I Will Be Your Father Figure: Biological and Surrogate Fathers


King Sejong and King Taejong have a tense conversation.

King Sejong and King Taejong have a tense conversation.

The characters in both the Korean drama Tree with Deep Roots and Yoshikawa’s epic novel Taiko, the relationships between both biological and surrogate fathers have the same amount of influence on how the sons and daughters choose to live their lives in Tree with Deep Roots and Taiko.

The characters in Tree with Deep Roots and Taiko are impacted by the relationships they have with their fathers and the relationships not only affect their childhood, but who they grow to be as adults. While the relationship is most commonly between a biological father and son, exemplified by King Sejong and King Taejong, as well as Hideyoshi and Yaemon, characters can also be shaped by their relationships with surrogate fathers, such as Hideyoshi and his relationship with Nobunaga. This is also seen in the relationship between King Sejong and So Yi. Taejong’s role in Sejong’s life leads Sejong to work to become a king that is the complete opposite of his father. Similarly, Hideyoshi hopes to become greater than his father so that he may bring his father honor. In contrast, Sejong’s influence on So Yi encourages her to become a strong and influential woman and Nobunaga teaches Hideyoshi loyalty and how to be a great samurai. All of these relationships, whether negative or positive, are fundamental to the growth of the child or mentee character. The fact that several of the relationships are not formed by blood has no influence on the relationship’s impact.

Father Figures in Asian Cultures

In Asian cultures,“”good fatherhood” is based on appropriate use of power and authority, not simply on men’s ability to provide” (Kwon 286). The father figure is not just a provider; he is also a model of strength and success in the eyes of his children. “As a reflection of Confucian traditions, fathers were not actively involved in daily caregiving activities” (Kwon 300). This may cause one to think that fathers actually aren’t really much of an influence on his children. Studies have shown, however, that “children in father absent homes are more likely to have problems in emotional and psychosocial adjustment and exhibit a variety of internalizing and externalizing behaviours” (Allen 9).  In Tree With Deep Roots, Jung Ji Joon states that “they say a monarch should love his people like a father,” showing the culturally accepted importance of father figures (Episode 19). The king, the highest power, should act as a father to his people and act a nurturing and disciplinary figure. In Taiko, Hideyoshi’s biological father could not be the provider and model of strength that Hideyoshi needed, so Hideyoshi went off to find a role model that he could serve and learn from. In Tree With Deep Roots,So Yi became fatherless as a child and was mute because of the trauma. Through the king’s love and guidance, she teaches herself how to speak. Both cases show the extreme effect a father figure can have on the life of an individual.

Noble parent and child of Japanese court

Noble parent and child of Japanese court

 Hideyoshi and Yaemon

Hideyoshi learned early on that he could get what he wanted because of the way people respond to him. This idea was encouraged by his father Yaemon, who let him have a sword even when his mother did not want to allow it (Yoshikawa 8). Hideyoshi discovered that if he set his mind to something and worked at it, he would eventually get what he wanted. This influenced the way he acted around others and how he conducted himself in group settings; he was very confident and not afraid to speak his mind. Growing up with a handicapped father also encouraged Hideyoshi’s need to succeed. Yaemon told him “I’m not great, in the end I’m just a cripple. Therefore, Hiyoshi, you must become a great man!”(Yoshikawa 11). Yaemon’s high expectations for him set a standard that Hideyoshi felt obligated to meet, causing him to search for a master that he knew he could serve well. He also wanted to grow up to be like his father, but stronger, and from a young age, he knew he wanted to be a samurai. He never gave up on this dream and it became a defining factor in his life. Not only this, but Confucian relationships required that Hideyoshi honor his father and fulfil his father’s wishes. Hideyoshi plans to honor his father by becoming a great warrior. This idea becomes his life philosophy of sorts and causes him to constantly look for ways to improve his situation and status.

Hideyoshi and Nobunaga

Hideyoshi and Nobunaga are not related by blood, but their relationship is just as influential as Hideyoshi’s biological paternal relationship. Just as Yaemon taught Hideyoshi the importance of hard work, perseverance and honor, Nobunaga furthered these values by being a role model for Hideyoshi and making Hideyoshi want to exemplify these values. In this way, Nobunaga nurtured Hideyoshi’s growth into a great samurai. Therefore, both father figures, even though they were related to Hideyoshi in different ways, impacted his growth.  Upon meeting Nobunaga, Hideyoshi has finally found a master that he considers worthy of serving and for once in his life, Hideyoshi starts to put his whole heart into doing his job well. Hideyoshi has the upmost respect for Nobunaga and, wanting to please him, he works above and beyond his station. When Nobunaga is preparing for battle he finds that Hideyoshi is the first man ready and he wonders “Why was his sandal bearer, whose duties were in the garden, the first to appear ready for battle?” (Yoshikawa 123). Because Nobunaga is such a good role model for Hideyoshi, Hideyoshi comes to understand respect and taking orders. He still does things his own way, but he has more than just himself in mind now. Nobunaga encourages him to continue the hard work by rewarding him with promotions (Yoshikawa 125). These two relationships, though they are genetically different, affect Hideyoshi’s character as he grows up. Both Yaemon and Nobunaga teach Hideyoshi important lessons and encourage him to become a better man. Their lessons and examples help Hideyoshi to become stronger, more charismatic, more determined and more respectful as he grows older. One teaches him how to go out and fend for himself and bring honor while the other helped him become the samurai he always dreamed he would be.

