Fathers in dreams: what does their appearance represent?

Fathers in dreams: what does their appearance represent?

Like mothers, fathers in dreams can have a multitude of meanings and will be influenced by your own relationship with your father, your relationship with other “father figures” (which may extend beyond people and include the patriarchy or even who you identify as God) and, of course, whether you are a dad yourself. To understand what it may mean if your own father appears in your dream, it can be worthwhile considering not just your relationship with your dad, but also what he may be representing to you.

Fathers may be associated with support, guidance, control, discipline, power, competition, protection, love, sacrifice, resentment, shame, criticism, deep ambivalence or rejection. Often our relationships with our parents are complicated and nuanced. As we grow and mature, our innocent adoration may become slightly jaded as we see the flaws in our heroes.

Alternatively, disappointment, anger or sorrow from childhood may become tempered by understanding as we come to learn more about how the human we call father was created. As we become adults ourselves and gain new insight into the kinds of challenges he may have faced, and the sorts of compromises he was forced to make, we can begin to see him in a new light. Even very difficult relationships can potentially be softened over time (at least internally), as we come to understand the impact of inherited trauma and the damaging effects of rigid social roles many men from earlier generations were forced to comply with.

As you reflect on your relationship with your father, you may discover contradictory feelings. Perhaps he was a great coach and always encouraged your sports but never let you reveal your artistic side. It could be he was a great provider for the family, never got upset and made personal sacrifices to ensure the family was well provided for, but didn’t show you the tenderness and warmth you sought. All these complicated feelings are perfectly natural. Part of the reason your own father appears in dreams is to encourage you to examine your subconscious feelings and gain a conscious understanding. With this insight, it is possible to reconcile contradictions, to lay to rest unsettled issues, and to find peace both within your own heart and also with the man you call dad.

You may also dream of symbolic father figures as a means of exploring what you have internalised about your own father’s example (intentional or not.) The words our parents direct at us often become our interior dialogue, without us even noticing. When fathers appear in dreams, it could be time to examine what those values are and consider if they are helpful or harmful. The voice we often refer to as the “internal critic” may have started with a parent figure in life. Your father may have taught you that to cry was a sign of weakness, so every time you feel upset now, you may have an internal voice telling you to “toughen up”. If this rigid denial of your true emotions, especially of the ones that reveal vulnerability, is making you feel isolated and unsupported, this dream may come up for you to help you recognise that this voice is just an old opinion and need not have authority over you any more. You can open up, show your true feelings and receive emotional support and connection.

Another widely discussed example is the highly competitive father and the internal voice that you inherited telling you to “win at any cost”. This dream may come up to reveal the cost of being too competitive in life — perhaps your health or friendships are suffering and, very likely, your own self-acceptance as well. Some fathers can also bestow an extreme work ethic on their children. This dream may explore the idea that it is okay to slow down, work less and put time and effort into other valuable things such as family and self-care.

Fathers in dreams can also symbolise the positive qualities we see in our own fathers during times of need. To you, your father may represent confidence and humour. He may therefore appear in a dream if you are feeling uncertain or sad, symbolising that you can draw on his example and find the qualities you seek within you. Perhaps your father is someone you look up to and the qualities he possesses are ones you wish to emulate. If you feel your life direction is not going the way you want it to, you may dream of an inspiring father to help you consciously make the choices you need to in order to reach your goals.

Sometimes, a father that is no longer with you will appear in a dream when you have made a significant achievement in your life and you know within your heart that your father would have been proud of you. Fathers may also appear in dreams when you have to make significant changes in your life, appearing as a guide to support you or give advice. Fathers in dreams can also provide reassurance when a decision has already been made that may be causing you some doubt.

