Fathers’ Day Metaphors

Happy Fathers’ Day! I hope all the fathers reading my blog are having a great day filled with family and friends.

Today I thought I would highlight a few common metaphors based on the idea of fatherhood. Unfortunately, there are not many metaphors in politics based on motherhood. I believe this is because of the sad truth that politics and government have been male-dominated domains for thousands of years. For example, we often refer to the people who wrote the American Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights as the Founding Fathers because, indeed, they were all men. George Washington, the army general whose leadership helped us win the Revolutionary War against the British, and became our first president, is also considered as the Father of our Country.   We even have more metaphors based on uncles than we do for mothers or aunts. With apologies to the great women leaders of the United States, past and present, here are a few metaphors based on fatherhood.

George Washington - portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797
George Washington – portrait by Gilbert Stuart, 1797


Historically, the father of a family is usually the person who has the most authority and control in the family. Metaphorically, a father is someone who invents or develops something that becomes commonly used in society.

Example: In the 1950s, President Eisenhower developed the state highways now used all over the country. Today he is considered the father of the modern interstate highway system.

The signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumbull, 1819
The signing of the Declaration of Independence, painting by John Trumbull, 1819

founding fathers/forefathers

Former presidents such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson are often called the founding fathers or forefathers of the United States because of their roles in breaking away from England and forming a new country.

Example: Supreme Court justices must often interpret the Constitution based on the intentions of the forefathers to provide justice to all Americans.

World War I Army recruiting poster
World War I Army recruiting poster

Uncle Sam

An uncle is a brother of one’s father or mother. As such, an uncle is usually close to the family and provides additional support. The roles of uncles in politics can be quite unusual. A common way of referring to the United States government is to call it “Uncle Sam.” The origin of this name is obscure, but one story is that during the War of 1812, a man named Sam Wilson supplied meat to the troops. The soldiers allegedly referred to him as Uncle Sam, since the initials U.S. also stood for the United States. A popular recruiting poster in World War I featured a man dressed in red, white and blue who represented Uncle Sam increased the popularity of this idea.

Example: Nobody in America likes the idea of Uncle Sam raising his or her taxes.

crazy uncle

Many families have relatives who are a little eccentric or have unusual behavior. A so-called crazy uncle is someone who is part of the family but who may be embarrassing at family gatherings. In politics, a crazy uncle is someone who causes trouble for the popularity or acceptance of a politician.

Example: In the 2008 presidential election, Barack Obama’s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, who made some controversial anti-American speeches, was considered by some critics to be Obama’s crazy uncle.

cry uncle

In wrestling games played by American children, one child may pin the other child to the ground. The dominant child may ask the other child to “say uncle” or “cry uncle” which is a cue that the other child loses the game and gives up, in which case the second child must yell “uncle” before he is let up off the ground. In popular terms, to cry uncle means to surrender, give up or merely complain about an unfair situation.

Example: In American presidential politics, third-party candidates may cry uncle if they are excluded from debates and national media coverage.

blog - fathers - inherit Diamond_District_Houseinherit/inheritance

When a son or daughter receives money or land from a parent when that parent passes away, this is called an inheritance. In a monarchy, the oldest son, a prince, usually inherits the kingship from his father, the king. In American politics, a president is said to inherit the problems of the previous administration when he or she takes office.

Example: In 2009, Barack Obama inherited a serious economic crisis when he took office.

heir apparent

Someone who inherits money or land from parents or grandparents is also called an heir. An heir apparent is someone who seems to be the sole heir in a family but it is not certain. In politics, an heir apparent is a politician who is set to become the next leader of a political party or special interest group.

Example: In 2012, when Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination for presidency, he was considered the heir apparent to lead the Republican Party for the next four years. However, he lost the election to Barack Obama.

Next time: TBA