So, I'm new here; and I know the title of my question may be confusing but let me explain. I'm a writer, I've been writing nearly full-time for a year now and I am in the midst of writing a story that has an older gentleman who has taken a younger gentleman under his wing as if he were the younger man's son.

Since both are adults, the legality of adoption is not feasible; but as many people experience in life, they bring people into their lives and 'adopt' them anyway as either Aunts, Uncles, Grandparents, or even secondary parents...

My question is: what would be a good word that would describe their relationship? I thought I had a good word for it but for the life of me I cannot seem to get it out past the tip of my tongue.

  • 14
    Not an answer to your question, but note that in some jurisdictions (including many US states) you can adopt an adult; it's largely used for issues of inheritance, but also occasionally for sentimental reasons.
    – 1006a
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 15:57
  • I have heard that kind of relationship referred to as "found family." I may make this an answer once I find a source, or someone else is welcome to if they have a good link.
    – MMAdams
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 17:20
  • 2
    As if he were the younger man's son or as if he were the older man's son? I don't get this part. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:03
  • @MikeR: Right... or possibly "...as if he were the younger man's father"?
    – psmears
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:59
  • @psmears Yes, the way it's written sounds like the older man has become a son to the younger man. I'm not really sure if that was the intent. Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:03

8 Answers 8


You could describe the younger man as the older man's surrogate son.

This is the relevant definition of surrogate (source):

  1. A person or animal that acts as a substitute for the social or pastoral role of another, such as a surrogate mother.

The older gentleman might describe the younger man as

the son I never had

and the younger man might say his mentor is

… a true gentleman and like a second father to me.

For a single word solution

a person who gives a younger or less experienced person help and advice over a period of time, especially at work or school

Cambridge Dictionaries

  • 13
    The second in like a second father to me might be dropped, if the biological father was not so much like a father to the son (either due to absence or due to a negative presence).
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:16
  • 2
    Also, one might say, if like KRyan said, the biological was was not like a father to the son, that the new figure could be the father [he] never had. Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 2:03
  • role model is another word for mentor -- and is perhaps more suitable -- in this context.
    – kettlecrab
    Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 5:54

You might say the older man has taken the younger man under his wing.

If you take someone under your wing, you start to protect and take care of them:

Ex: I was a little bit lonely at the time and she took me under her wing.

You could also say the younger man is the protégé or apprentice of the older man, who could be considered his mentor or master.

someone who is helped, taught, or protected by an important or more experienced person

Although you act like both men being adults is a problem, adult adoption isn't entirely unheard of in the world today and historically. In ancient Rome men were adopted to further the line of a given family name and often by emperors to groom their successor. In Japan adults are adopted for similar reasons. For example:

the world’s oldest family business, the Hōshi Ryokan, has been passed down through the family name for 1,300 years

  • 1
    It’s worth noting that neither of these necessarily has a paternal–filial emotional relationship with the mentor. Context would be necessary to indicate that. The words alone sometimes indicate such a relationship, but can also indicate a more professional/business relationship (though still a very close one).
    – KRyan
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 18:17
  • 1
    Also note that OP used this phrase in the question, so this is not likely to be the answer.
    – Jim
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 21:43

protégé -- defined by Oxford Dictionaries:

A person who is guided and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person.

‘Ruskin submitted his protégé's name for election’

‘His protégés were placed in important administration jobs; he was on the boards of several start-up companies and advised others about how to deal with the administration'


Late 18th century: French, literally ‘protected’, past participle of protéger, from Latin protegere ‘cover in front’

A protégé is not necessarily loved as If he were a son, but the connection between mentor (see answer of @Mari-Lou A) and protégé can go as far as the love between father and son.

  • I don't think this expresses a strong familial feeling, to me it feels more like a teacher-student relationship.
    – barbecue
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 19:01

fatherly TFD

  1. Of, like, or appropriate to a father: fatherly love.

Paternal: characteristic of or befitting a father; fatherly: a kind and paternal reprimand.

I also think Maybe Godfather would work.

Godfather 2. any male sponsor or guardian.

Although that has multiple meanings so that might be confusing.

  1. a man who serves as sponsor for a child at baptism.
  2. any male sponsor or guardian.
  3. (often initial capital letter) a powerful leader, especially of the Mafia.
  4. a person who is regarded as the originator or principal shaper of a movement, school of thought, art form, industry, or the like: the godfather of abstract expressionism.

My go to thing to do, if I wanna find a good word for something, is type in words in these websites: Word Associations Network and Thesaurus.com.

Hope this helps.


You might say the younger man is the ward of the older man, or the older man is the guardian of the younger man.

  • 1
    Though I do like the idea of this more than my answers, ward is going to generally have a connotation of the younger person being a child or a teenager, or possibly the younger person being incompetent to some degree.
    – Dispenser
    Commented Apr 9, 2018 at 16:45
  • Also, 'ward' just means that he is legally responsible for him, it gives no information about whether he loves him (or even likes him). Commented Apr 10, 2018 at 10:46

In older stories that I've read, the younger fellow might refer to him as a mentor (mentioned above) or patron, although that implies a sponsorship, whether of money or of influence.

"father figure" would work as well.

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