It is currently about a century ago
since Freud revealed his highly influential views on the saliency of the father
in child development. Freud’s seminal views on the role of men and fathers had
a significant influence on social and psychological frameworks in the early 1900s.
Freud’s ideas and conceptualisations of the father were based on the social and
cultural doctrine of Europe. In the latter part of the 1900s, the work of
psychoanalysts such as Melanie Klein, Donald Winnicott and John Bowlby of the
United Kingdom and Margaret Mahler of the United States surpassed the writings
of Freud as their psychoanalytic interests and ideas shifted focus to the mother-child
dyad and the significance of the mother in the developmental stages of the
child’s life (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).

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According to Ross (1979), the father has
been missing from psychoanalytic and psychological literature up until quite recently.
However, studies conceptualising the father-child dyad and the paternal
function outside the mother-child dyad has slowly began to emerge. It has been argued
that a cause of this apparent abandonment of the father in psychoanalytic literature
is due to the disproportionate development of the mother-child and father-child
relationship as the mother-child relationship involves an initial biological
and emotional attachment that is apparent and easy to comprehend, whilst the
father-child relationship is more socially and culturally constructed and
mediated through the mother’s perceptions of the father. This psychoanalytic
review of the literature will concentrate on the psychoanalytic
conceptualisations about the father as according to three interrelated concepts:
the role of the father in the Oedipus Complex; the intrapsychic role of the ‘internal
father’; and the role of the father in child development (Trowell &
Etchegoyen, 2002). In addition, this review will draw attention to contemporary
formulations about the father in clinical settings.

The Role of the Father in the Oedipus

The part of Freud’s psychanalytic theory
that primarily pertains to the father surrounds the resolution of the Oedipus
conflict. Freud developed specific formulations for males and females to
achieve conflict resolution. The formulation for males to resolve this conflict
is achieved by fear of the father’s aggression; and the formulation for females
to resolve this conflict is achieved by fear of the loss of the mother’s love
(Lynn, 1974).

For males, the young boy is considered
to develop a sexual attraction for his mother, however the father is believed
to thwart his intentions of becoming the object of his mother’s sexual desires
by threatening to castrate his penis. As a result, an inner psychological
conflict arises as the young boy battles between the fear of losing his penis
and the love that he has for his mother. This fear later becomes undeniable
when the little boy discovers that little girls in fact have no penis. At this
point, the little boy is spooked by his discovery as he concludes that little
girls are guilty of such unbecoming desires towards the mother that they have
already been castrated by the father. Hence, he believes that the threat of
castration is unquestionable. However, the young boy of 3 years old is incapable
of fully comprehending this inner conflict. Therefore, psychoanalysts use the
disruptive behaviour in little boys as symbols to interpret this unconscious
and underlying conflict within them. Freud deduced that when the little boy is
certain at the prospect of castration, he resolves this inner conflict by
identifying with his father and repressing his sexual urges towards his mother.
These urges then become so deeply embedded within his unconscious mind that the
conflict dissipates as it soon ceases to exist. The little boy’s identification
with the father causes him to seek to be just like him as he begins to model
his fathers behaviour. As a result of this, he not only learns from his father to
negate his desires of incest, but to also negate any other forms of inappropriate
behaviour. Moreover, the little boy learns to adopt his father’s values and
beliefs and strives to adhere to it (Lynn, 1974).

For females, the resolution of the
Oedipus conflict is not as clear cut and consistent as it is for males. The young
girl is believed to have an infantile fixation or obsessive love for her
mother. However, she later discovers that she does not hold a penis like her
brother or male counterparts and because her inconspicuous organ is not as
large and as outwardly discernible, she begins to feel a sense of betrayal by
her mother and blames her mother for her lack of this organ. Thereafter, she
retracts from her mother and turns to her father in an effort to replace her
mother in his love and affections and desires to carry a child by him. Freud believes
that because the little girl cannot do this, she eventually aborts the idea and
as a result females are believed to never really achieve the resolution of the
Oedipus conflict. Freud further believes that females hold specks of their
inability to resolve this conflict in their relationships with men as they lack
the powerful fear of castration that compels males to resolve this conflict. Now,
once the little girl retracts from her mother in an attempt to supplant her,
the little girl fears the loss of her mother’s love. This motivating fear of
loss of love causes the little girl to internalise her mother and as a result
she begins to identity with her mother. However, since her motivating force of fear
of loss of love is not considered to be as powerful as the little boys
motivating force of fear of castration, her identification with her mother is
not as complete as the little boy’s identification with his father and
consequently her Oedipus conflict is never really fully resolved. The implication
of this is that a female’s conscience is believed to not be as fully developed
as a male’s due to her inability to resolve this conflict. Hence, Freud
believes that a female’s superego never becomes as impartial, unrelenting and independent
of its affective domain as a male’s. Moreover, Freud believed that in comparison
to males, females rarely develop a man’s sense of fairness and ability to comply
to life’s demands and that the actions and judgements of females are in fact
more driven by emotions of positive affection and hostility (Lynn, 1974).