It is not unusual for dreams of either parent to appear when you are becoming a parent yourself, or when you face a difficult issue or choice you have to make regarding your own children. As children, we learn by mimicking those around us, especially our parents. What a father does in front of and around a child becomes a model of behaviour to that child as they grow, not just of how a father behaves but also of how a man behaves, or even how adults behave. When children come along, it is no surprise that the subconscious brings out this template for parenting and runs it through the dream sequence to try to give deeply held beliefs the conscious consideration they deserve. At times like this, it is worth reflecting on what it was about your father’s parenting you did like and wish to emulate. It is also worth considering the less positive experiences and what you could learn from those and change for the better. Most often, these ideas are interwoven and complex, but sometimes they can be conspicuously negative. If this is the case, breaking the pattern of intergenerational trauma is the goal and may require additional help and support. Taking the time to recognise this fact and noting the desire to change the pattern is the first vital step in the process.

Fathers in dreams could also have more symbolic and less personal meanings. Your father may appear in a dream to signify more than himself. Father is a term we use in a religious context, serving both as the role of preist, as well as God himself. In this instance, a father in a dream may symbolise your search for a relationship with a higher power or, depending on the content of your dream, your rejection of the same ideals. This is particularly significant if these ideals were taught to you in childhood and you are now questioning their role in your adult life. Your father dream may be exploring your experience of authority with regard to access to the Divine. Perhaps you feel you need guidance. Alternatively, you may feel you would like to bypass authority roles and seek a more direct communion to what is sacred to you. Father dreams can arise to explore decision-making and hierarchies around your spirituality.

You can also dream of the Father as archetype. In this context, the father symbol may be representing the opportunity to reconnect with the core aspects of what it means to you to be fathered or to father someone or something, regardless of your own upbringing. Dreams such as these can offer a chance for deep, personal healing. The symbolic father in dreams can represent experience, wisdom, commitment, support, guidance, protection and unconditional love. The father may appear as a great source of inspiration and comfort, even a deep connection with the Divine, and provide a sense of knowing your place and purpose in the world.

A father figure in a dream can also reference a historical time or the beginnings of an idea or institution that you are involved with. Men still dominate most of the history we are taught, which is why, in language, fathers are often related to initiators, founders and creators. For example, Isaac Newton is sometimes referred to as “the father of modern science”, while the key figures who established America are known as the “Founding Fathers”. If this resonates with you, the father in your dream may appear as you start a new project, to symbolise your internal process of creating something new and important. You may even feel inspired by those you admire who have gone before you, and draw on their example to galvanise you against the challenges you are facing in embarking on something new.

Fathers in dreams sometimes appear to signify a specific quality that is especially relevant to you at a certain time. For example, a father may appear in your dream at a time in your life where authority is an important issue. You may be questioning your own authority or someone who has authority over you. If you are feeling a great deal of responsibility to provide for others or to lead them, you may also dream of a father figure. If you are questioning how much responsibility you are willing or able to take on in waking life, the father in your dream may be questioning what things are worth sacrificing in order for you to achieve a greater goal. If you are stepping into a role of leadership and seeking to inspire people, you may also dream of a father. Dreams with fathers can occur when you feel lost or unsure of what course of action to take, appearing as symbols of wisdom and experience.

Fathers in dreams are often as complex as our relationships with our own fathers and may be exploring a range of issues and emotions. Ultimately, the symbol of the father is one of inspiration, protection and guidance. If this has been absent in your life, you can access those qualities by integrating your own internal father, in order to grow into the best of what it means to you to lead and support. You can make yourself, and those who love you, proud.

It is important to remember that even though you may be dealing with an archetype, it does not mean that you need to be confined to binary and restrictive conformist thinking. Fathers can be gentle and playful, tender and sweet, patient teachers and insightful guardians — just as mothers can be fierce protectors, bastions of strength, vengeful seekers of justice and dominating matriarchs. What we think about mothers and fathers can be as much a reflection of our own culture and upbringing as our understanding of traditional gender roles. Dreaming of a mother or father who displays qualities different to what you experience in your normal waking life can be a chance to reflect on the standard roles you were taught or absorbed as a child. You then have the opportunity to question if these notions can continue to serve you, as an adult who is able to make up your own mind as you observe and experience the diversity of archetypes in the world.

Want to learn more about what your dreams mean? Visit our Dreams archive page.

Ella Palfreyman

Ella Palfreyman

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