A Father to His Men

aka: Father To His Men
Not all commissars lead through fear...

"Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look on them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death."

This commander cares deeply about his men and exhibits it constantly. A mentor to the officers under him, he takes a deep personal interest in their welfare and tries to keep them out of harm's way. He would never say, "We Have Reserves" (unless it would save more lives in the long run- but expect him to be torn up about it, though he may hide it almost perfectly—and certainly never to make him look better). Staff officers, engineers, and the Camp Cook will be treated with respect and made to feel as valued as the troops on the front line, though he'll not put up with bureaucratic nonsense. He will never lay claim to work actually performed by his subordinates, and will try to pass the credit to where it's due if it is misattributed to him. He will accept responsibility for any mistakes, even if it was not entirely his fault, especially if the failure would result in severe punishment for a subordinate. He often follows up by treating his subordinate's mistakes as Career Building Blunders. And when his subordinates actually die, he will make sure to remember all of their names and faces.

Usually a military mastermind who disdains wave attack carnages and instead will plan so that his faction will have the least casualties possible.

Strategic or tactical blunders are usually the fault of those above him or below him. His career is often handicapped or cut tragically short by the incompetent High Command, his true worth appreciated only by the men he commanded. Or at least, that's the impression he projects to the troops.

This character generally cultivates a father-figure atmosphere. He is a source of morale, discipline and stability. Usually this is through a gentle reasoning tone, but sometimes he's a more strict (read harsh) father figure. In this instance expect a new soldier transferred to the unit to hate him, and for one of the older veterans to take him aside and tell a nice Pet the Dog story about the commanding officer. Sometimes all his soldiers are new; this will result in hatred until the soldiers either survive something that could have killed them, or accomplish a difficult objective, and realize that they would have died or failed without his strict training.

He is often utilized more as a device after he has left the scene, as an idealized counterbalance to the incompetent who succeeds him. This is probably because he's far more effective as a saint, and it'd be hard to maintain such an image when he's actually coordinating operations, especially cursed with Hollywood Tactics like he is. Indeed, an officer who learns You Are in Command Now may find his troops are Losing the Team Spirit over this commander's death—though he can issue a Rousing Speech reminding them that the dead commander would be So Proud of You if they soldier on.

Sometimes he's used to make the troops unhappy with their new commander, even if he is a good one- similar to the "You're Not My Mother" response given even to kind substitute authority figures.

Other times he's a character who gets called in to deliver an Aesop after the soldiers mess up. Or he might be a mostly off screen character who gives the main characters a reason to try and do better, and to be embarrassed when they make a stupid mistake.

When an enemy, he is often the Worthy Opponent or Friendly Enemy. If he's a subordinate, the Big Bad's lack of concern for his men may be a source of Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal.

Despite the title and the use of a male pronoun, this trope is sometimes Gender Flipped.

Most of the movie and TV examples in The Captain are of this type.

Sister Trope to Officer and a Gentleman, and they may overlap. If he is a Blue Blood, he will not care that his soldiers are commoners. This often surprises other Blue Blood officers.

Related to The Last DJ, Benevolent Boss. Compare Papa Wolf and the aforementioned Team Dad. See also The Patriarch and Reasonable Authority Figure.

Contrast Sergeant Rock who is also super-competent, but his leadership style is nasty; The Neidermeyer who is nasty and incompetent; Drill Sergeant Nasty who is either competent or incompetent as the plot directs. The opposite of We Have Reserves.


