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What Does "like Father, like Son" Mean?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “like father, like son” refers to the various kinds of similarities, both physical and behavioral, that can exist between fathers and sons. There are many different contexts where this idiom might be used, and it can be complimentary or insulting depending on the specific area of comparison. Similar idioms exist which make the same basic comparison, including the female version: “like mother, like daughter,” and the more general “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Experts suggest that there is often some truth to these idioms, partly for reasons of genetics, and also due to parenting styles and environmental conditions during a child’s developmental years.

From a genetic perspective, each person has a direct combination of genes from their biological parents. They might have similarities in appearance with one parent or both, along with certain temperamental tendencies and identical physical traits. Generally, parents try to impart some of their values to children, who will often mimic some of their behavior, especially during the developmental stage of life. The term “like father, like son” existed before people really understood much about the reasons for these similarities, but it does generally refer to the common-sense understanding of the basic tendencies in familial similarity. From a scientific perspective, the term “like mother, like son” could just as easily be true, but societies often have a general cultural expectation that sons will be more like their fathers and daughters will be more like their mothers, even though there isn’t really a scientific basis for such a bias.

People use the term “like father, like son“ in many different situations and for the purposes of several different comparisons. It could be used to suggest that a father and son have a similar hair color, or a common quirky facial feature. Some people use it specifically to describe behavioral tendencies that seem identical, or hobbies that a father and son may have in common. Most of the time, it is used to point out things that are especially notable and similar in a memorable way. For example, if a child learns a musical instrument, and his dad was a professional musician, people might say, “like father, like son” as a way of referencing that similarity. Other terms, such as “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree,” and, “like mother, like daughter,” work in basically the same way and fit into similar contexts.

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Discussion Comments
By John57 — On Sep 24, 2011

My grandson is almost five and there have been many times when we have made the comment, "like father, like son".

Our grandson does physically look a lot like our son at that age, but we are usually referring to his behavior.

He has that some ornery look in his eye that can get him in some trouble. Both of them have quite a stubborn streak and there are many times we just shake our heads and laugh.

Because our son was so ornery, there isn't much our grandson can get away with because his dad has already done it all!

By letshearit — On Sep 23, 2011

@MrSmirnov – I really think that genetics, nature, plays a huge part in making us who we are. Even if someone has never met a parent, they can exhibit an extraordinary likeness to them. My friend was always being told, “like father, like son”, even though his dad had passed on from cancer when he was very little. There is no way the son could have learned his father's traits in such a short time. They both shared a love of rugby, liked the same foods and even had the same distinct speech patterns. It was really rather strange.

Personally I think that our DNA holds the answers to everything we are. From our preference of cats over dogs, to whether or not we are shy or extroverted. It really is fascinating.

By MrSmirnov — On Sep 23, 2011

When I was growing up people always used to say to me, "like father, like son". This usually happened when I was getting into trouble on some adventure I had decided to go on. Apparently my dad was quite mischievous when he was small, and was famous around town for causing trouble.

Does anyone think that genetics or environment has more to do with the way we behave when growing up?

There has always been such a huge debate over nature versus nurture, that I wonder if I would have still run amok without hearing my dad's stories as a child. Perhaps it's best to keep my tales from my own son, and we'll see what happens.

By cloudel — On Sep 22, 2011

My mother has been a professional singer for years. She has sung at the same club every weekend for many years, and when I turned ten, she took me with her to work.

Though normally they don’t allow kids to enter, they made an exception for me, because I would be singing a duet with my mother. I could sing really well at that age, and the audience was amazed.

Her boss said, “Well, like mother, like daughter!” He told me to come back and sing with her anytime. I had several people from the audience come up to me and tell me that I looked and sounded like a miniature version of my mother.

By seag47 — On Sep 22, 2011

My dad died a few months before my brother was born, so they never knew each other. He grew up influenced only by my mother and I, yet the similarities he shared with my father were eerie.

As a toddler, he took an interest in airplanes. My dad had been a pilot, and he died in a plane crash.

Later in life, my brother loved the same bands that my dad did, and he even preferred the same foods. His fascination with aircraft continued, and he began building model airplanes.

