Dedicated to my dad.
Ah “The Father”.
The character archetype that often overlaps with “The Mentor” and “The Old Friend.” They’re the male figure, always older, who exists to give guidance and motivation to the hero. Occasionally they turn out to be the villain, giving the protagonist an emotional as well as physical conflict. Whatever their role, “The Father” will be there to make sure the Hero/Heroine stays on the path of good and virtue.
Father’s day has me thinking about this trope because my own is like this trope incarnate. All throughout my life I thought about my father and how I’d picture a wise old sage stroking his beard while giving me advice from a mountain top. He was also my wrestling coach, so while I trained to fight the bad guy (read: other wrestlers) he was there to guide my training. As a person who loves to over analyze things, I often liken the events in my life as story elements, to which my father fulfills the role of “The Father Figure.”
Sounds cliched right? Well you wouldn’t be the only person who felt that way (read: me), but perhaps this is why tropes exist. If you feel this is a bit oversimplified stay tuned, I promise I have a point to all this.
I went to a public high school, which often meant I dealt with some colorful characters. There is something fascinating, looking back at the various cast members that composed your high school life. Like a good story should, I learned about these people and found out just how different other human beings are. In particular, I met a guy who we’ll call Ramon freshman year of high school.
Ramon was a fellow wrestler on my team, two years older, who occasionally chatted it up with me. During one of our chats we talked about our team and he told me: “Yeah, Coach is like a father to me.” In this instance Coach meant my dad, and by the look of his face he realized what he said. Intrigued I asked him what he meant while stupidly not catching on to his nervousness.
“Well… it’s weird you see… I like… Coach is like a dad to me… I mean I know he’s your dad, but he acts like a dad to me.”
At that moment I had an epiphany, but of what I didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t until the next year when another fellow wrestler said the same thing. See, my entire life I always saw my own dad as a father figure, and rightfully so, but that’s not always the case. In fact. sometimes the “The Father Figure” in your life can be someone with absolutely no blood relation.
Looking back on it, it seems like a “no duh” moment but at the time the discovery was quite profound. Soon enough I likened it to other characters in shows, most of whom lacked a living parent to be the father figure. Take Obi-Wan Kenobi, for example.
Throughout Luke Skywalker’s life he heard about this crazy dude named Ben Kenobi (great alias right? I mean seriously…). In spite of the rumors the farm boy has nothing but respect for the man who watched over him and nurtured his dreams and powers. Yeah he was a bit kooky, but you can’t deny the man was a source of guidance and virtue. Even in death the man gave him great advice.
Okay… mostly good advice.
And how about Simba? The dude was raised by three different dads and he turned out okay.
What I’m getting at here is that a Father Figure isn’t always a dad. It can be a teacher, a coach, one of the last of the Jedi, or a couple of guys who save you after being chased by hyenas. The archetype, as it applies to our life, is that any male character who seeks to give guidance and aid can be a “father,” and we should be mindful of that. In the same way an adopted dad and a real dad can love their child, the “Father Figure” trope could apply to many people in our lives, and not just one.
So the next time you wonder if a character needs a mentor, but doesn’t get along with their dad, remember not all “Father FIgures” are fathers. “Father” is less of a classification and more of a title. Keep this in mind on this Father’s Day, for you might have more than one Father Figure in your life right now. I know I will and do.
So how do you approach the Father Figure archetype? Are they a mentor? Are they a good mentor? Do your characters have more than one, or are they a Father Figure to someone else? Any and all comments below are welcome, and don’t be afraid to comment.
I hope you all have had a wonderful Father’s Day, and have celebrated accordingly.