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  • Jackie Estacado, head of a New York mob family, and host of a being called The Darkness, may not be the most saintly person in the world, but he will show you no mercy if you dare go after his men. Jackie is Lawful Neutral, choosing to follow a set of old-school honor and codes, one of which is "look after your people." The mobsters, in return, have Undying Loyalty to their boss.
  • If you're a Super Villain, it is a very, very, very bad idea to hurt a member of the Justice League when Superman's around. There's a reason he's the default leader of the team.
  • Just about every leader, or just high ranking member, of the X-Men is this.
    • Xavier, the founder, was a surrogate father to both Scott and Jean, as well as everyone else in the original five, he cares deeply about them and their safety, with one issue showing, in detail, every person Xavier let die and show how it effected him emotionally.
    • Cyclops, while this is often ignored or not noticed, has a tendency to be protective over new members, and often acts as Team Dad when around younger members. He may generally suck at social interaction and he failed his actual son (though, in fairness to him, he didn't intend to abandon him the first time, and eventually he had to give him up to save his life), but when it comes to his team, he'll bromance with the older ones and do his best to keep the younger ones safe and prepared. Special mention should go to his treatment of the early-mid 2000s class (especially Pixie, Rockslide, Nori, and Anole, and to a lesser extent X-23), with it being him who noted they should reach out and try to take better care of them. Though, this depends on the writer and how they want to treat Cyclops.
    • Emma Frost is a MOTHER to her men, having been devastated to the point of a Heel-Face Turn when her Hellions all died; she expresses this by her care for her young students, such as Gen. X, New X-Men, the New Hellions, etc. Special note is her care for Jullian Keller (Whose codename, Hellion, was picked for her original team) and Noriko/Surge. She once used Mind Rape on a villain who threatened her students by removing the only positive figure from their memory, effectively causing them nothing but emotional pain for the rest of their cold existence.
    • Logan, while not a leader, is almost always a father figure to young, especially female, X-Men. When placed in charge of X-Force, he takes special care over the other members. (This is probably because two of the members are only in their late teens-early twenties, while the fourth is his own child/clone who is no older than 17.) There's a reason he has one sidekick per generation.
  • The love Doctor Doom feels for the people of Latveria is the one thing that is stronger than his hate for Reed Richards; he would gladly lay down his life or even (temporarily) ally with the Fantastic Four to protect them.
  • Captain America. Any team he gets put in charge he treats like his family, possibly because of his late Sidekick Bucky.
  • Nick Fury during his more sympathetic moments. Special Mention to the Siege event, where he makes special attention to make it very clear that the plan to stop Osborn was his idea, so that if all fails, only he will be arrested for Treason.
  • The High Evolutionary tends to treat almost everyone in a rather paternal way, but he looks upon the Knights of Wundagore moreso than others. (And seeing as he created them, one could say that he is their father.)
  • Headmaster Gentis in the comic book arc Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Ghost Prison deeply cared for his students. This, along with witnessing the Imperial cremation center's constantly churning dead Imperial bodies, is what led him to decide to overthrow Palpatine in order to stop the constant warmongering via a Military Coup.
  • Papa Smurf is pretty much this to The Smurfs. In fact, in the English vocal track of the live-action movie, Gargamel goes so far as to have Papa Smurf say he has 99 sons and one daughter. Papa Smurf himself says that they're his family.
    • And as he claims in the cartoon, Grandpa Smurf was exactly the same when Papa Smurf was a young smurf.
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four is the father of his team. Given that their entire thing is that they're a family of superheroes, this is basically his thing, besides being The Smart Guy above all Smart Guys in the Marvel Universe.