Everyone in our extended family always made the comment, “like father, like son,” but they realized how amazing this was in his case. So, genetics has a lot to do with it.

By lighth0se33 — On Sep 21, 2011

When my uncle and my dad were growing up, they had to share a room. My uncle said that my dad snored so loudly that he shook the paintings on the walls. He often slept on the couch in the den to escape the noise.

My brother and I went to spend the night with my uncle a few years ago. While we were all in the living room watching TV, my brother fell asleep on the couch. After a short while, he began snoring loudly. It was so bad that we couldn’t even hear the TV anymore.

My uncle uttered the phrase “like father, like son,” and I started laughing. I had forgotten for a moment that my uncle would have known about my father’s snoring long before I did.

By Oceana — On Sep 20, 2011

My dad used this phrase when talking about our neighbors down the street. The father had been in and out of jail for DUIs and public drunkenness all his life. His son grew up around this sort of behavior.

When he turned seventeen, he started to act like his father. He showed up drunk at school and got sent home. His father came to get him, and he also was drunk.

My dad worked in the school office at the time, and he saw the two leaning on each other as they walked down the hallway toward the exit. He came home and told us about it that evening, and he said, “like father, like son.”

By cupcake15 — On Sep 20, 2011

@Feruze - I read that personality traits can be inherited. I also heard a psychologist say that the same sex parent is the one that is the most influential to the child.

This can really explain why sons tend to exhibit the same traits as their fathers and girls tend to develop many of the same character traits of their mothers. I know that there are exceptions to every rule, but I think that across the board people tend to be more like their parents than they would like to admit. I think that as we age we tend to follow our parent’s footsteps.

By bear78 — On Sep 19, 2011

I think this phrase "like father, like son" and "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree" are really similar. They're both about how people are very similar to their family. So in the second phrase, the apples are like the children and no matter how much they try, they can never be too different from their parents and family which is the tree. "Like father, like son" is also about how sons are very similar to their fathers.

I think this is true, not just because children are raised with their families and because of genetics, but also because male children take their fathers to be their model. Little boys usually want to be like their dads, act like them, speak like them and look like they when they are older.

By TreeMan — On Sep 19, 2011

@matthewc23 - I also have that same problem. The only thing I can think of that can cause this is that I am around my parents all the time and I do not notice the certain quirks or characteristics that make them their own unique person and I simply incorporate these seemingly normal actions into my everyday life.

Someones parents usually are the ones that teaches them how to be a person in everyday society and if they are good parents they do so the best they can, with what they know. In this process of teaching someone how to conduct themselves in everyday life, they tend to stamp their own tendencies onto the person.

I have always thought that this would be a very interesting study to read about and I have always wondered how important someone's parents are to their development and how much of an impact they play on their always developing personality.

By matthewc23 — On Sep 18, 2011

@Emilski - I am sure that there are studies out there that look specifically at how genetics and social interactions can determine a child's personality, but I do have to wonder sometimes how someone can have such a similar personality to their parents.

I am very independent minded and act differently than my parents, but I still share many characteristics that people associate with my family. I have always found this to be very perplexing as I see myself as my own independent person, yet am seen by members of my community as someone that acts the same as my parents and can easily be identified as being their child.

By Emilski — On Sep 17, 2011

@kentuckycat - I can see where you come from in that assessment. I have noticed many sons that act very similarly to their fathers. Certain personality characteristics do define a person and I feel that it is amazing that many fathers and sons do share these same characteristics that make a person unique. I have to wonder what studies have been done to look at these incredible personality similarities.

By kentuckycat — On Sep 17, 2011

I have seen the term "like father like son" used in many instances to describe sons that are either very close to their fathers or behave in a way that is very similar to how their fathers act.

There are personality characteristics that define everyone and usually this saying is used when one or many of these characteristics is used to describe a son that has a similar personality trait to their father whether good or bad. I have seen many instances of this happening and I believe that it is a very very interesting thing to look at when trying to judge or observing a persons actions that you know well enough to know how their parents act.

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