Father figure

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A father figure is usually an older man, normally one with power, authority, or strength, with whom one can identify on a deeply psychological level and who generates emotions generally felt towards one's father. Despite the literal term "father figure", the role of a father figure is not limited to the biological parent of a person (especially a child), but may be played by uncles, grandfathers, elder brothers, family friends, or others.[1]

Several studies have suggested that positive father figures (whether biological or not) are generally associated with healthy child development,[2] both in boys and in girls.[3]


The International Dictionary of Psychology defines "father figure" as "A man to whom a person looks up and whom he treats like a father."[4] The APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology offers a more extensive definition: "a substitute for a person's biological father, who performs typical paternal functions and serves as an object of identification and attachment. [Father figures] may include such individuals as adoptive fathers, stepfathers, older brothers, teachers and others." This dictionary goes on to state that the term is synonymous with father surrogate and surrogate father.[5] The former definition suggests that the term applies to any man, while the latter excludes biological fathers.

Significance in child development[edit]

As a primary caregiver, a father or father-figure fills a key role in a child's life. Attachment theory offers some insight into how children relate to their fathers, and when they seek out a separate "father figure." According to a 2010 study by Posada and Kaloustian, the way that an infant models their attachment to their caregiver has a direct impact on how the infant responds to other people.[6] These attachment-driven responses may persist throughout life.

Studies by Parke and Clark-Stewart (2011) and Lamb (2010) have shown that fathers are more likely than mothers to engage in rough-and-tumble play with children.[7]

Other functions a father figure can provide include: helping establish personal boundaries between mother and child;[8] promoting self-discipline, teamwork and a sense of gender identity;[9] offering a window into the wider world;[10] and providing opportunities for both idealisation and its realistic working-through.[11]


Studies have shown that a lack of a father figure in a child's life can have severe negative psychological impacts upon a child's personality and psychology,[12] whereas positive father figures have a significant role in a child's development.

Cultural aspects[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ M. E. Lamb ed., The Role of the Father in Child Development (2010) p. 388
  2. ^ Science news
  3. ^ Daughters need fathers, too
  4. ^ Sutherland, Stuart. The International Dictionary of Psychology. 2nd. ed. New York: Macmillan Press, 1996. 166. Print.
  5. ^ American Psychological Association. APA Concise Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2009. 189. Print.
  6. ^ Santrock, John W. Children. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013. 218. Print.
  7. ^ Santrock, John W. Children. 12th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013. 225. Print.
  8. ^ Robin Skynner/John Cleese, Families and how to survive them (1994) p. 196-9
  9. ^ Skynner, p. 21-2, p. 199-201 and p. 244-6
  10. ^ D. W. Winnicott, The Child, the Family, and the Outside World (1973) p. 115-6
  11. ^ Winnicott, p. 116-7
  12. ^ L. L. Dunlap, What All Children Need (2004) p. 79
  13. ^ D. N. Tutoo, Educational Psychology (1998) p. 476
  14. ^ Antonia Fraser, Perilous Question (London 2013) p. 130 and p. 175-6
  15. ^ Lana A. Whited, The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter (2004) p. 110-2
  16. ^ Quoted in V. Glendinning, Leonard Woolf (2006) p. 289
  17. ^ Jann Wenner, Lennon Remembers (Penguin 1975) p. 185