     Fan Works 
  • Evangelion 303: Captain Misato Katsuragi is the commanding officer of the "Evangelion" squadron. Although she gets angry and is not afraid of reprimanding her pilots when it is necessary, she cares greatly for all of them. She even suggested Shinji moving with her as Asuka was in coma.
  • In Iron Hearts Silver is this to the Iron Warriors under his command. Any others (especially ponies) well not so much.
  • Erico's fanverse for Mega Man features Doctor James Cain of the Maverick Hunters, who the troops revere as a father. For some, such as X and Zero, he's the closest thing to a real father figure they have.
  • Col. Edwards in The Return combines this with Colonel Badass.
  • Battle Commander Karrde in Tiberium Wars is deeply concerned about the welfare of the troops under his command. At the same time, he also has to grapple with the necessity of ordering men to their deaths and making battlefield decisions that result in victory at the cost of his troops' lives, which forms a major part of his character's personal conflict over the course of the series.
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender fanfic Three Years at Sea, Shuang the Traitor is this to his crew. When Zuko sinks his ship, he says he will surrender quietly if Zuko spares his crew rather than taking them to certain torture and execution by the Fire Nation. Zuko being Zuko, he agrees.
  • Travels Through Azeroth And Outland has this in the form of Dallard Corwyn, a heroic human noble stationed in the Dragonblight.
  • Dragon Age: The Crown Of Thorns has the dwarven noble protagonist during his brief time as Commander, before his deliberate Zero-Approval Gambit. In fact, even though said gambit is executed flawlessly, his men, or at least one very high-ranking military figure, never believe in his guilt, to the point where said high-ranking warrior threatens the Assembly with leaving for the surface, along with his whole house, unless they give the prince a trial, which they do, much to Bhelen's chagrin. What makes this even more interesting is that they were all proven right when Trian, who is still very much alive, revealed himself.
  • It's not uncommon in The X-Files fics for Skinner to be cast in a substitute-father role to Mulder and/or Scully, and Scully's mother, while a civilian, frequently mothers Mulder as well.
  • The Mustangs are a father and mother pair to the men of both their old unit and their current one, in the Elemental Chess Trilogy.
  • Sulov Koskium of the BZPRPG is a father to his squadron.
  • Big Boss fills this role in Stray, for FOXHOUND. Literally, since FOXHOUND's membership includes two of his cloned offspring.
  • In the BLoSC Fan Verse of For Good, Evil Emperor Zurg is considered a twisted sort of father figure to his "freak show staff".
  • Sherlock Holmes to his Baker Street Irregulars (Wiggins, especially) in the Deliver Us From Evil Series...
    Those street Arabs were almost too loyal to their… oh, sod it, to their father. Maybe they weren’t too loyal, after all.
  • In Empath: The Luckiest Smurf, Papa Smurf goes beyond this to Happily Adopting his little Smurfs after The Plague has removed their parents, with Empath being his only begotten son.
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender and Manga/Naruto crossover Bodyguard of Azula, Naruto is this to a huge part of the Fire Nation Army, to the point that they beg not to fight him when he is buying time for Azula and Zuko to escape the capital, and try to let him out of the prison when he surrenders. He plays this trope again by ordering them not to do it, since all of them would be killed if it failed
  • In the Star Trek fanfic Heroes, Spock regrets that Surak will never see the side of Kirk that becomes upset whenever a crewman dies.
  • According to Momo, Aizen is this in Downfall (this isn't as crazy as it sounds; it takes place in an Alternate Universe where Aizen isn't the Big Bad).
  • Bait and Switch: Captain Kanril Eleya cares deeply about, and is violently protective of, the welfare of her crew. She is deeply regretful that she can't know all of their names and faces since they number over a thousand, and feels guilty when they then die carrying out her orders. In "Last Rights", when one of her dead noncoms is resurrected as a Kobali, she threatens his adoptive mother that:
    Eleya: I will personally blow any Kobali ship that pursues him clear back to the Celestial Temple if I have to; I don’t give a flying phekk what the treaty says. He stays here of his own accord or not at all.
    Lyndsay Ballard: Captain—
    Eleya: No, understand, after what your government pulled the word of a Kobali is worthless to me. I want your word as a sworn officer of the Federation Starfleet that you’ll respect his wishes.
  • Alistair proposes doing this once the Blight is over in the Dragon Age: Origins story Shadow And Rose. He suggest that he and Elissa, being the last of Ferelden's Grey Wardens, rebuild the order from the ground up.
    Alistair: You and I - we'll be mother and father, essentially, to a whole new generation of Fereldan Grey Wardens.

