Friday, March 05, 2010

Can a Boy Be Daddy's "Little Girl?"

The role of the early father, writes psychoanalyst Peter Blos, was that of a rescuer or savior at the time when the small boy normally makes his determined effort to gain independence from the first and exclusive caretaking person, usually the mother. At this juncture the father attachment offers an indispensable and irreplaceable help to the male infant's effort to resist the regressive pull to total maternal dependency, thus enabling the child to give free rein to the innate strivings of physiological and psychological progression, i.e., maturation. We find the roots of the boy's father complex at this point in the boy's development. The reverberations of this complex are never totally extinguished in the life of any man: they remain active and alive from "the cradle to the grave." We can hardly overrate their contribution to the process of growing up, of being a grownup, and of growing old. The resolution of the boy's paternal attachment is normally left incomplete at the end of childhood because developmental pressures of a somatic, cognitive, and social nature outweigh the completion of this task of infancy. Normally, the irresistible beckoning of the latency period wins out. In adolescence, the interrupted processes of psychological growth must be taken up again because they cannot tolerate further delay when the irrevocable termination of psychological childhood is in sight.

The boy's extinguished yearning for the comforting comradeship with father turns into a frightening prospect at adolescence, when the regressive pull to the state of dependency on the paternal savior grows in intensity, especially in case he becomes resurrected as the little boy's idealized hero. This psychic constellation is experienced by the adolescent as an intolerable conflict. I have frequently made the observation that the boy's adolescent revolt against his father asserts itself with more boundless violence, the more profound the son's early [actual or wished-for] father attachment had been and the more unaltered this [actual or wished-for] attachment (usually successfully repressed) had remained in the boy's emotional life. Regardless of how successfully--or shall we say, how normally--the decline of the early father attachment proceeded over time, the tendency to idealization represents a lifelong problem for every man. Peter Blos, "Freud and the Father Complex." The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, vol. 42 at 426-7 (1987).

Blos observed that a son's subordination of his life's work, ambition, dedication, and achievement to the libidinized expectations of his father are experienced by the son as a submissive and passive adaptation. The effort to surmount this never quite ego-syntonic position of a boy's active-passive balance in the mastery of self and environment reaches a crucial impasse at the closure of adolescence. At that juncture this unresolved imbalance frequently merges with associative identity fragments of a feminine self representation. If this emerging conflict cannot be contained or resolved, an abnormal psychic accommodation will take its course.

Perhaps my identification with Anna Freud -- a woman who subordinated her life's work, ambition, dedication and achievement to her father -- reflects, in part, a feminine self-representation: an ego-dystonic self-representation that poses an intolerable psychic conflict for me.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

What does this say about George W. Bush? I'm afraid to ask!