With yet another Father’s Day upon us, many of us will celebrate our fathers or mourn the ones we do not. A father-type figure, however, is just one persona we look up to, and as we look back throughout history, we see the value that significant male role models of all kinds have played in the shaping of humanity and who we are as people.

From gods to kings, Prime Ministers to policemen, teachers to sports coaches, along with dads, brothers, uncles, cousins, friends, mentors and so on – the male perspective has a different – and just as important impact as that of the one we get from the women in our lives.

Beyond the traditional stereotypes

Men provide the counterbalance to the guidance we get from the women we know and love and as gender roles change and society becomes more progressive, this becomes more important than ever. Having a balanced contribution from significant male and female role models ensures we shape well rounded personalities and perspectives, are able to develop a diverse set of skills and capabilities and hopefully end up with a complex and well-defined character, and outlook on life.

The influence of a significant male role model starts in early childhood. Having a strong figure for support and guidance increases our ability to form trusting relationships and builds our capacity to interact positively with others. It’s also important to learn that love, empathy and compassion are human values and emotions that transcend gender.

Making connections early

Regardless of whether an actual father is present, there are key developmental stages in our early years that depend on male connection of some kind. This includes skin-to-skin contact, and our ability to connect emotionally with each other by recognising facial expressions and changing tones of voice. As a child becomes mobile and starts to explore their immediate environment, then the broader world around them, the guidance of a male figure provides a safe space for discovery, for risks to be taken and for developing a sense of independence and autonomy. Each of these stages is of fundamental importance to us becoming functioning well-developed adults.   

Men matter too!

Although the role of the father or father figure has been someone diminished over the years, it’s no secret that involvement of a father or a positive male role model has profound effects on children. Along with promoting a child’s physical well-being and perceptual ability, it also improves children’s confidence, and their ability to take the initiative and practice self-regulation. The sexual revolution, blended families, and marriage equality aside, finding a male figure that you respect, trust, and look up to can be transformative. This extends beyond early childhood too! At every stage of our lives, having a stabilising figure who can offer consistent, grounding, and realistic guidance and advice is empowering.

The relationships we have with our fathers - or men that fulfil that role in some way - have special meaning in the context of the family dynamic. The father/daughter relationship is different to the father/son relationship, as is the mother/daughter, and mother/son relationships. As sons and daughters, we need different things from our mums than we do from our dads and vice versa. For sons and dads, there is an unspoken understanding based on the basic experience of being male. Men have a communications style unique to their gender – as do women. For daughters – the relationship they have with their dads of father figures will shape how they navigate their relationships with men throughout their life.     

Time is the key investment 

Of course, finding the right man to be there for you in all of these ways is only half the story – lasting and meaningful impact only comes with the investment of time and commitment on the part of both people involved. This means spending quality time with each other - in conversations, sharing experiences together and in moments that offer opportunities for teaching and learning. It also means being there for each other in ways that are spontaneous and that are not laden with expectations. Times of stress, uncertainty, crisis and emergency are when significant relationships in our lives not only show us what we’re made of but also really make it clear to us who will show up for us when we need them the most.   

If this post has been triggering, a range of supports is available to you in the community – such as Lifeline and Beyond Blue. If you are a veteran, know a veteran or are a family member of a veteran who is going through difficulties, you can contact us at Carry On for support or assistance.