The Importance of Fathers: A Psychoanalytic Re-Evaluation

The Importance of Fathers: A Psychoanalytic Re-Evaluation

The Importance of Fathers: A Psychoanalytic Re-Evaluation

The Importance of Fathers: A Psychoanalytic Re-Evaluation

Synopsis

Judith Trowell and Alicia Etchegoyen, along with an array of renowned contributors, consider the importance of fathers in various situations.

Excerpt

Dr Anton Obholzer

It is now approximately a hundred years since Freud expressed his seminal views on the role of fathers. The time is ripe for a revisiting of the topic. Freud’s views had a major influence on the psychological and sociological frameworks in which the roles of men and fathers were seen in the twentieth century. His ideas in turn were based on the cultural values of late-nineteenth-century Central Europe.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Freud’s ideas were largely overtaken by the writings of psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby in the United Kingdom and by Margaret Mahler and others in the United States. The emphasis in this work inexorably, and rightly, tilted in the direction of the importance of mothers and of early bonding relationships.

From the 1960s onwards, the women’s liberation movement steered a difficult path between, on the one hand, stressing the equality and importance of women, and, at the same time on the other hand, seeing motherhood as a potentially disadvantageous role in the battle for equality. There is little doubt that the new ideas on the importance of women—whether these were based on psycho-analytic ideas, on aspects of the women’s liberation movement, or on changes in the profile of the workforce (which now drew in many more women)—had the result that, in the second half of the twentieth century, there was an increasing loss of confidence in the value of the received sense of manhood and of fatherhood.

Increased divorced rates and the inexorable rise in single-parent families have contributed to a social climate in which fathers, as consistent and stable role models, are increasingly unavailable to the next generation. Even unstable fathering role models are in short supply.

The acceptance of a whole new mode of procreation, ranging from ‘do it yourself turkey-baster’ interventions to sophisticated in vitro conception techniques, has contributed to the appearance that fathers are redundant beyond donating sperm. Cloning and surrogate mothering seem to make the connection between two parents and a birth still more distant.

The picture is not necessarily one of doom and gloom but can be seen as part of a gradual psychosocial development process from a primal-horde structure to a social configuration that emphasises the autonomy of the individual.

There is substantial research evidence coming from psychoanalytic, psychological, social and brain developmental perspectives which shows that early child-rearing patterns do have lifelong consequences both positive and negative. There are enough educational, social and psychological studies available to show that the way in which men’s roles in the family have been modified over the last few generations is related to a significant . . .

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