The father is defined as the male parent of an offspring. The adjective "paternal" refers to father, parallel to "maternal" for mother. According to the anthropologist Maurice Godelier, the parental role assumed by human males is a critical difference between human society and that of humans' closest biological relatives - chimpanzees and bonobos - who appear to be unaware of their "father" connection.
The father-child relationship is the defining factor of the fatherhood role. "Fathers who are able to develop into responsible parents are able to engender a number of significant benefits for themselves, their communities, and most importantly, their children. Active father figures have a key role to play in reducing behaviour problems in boys and psychological problems in young women. For example, children who experience significant father involvement tend to exhibit higher scores on assessments of cognitive development, enhanced social skills and fewer behavior problems. An increased amount of father-child involvement has also proven to increase a child's social stability, educational achievement, and even their potential to have a solid marriage as an adult. The children are also more curious about the world around them and develop greater problem solving skills. Children who were raised without fathers perceive themselves to be less cognitively and physically competent than their peers from father-present families. Mothers raising children without fathers reported more severe disputes with their child. Sons raised without fathers showed more feminine but no less masculine characteristics of gender role behavior.
The father is often seen as an authority figure. According to Deleuze, the father authority exercises repression over sexual desire. A common observation among scholars is that the authority of the father and of the [political] leader are closely intertwined, that there is a symbolic identification between domestic authority and national political leadership. In this sense, links have been shown between the concepts of "patriarchal", "paternalistic", "cult of personality", "fascist", "totalitarian", "imperial". The fundamental common grounds between domestic and national authority, are the mechanisms of naming (exercise the authority in someone's name) and identification. In a patriarchal society, authority typically uses such rhetoric of fatherhood and family to implement their rule and advocate its legitimacy.
In the Roman and aristocratic patriarchal family, "the husband and the father had a measure of political authority and served as intermediary between the household and the polity. In Western culture patriarchy and authority have been synonymous. In the 19th century Europe, the idea was common, among both traditionalist and revolutionaries, that the authority of the domestic father should "be made omnipotent in the family so that it becomes less necessary in the state". In the second part of that century, there was an extension of the authority of the husband over his wife and the authority of the father over his children, including "increased demands for absolute obedience of children to the father". Europe saw the rise of "new ideological hegemony of the nuclear family form and a legal codification of patriarchy", which was contemporary with the solid spread of the "nation-state model as political norm of order".
Like mothers, human fathers may be categorised according to their biological, social or legal relationship with the child. Historically, the biological relationship paternity has been determinative of fatherhood. However, proof of paternity has been intrinsically problematic and so social rules often determined who would be regarded as a father, e.g. the husband of the mother.
This method of the determination of fatherhood has persisted since Roman times in the famous sentence: Mater semper certa; pater est quem nuptiae demonstrant (Mother is always certain; the father is whom the marriage shows). The historical approach has been destabilised with the recent emergence of accurate scientific testing, particularly DNA testing. As a result, the law on fatherhood is undergoing rapid changes. In the United States, the Uniform Parentage Act essentially defines a father as a man who conceives a child through sexual intercourse.
The most familiar English terms for father include dad, daddy, papa, pop and pa. Other colloquial expressions include my old man.
Father can also refer metaphorically to a person who is considered the founder of a body of knowledge or of an institution. In such context the meaning of "father" is similar to that of "founder". See List of people known as the father or mother of something.