Kings Taejong and Sejong in Tree With Deep Roots

King Taejong and King Sejong

The relationship between Sejong and his father, Taejong, has a profound influence on the person Sejong becomes. Their interactions are the catalyst for the events that build the foundation of the show. Taejong is a violent king, repressing the common people and killing before discussing anything. Because Sejong resents the way his father treats the people of Joseon, he decides to become as different from his father as he possibly can and turns to seeking knowledge and building his intellect. This leads him to build his library, which is the very beginning of the alphabet that he will make one day. He also forms a passion for saving people after he saves Ddol Bok from the harm brought to his home by Taejong. He is thrilled by how different this action is from those of his father. As king, Sejong rarely uses violence, preferring to talk issues through and to face his enemies and attack them with words. He constantly mentions that his methods are different from those of his father and that he is trying to build a different kind of Joseon. While trying to be different from his father, Sejong purposefully becomes a king obsessed with literacy and the struggle of the common people. If he had not grown up with such a poor father-son relationship and such disdain toward his father’s actions, he may have become a violent king, because that is the easier method. His father’s negative influence had a powerful effect on Sejong and led him to become the great king that Koreans still love today.

So Yi and Sejong talk in the letter making room.

So Yi and Sejong talk in the letter making room.

King Sejong and So Yi

Although So Yi is not related to King Sejong by blood, his fatherly influence affects her growth throughout the show. In stark contrast to the way King Taejong treated his son, King Sejong showers So Yi with affection, constantly reminding her how important she is to his letter-making project. Because he shows her so much love, So Yi grows very loyal to the king and his cause, even putting them before her own life. Sejong’s passion for his project begins to influence So Yi and she soon develops a very similar passion that drives all of the decisions she makes. She cites the influence of King Sejong herself, commenting to Chae Yun that if the queen had not saved her and brought her to the palace, she would be a very different person, perhaps part of Hidden Root. But because she has spent so much time with the king and he acts as a surrogate father figure to her, she becomes obsessed with his vision for Joseon and commits her life to it. In this way, Sejong’s influence is a positive one, encouraging So Yi to become passionate and to work toward the greater good.

In her article “Fathers and Daughters: Paternal Influence among Korean Women in Politics,” Sarah Soh Chunghee notes that relationships with their fathers allow women to gain understanding of the human psyche and political success (Chunghee 54). The image of the father in the Korean family has been one of an aloof disciplinarian (Chunghee 64). Contrary to this, Sejong acts as a nurturing paternal influence in So Yi’s life and this is important because “nurturant fathers can help their daughters to acquire appropriate psychological characteristics and social attitudes to be successful in male-dominated public life” (Chunghee 69). Through Sejong’s influence, So Yi becomes a very powerful political character in Sejong’s government. Through him she learns passion and how to work for a great cause. The nurturing father is not necessarily the one the woman was born to. In the absence of her biological father, Sejong becomes a powerful role model and nurturer in So Yi’s life. A paternal influence, whether related by blood or created by adoption, forms who a woman becomes and can encourage her to become very influential and powerful.

Informal Adoption

The type of relationship represented by those between Hideyoshi and Nobunaga and between So Yi and King Sejong is very common in Asian cultures. The adoption of adults is a very accepted practice and is not looked at as odd in Asian cultures. In Asian cultures, and Japan especially, “informal adoption has been widely used throughout history because it permits temporary shifts in family composition in order to meet special needs” (Bryant 299).  Both Nobunaga’s adoption of Hideyoshi as a samurai and Sejong’s adoption of So Yi as an important part of his letter project, are adoptions that are different from the normal meaning of the term. They are informally adopted because the father figures that take them in have something to teach them, or have some use for them. Nobunaga sees Hideyoshi’s potential and takes him on as an important part of his house. Similarly, Sejong notices So Yi’s intellect and asks for her help in his letter-making project. Neither character is officially adopted by his or her father figure, but they become an indispensable part of the father figures’ lives and they form mentor relationships through their informal adoptions. These relationships show that while blood father-son relationships were highly values in Confucian tradition, surrogate father-son relationships can be just as powerful.


Although it is easy to acknowledge the influence of a biological father on a character’s development, it is important to consider the surrogate relationships as well. Surrogate fathers act as role models and teachers and can form how the character thinks and who they grow to be.

Father Figure: some mood music for your enjoyment



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Bryant, Taimie L. “Sons and Lovers: Adoption in Japan”. The American Journal of Comparative Law 38.2 (1990): 299-336.

Chunghee, Sarah Soh. “Fathers and Daughters: Paternal Influence among Korean Women in Politics”. Ethos 21.1 (1993): 53-78. Web.

Tree with Deep Roots. SBS. South Korea. 5 Oct. 2011. Television.

Yoshikawa, Eiji. Taiko. Kodansha International, Ltd., 1992. Print.



The Talking Cupboard. “[RECAP] TREE WITH DEEP ROOTS – EPISODE 3”.The Talking Cupboard. WordPress. Web. 14 April 2014.

Jyuluck-Do Corporation, Online Fine Art Store. “Father & Child of Japanese Ancient Court Noble.” jyuluck-do.com. Web. 1 May 2014. 
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