Dave is torn between trying to live a life for himself, both professional and social, and raising Toph to be as well-adjusted as possible. He makes it clear throughout that he doesn't feel like he knows what he's doing. He's very protective of his brother, almost to the point of neurosis, as reflected in the scene where he comes home to find him asleep in the chair and thinks that he's dead, poisoned by the babysitter. As for comparing his style to that of his parents, I'd say he's more like his mother. His father, to the extent that he's mentioned at all, is portrayed as drunken and borderline abusive. By the end of the novel, he's a bit more at ease with his parenting skills, in fact taking what can only be called a fatherly pride in Toph's abilities with a Frisbee, and with Toph as a whole.