I am of the mind that children don’t need a “mother figure” or a “father figure” to grow up and become a “whole” person. I believe that everybody needs strong parental figures, regardless of their gender.
That being said, fiction loves its father figures. Absentee dads or orphaned children offer the perfect setting for a man to sweep in and set some ground rules or help the protagonist and supporting characters flourish into their own. Here are three types of father figures one might encounter in fiction (Ok, mostly TV; I don’t really watch movies, ok? Sorry Gabby).
Exhibit A: The Reluctant Surrogate Parent
Perhaps a little reluctantly, this father figure ends up with a rag-tag bunch of kids that most often than not exhibit supernatural traits. This man will hold some sort of authority over the kids (a teacher, or, say, a librarian), and will feel obligated to guide them on the righteous path. A dark past and a broody personality are mandatory if one is to embody the “reluctant surrogate parent”. This person will try more than once to distance themselves from their protégés, but will always come back because they love them more than life itself. A near-constant source of comfort, they are not above some tough love to get their message understood. But underneath it all, they are big softies.
Typical “Reluctant surrogate parents”: Rupert Giles (Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Alaric Saltzman (The Vampire Diaries)
Exhibit B: The Authoritarian
This man holds definite authority over a clearly defined group of young people. They either take their position very seriously (for example, a coach of a sports team), or have to take it seriously (for example, a commander of an army unit). They build their life around the “tough love” motto, and expect the world from their underlings because they understand on a deep level the amount of potential that each of them possess. They love unconditionally, though they hide it, and if you betray their trust, you will live to regret it for the rest of your life. On rare occasions, though, they’ll sit down with you and open up about how much you mean to them; on those occasions, the Earth will stop spinning for a few seconds. If they have children of their own, they will struggle to adapt their parenting style, and find much comfort in the rules that guide their everyday lives.
Typical “Authoritarians”: Commander Adama (Battlestar Galactica), Coach Taylor (Friday Night Lights)
Exhibit C: The Kooky Grandfather
Usually, these men don’t really realize that they are father figures. They can be a bit kooky; this might manifest in a sugar addiction or a life’s desire to hold a pair of socks. Despite this, they are very wise and have gone through many hardships in their lives. When they speak about something important or meaningful to them, they command respect without asking for it. Most of all, they don’t belittle or patronize their surrogate children as they highly appreciate the children’s surplus of innocence and creativity. The kooky grandfathers have a habit of wanting to save the world, and will do everything in their power to protect those they love, even if it means giving up their lives to do so. They accept that life will go on through their protégés, and will die happy in knowing that they helped make the world a better place.
Typical “Kooky grandfathers”: Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Dr. Walter Bishop (Fringe), Dr. Deaton (Teen Wolf)