The Importance of Father Figures

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Fatherhood can come in many different guises. A stepfather, grandfather, uncle or close friend may be the closest to a real father that a child whose biological father is deceased, absent or otherwise unable to provide the appropriate guidance, love and support will ever receive. Whatever form a father figure takes, he can be a hugely positive influence on a young person.

A Different Way of Doing Things

A father figure can present a positive influence on a young child if he adopts a slightly different approach to parenting from the mother. For example, if the mom is the main caretaker, the child will be accustomed to her style of parenting and her reactions to all the usual ups and downs of daily life. In many cases, the mom is the constant, caring force in the child's life, the parent who tends to every one of the child's needs and deals with discipline. When the father figure takes over, rules often go out of the window, and the focus is on fun. The long-term benefits of the father-child relationship include a sense of adventure and a desire to embrace all of life's pleasures, says psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D. in a 2012 article "Four Great Things Dads Do," published in "Psychology Today."

A Good Example

As children grow older and head toward adulthood, they look to the adults in their lives for advice and guidance. Many teenagers and young adults look to their father figures for an example of how men should behave. A teenage boy or young man may model his treatment of women after his father figure. A teenage girl or young woman may expect the same level of respect from a man that she has witnessed her father figure display.

Father Figures and Boys

It may be easier for a strong, assertive father figure to set boundaries for a boy than it is for his mother -- or mother figure -- no matter how strong and aggressive she is. This is particularly applicable with adolescent males, who may struggle to adhere to rules set by a female, because their natural, hormonal instinct is to use aggression to "win." A positive male role model can demonstrate how to control those typically male responses and deal with life in a dignified, respectful manner, says Dr. Banschick.

Father Figures and Girls

Father figures can have a major impact on a young girl's self-esteem, says Harvard Extension School professor of human development and developmental psychopathology Dante Spetter in the article, "Celebrating Fatherhood and the Role of Fathers." A girl whose father figure truly believes in her will have the confidence to overcome challenges and meet her goals. According to Dr. Banschick, a girl who feels accepted and loved unconditionally by her father figure is more likely to make good choices in her future romantic partners.