    Film - Animation 

    Film - Live Action 
  • Used in K19: The Widowmaker: Mikhail Polenin, the first captain of the K-19. All his men love him, he takes an interest in them and is a great submarine captain... then five minutes in, he's demoted and replaced by Alexei Vostrikov, who is a drill-obsessed hardass. Not only do the men hate him because he overworks them, they feel that their "rightful" captain has been wronged.
    • Almost called out by name when the Vostrikov is incredulous that the sub's crew would bring their fears directly to his predecessor.
      Polenin: A crew is like a family. The captain is the father.
  • General Waverly in White Christmas.
    Bob Wallace: We ate, and then he ate. We slept and then he slept.
  • John Wayne's character in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon
  • Russell Crowe seems to play these characters well. The Roman general he played in Gladiator cared deeply for his men, and in some ways even more for his fellow gladiators. Captain Jack Aubrey in Master and Commander is this even moreso.
  • In Apocalypse Now, Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) alludes to Lieutenant-Colonel "I love the smell of napalm in the morning" Kilgore (Robert Duvall) as falling into this trope. Arguably he comes across as more of a Cool Uncle or Older Brother.
  • The Captain in Das Boot is very much like this, although he is only thirty years old and the men are in their late teens.
  • It's very understated, but Captain Nemo appears to have this relationship with his men in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. This is a nod to his source material, as these men continued to follow him even after he was exiled from his homeland, where he had been a prince in the ruling family before their massacre.
  • Captain Staros in The Thin Red Line. His parting words to his men are: "You've been like my sons. You are my sons."
  • General Robert E. Lee in Gettysburg. Exemplified in one scene shortly after the titular battle, where Lee apologizes to his men for their defeat at the hands of the Union army and takes all the blame for their failure. His men, on the other hand, refuse to blame Lee and plead with him to send them back into battle to redeem themselves.
  • General Kuribayashi from Letters from Iwo Jima tries to be this, but the other officers in the army have the soldiers still be Red Shirts, and the only one this has good effect on is Shimizu.
  • Hunter, in Crimson Tide, leads from the bottom up, contrasting with The Captain's lead from the top style.
  • In Star Trek, Captain Pike is practically young Jim Kirk's "Well Done, Son!" Guy.
    • And in Star Trek: The Original Series, Spock was willing to risk his life out of loyalty to Captain Pike.
      • Even better - Spock ends up risking Kirk's life out of loyalty to Captain Pike. Now that's something.
    • In the sequel, Big Bad John Harrison is this, as part of his motivation is to save his crew. He even calls them his family
      Harrison: My crew is my family Kirk. Is there anything you would not do for your family?
  • The Guns of Navarone. Miller snidely suggests that Mallory play this part when he's trying to convince Mallory to shoot The Mole.
  • In The Rock, the "being torn up about sacrifices" part leads Brigadier General Francis Hummel into the villainy. It's notable how everyone even remotely knowlegeable still talk all respect about him even after he initiates a hostage/terrorist plot. Which he intended to be just a bluff.
  • Kimberly states this in the film version of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers: The Movie when she tells Zordon that he has been "a father to us all" as he is dying.
    • In an early script, Dulcea said Zordon was an inspiration. If he dies, a part of those he inspired dies with him, and the universe will suffer an "imparable blow".
  • Wolfstan in Black Death.
  • Major West in 28 Days Later is a dark version of this.
  • Col. Keith Davenport, 12 O'clock High. So beloved by his men that after he is relieved of command and Gen. Savage replaces him, EVERY pilot in the group requests a transfer out of the 918th.
  • In After Earth General Cypher Raige is respected and looked up to by his fellow rangers, including one who was apparently saved by him from an Ursa.
  • In Starship Troopers LT Raschyk demands the best, and gives the best (it's implied the "beer and entertainment" isn't something most platoons receive).
  • In The Hunt for Red October Captain Ramius stationed many of his former officers on the Red October and they are willing to risk their lives to help him carry out his plan to defect with the submarine to the USA. One of his officers even takes a bullet for Ramius.
  • The vast majority of the X-Men view Xavier as a father-figure, and he in return treats them like his own children. His tendency to act as a Parental Substitute and Badass Teacher has reinforced Undying Loyalty amongst his students, starting with the boys in X-Men: First Class and extending all the way to the Bad Future of 2023 in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

    Manhua and Manhwa 
  • The majority of the generals in Ravages Of Time but subverted with Lu Bu who, while extremely talented, thinks of his soldiers as nothing more than disposable pawns.
  • Ha Jinsung from Tower of God is a villainous version, as he dotes on his student and subordinate Viole like an overly embarrassing father.

