those lost or injured in the mountains. The members include everyone from investment bankers to ski patrollers and surely many of them are dads.

So much of what dads do is, actually, philanthropy. True, it's not often thought about this way, but it most definitely is. Giving -- of money and time and expertise -- is what so many dads do and what you might want to take a minute to think about when you look for the best way to honor dad this Father's Day.

How can you make a difference and recognize your Dad (beyond the barbecue)? You can:

o Support a cause your father cares about with a donation of any size in his name
o Contact one of the 650 community foundations around the country and learn how to create a special fund in recognition of your dad
o Set up a fund specifically for someone in need on behalf of your dad
o Join with your dad when he volunteers
o Find a charity you don't know about that does the kind of work your dad would like (look for Charity Navigator's 4-star charities for charities that use their money wisely
o You can increase your gift for your dad by finding a charity that will double your donation - Habitat for Humanity is doing that right now; they build affordable houses for those who lack shelter
o Ask your family -- and even friends or colleagues who care about your dad -- to join you in making a bigger gift
o Purchase a gift card at Charity Choice and then your dad can choose among over 250 charities for "his" gift

There are 1.5 million charitable organizations in this country, so you can certainly find one that your dad cares about. Many of them gain their strength through the work of dads and people working in honor of their dads:

o In honor of his son, football star Doug Flutie started the amazing Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism to improve the quality of life for people and families living with autism
o In honor of her father, the entertainer Danny Thomas, actress Marlo Thomas works tirelessly each year for the organization he founded 50 years ago, the acclaimed St. Jude Children's Research Hospital to cure and prevent pediatric catastrophic diseases
o In honor of his daughter, actor Joe Mantegna became the national spokesperson for Easter Seals Metropolitan Chicago, which helps children and young adults with learning disabilities

There are organizations where you can plant trees in your dad's name, help the environment (such as the Rainforest Alliance, long supported by Sting and Trudie Styler) or take on global causes (Greenpeace - which only accepts donations from individuals and not from companies or governments to do their work). And they are, rest assured, easy to find (what did we do before search engines?!).

Wouldn't it be wonderful to make this Father's Day both special and surprising for your dad? Honor the difference he makes by making a difference (M.A.D.) yourself on his behalf.

And you might just notice how great it feels -- for your dad and, funny enough, for you, too. You may find yourself thinking about, and not just on Father's Day, what you're doing to be M.A.D. every day.