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What is a Surrogate Father?

By Tom Pedersen ; Updated April 18, 2017
A father figure plays an important role in childhood development.

A surrogate father is a person who provides male role modeling and parental guidance to a child, as distinct from the biological father. The word "surrogate" means to take the place of, and in that respect a surrogate father is a father figure, the basic necessities and material obligations to the child not withstanding. The emotional impact of a male role model towards childhood development is heavily documented.

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Surrogate Legal Definition

"Surrogate father" has no distinct legal definition unlike that of a "surrogate mother," defined by uslegal.com as a woman who "carries and gives birth to the child of another woman ... by way of a pre-arranged legal contract."

"Surrogate father" is a male mentoring role, not a legal one. A surrogate father isn't limited by a legal or medical definition because it is an intentional, not obligatory, presence in the child's life.

Step or Foster Father

Surrogate fathers can be part of a family dynamic, or external from it.

Male roles such as stepfather or foster father can be surrogate fathers, but they are not interchangeable. Stepfathers and foster fathers can provide that father figure presence, but a surrogate father is inherently focused on the well being and development of the child; not marriage to the mother, and not as a paid duty of the welfare state.


A surrogate father assumes some of the emotional stewardship of the child through his formative years. Though the opportunity for influence on a child is greatest when living together, a surrogate father can also be outside the family home. He can be a relative, friend or neighbor.

Father Figure Interaction

Children benefit from daily interaction with trusted male role models.

Even a few minutes of interaction with a trusted male role model on a consistent basis has a positive impact on children. A 2006 study by the U.S. Census Bureau regarding father involvement and child well-being determined that children who talked or played with their father at least once per day and children who were praised by their father once per day were more likely to become involved in gifted academic programs, not be expelled or suspended, and never repeat a grade. For children without fathers, the attention and presence of a surrogate father in their lives is profound.

Big Brothers Big Sisters Foundation

Mentor relationships are valuable for every child.

The old proverb "it takes a village to raise a child" is apt, as men can singularly or collectively provide that surrogate father presence to children in their extended family or community. Perhaps the best example of this on a formal scale is The Big Brothers Big Sisters Charity Foundation, which seeks to provide mentoring and support through one-on-one relationships between role models and youth.

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About the Author

Tom Pedersen started writing in 1995. His work includes two plays for Celebrations Dinner Theater in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and published articles on various websites. His topics of interest include philosophy, religion, business and politics. Pedersen has a Bachelor of Arts in English and political science from the University of Alberta.

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