  • The eponymous character of Dispatch's "The General".

  • The Bible:
    • Abraham, a father to his people and at least four ethnicities (at least two of which are extant).
    • Lets not forget God. All of his followers are his children. He guides and comforts them, and some believe he even died for them.
  • In The Book of Mormon, Captain Helaman's 2000 young soldiers call him "Father", and he refers to them as his sons.

     Table Top RPG 
  • Iron Kingdoms: Captain Phinneus Shae, pirate captain of the Talion. As his crew are all outcasts and wanted by the Cygnaran army for mutiny, he is willing to kill himself against an undead captain, to keep his crew safe.
  • Imperial Guard commanders in Warhammer 40,000 tend to be either this or General Rippers. There's one guy who not only remembers all the men he's had under his command, but tattooed the faces of those who died onto his body. This being 40K, one wonders how long it'll be until he runs out of space.
    • As noted by Ciaphas Cain (HERO OF THE IMPERIUM!!!), very, very few commissars are this out of propaganda videos. However, those who rule exclusively through *BLAM*ings (outside of Penal Legions) tend to meet heroic deaths despite being nowhere near the frontline at the time.

  • Cyrano de Bergerac: This trope is Deconstructed by Carbon de Castel-Jaloux attitude(see the quote of Sun Tzu in literature above): He is the captain of the Cadets of Gascony, a nobleman who pays his own company, so he only is obliged to obey his superiors in military matters. He is troubled at the Siegue of Arras, because all his men (to whom he refers as his sons!) are starving. His superior, The Marshal of Gassion, Count De Guiche, asks him to punish his men for disrespecting a superior officer (himself). Using his prerogative, Carbon de Castel-Jaloux chooses not to. After that, De Guiche informs him that his company is the bait in a gambit that can win the battle. Carbon de Castel-Jaloux is completely willing with the plan to send all his company to death because that is what a Gascon soldier is supposed to do. Notice that if he has punished his men – soldiers in an army are supposed to respect a superior, no matter how despicable they found him - his company would not have been picked to fight a suicide mission.
  • In All My Sons, Chris's Army nickname was "Mother McKeller." While little is said about his commanding abilities, he respected and was respected by his men, and was prouder to see them fighting selflessly and dying honorably (almost all were lost) than of going back to work with his father, where civilians hadn't changed their old money-grubbing ways.

    Visual Novels 
  • Hiroshi Kirisawa, the leader of the Special Investigations 2nd Unit in Metro PD: Close to You, is frequently credited as the entire reason that the Ragtag Band of Misfits that makes up the unit is able to function at all, let alone as the well-oiled machine that it is. He's charismatic and dependable, encourages his men to run their investigations as they see fit, and is always prepared to back them up or take responsibility for their fumbles. He looks out for his guys off the job almost as much as he does on, doing things like regularly having the whole team over to his place for a home-cooked meal since most of them are bachelors who can't or don't cook for themselves.

    Web Original 

  • Magick Chicks: Faith Abbot is Artemis Academy's student council president, which makes her responsible for safeguarding its students against perceived threats. And she takes that to heart, as she'll go to great lengths to protect them. This is also seen on a more personal level, such as when Sandi recounts the time Faith took Sandi under her wing, when she was younger, and taught her how to properly control her powers.
  • The Order of the Stick: When standing between Miko and Belkar, Roy says that he learned in school that the commander does not abandon one of his people in the face of the enemy. He was at one point seriously considering not rescuing a captured Elan, but ultimately decided that this was unbecoming of him.
  • Schlock Mercenary Captain Kaff Tagon cares for and takes care of his men this way. And insulting him is a good way to get a faceful of fist from the men

     Western Animation  

Alternative Title(s):

Father To His Men, A Mother To Her Men