The Intrapsychic Role of the ‘Internal

In modern-day society, fathers may be
absent from the onset or at some time during a young child or adolescent’s
life. There are many reasons for this contemporary phenomenon, including improvements
in fertility regimens, severed marital relationships and changes in the
stability of traditional family structures. According to psychoanalytic theory,
although there is an absent physical entity and emotional connection of a real
father, there always still remains an internal picture of the father. This
representation of the father exists as an internal object within the world of
the child or adolescent (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).

The conceptualisation of the father as
an internal object is a matter of intricacy. The experience of having a present
or absent father is of great importance in the development of any child or
adolescent. According to Neubauer (1989), children have an inborn inclination
to fill the emptiness that ensues the absence of the father with an omnipotent
image of the father either as an optimal representation or as an all-punishing,
chastising representation of the father. 
The urge of the child or adolescent is to not just fill an emotional or
psychological emptiness within their internal world, but rather to place the
father as an existing, significant figure within this world. The representation
of the father as an internal object is not only influenced by the father-child
relationship, but it is also a result of the mother’s influence in many ways.
It is argued that the child’s internalisations and perceptions of the father is
directly influenced by the father, but it is also indirectly influenced by the
perceptions of the mother. It is the mother’s ideals and expectations of the
father either at a conscious or unconscious level that informs the internal
representation of the father. The child or adolescent’s representation of the
father may be further influenced by the relationship that the mother holds with
her present partner who might either directly shape the child’s internalisation
of the father or influence the mother’s perceptions of the father, thus in part
creating the image of the father within the child or adolescent’s internal
world (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).

In addition to this, there is also an
internal representation of the mother in which paralleled forms of
identification pertain. However, there is a difference in the influencing
forces of this development as the child inherently has a more direct and
physical relationship with the mother. The infant develops in the womb of the
mother and thereafter is completely reliant on on the mother for suckling and
general care-taking. Hence, the child has a more direct relationship with the
mother than that with the father as the indirect relationship and internalisation
of the father is in part constructed and interceded by the mother (Trowell
& Etchegoyen, 2002).

The implication of an absent internal
father may result in the development of psychopathology within the child or
adolescent (Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002). According to Chasseguet-Smirgel
(1985), sexual perverts or sexual deviants deny the difference between the age
and familial relationship between mother-child and father-child and thus
discounts the role of the father in the idea and pursuit that he can be the
object of the mother’s affection and sexual longing. Therefore, it has been
argued that as a result of the absent internalisation of the father, the
development of psychosis may occur within a child or adolescent. Such an
absence of the internal father may be caused by a defect in the cognitive or
mental development of the child or adolescent or it may be caused by an
unconscious denial to dismiss the reality that exists between generations
(Trowell & Etchegoyen, 2002).

The Role of the Father in Child


The Father in Clinical Formulations

According to Davies (2015), there is a
disparity between a large body of existing knowledge on the contributions of
the father and the extent to which this function has been applied and practiced
in clinical settings. In relation to this, psychotherapists have explicitly
acknowledged and confirmed that the father is relatively absent from clinical
thought and application. With this point, it appears that the father is largely
absent from the conscious minds of psychotherapists and that there further appears
to be a sort of unwillingness by psychotherapists to include the functions of
the father in clinical practice. Hence, contemporary explanations will be
provided to not only discuss the unconscious abandonment of the father, but to
also discuss the reluctance of psychotherapists to include the father in
clinical practice as a result of unconscious negative associations attached to maleness
and fatherhood.

In clinical practice it seems that the
role of the father is mostly removed from the conscious minds of
psychotherapists. One explanation for this is that psychotherapists reported
that their training predominantly included maternal models of psychoanalytic
practice, hence they experienced a sort of unfamiliarity with knowledge
regarding paternal models of functioning. Unfamiliarity of the father in
analytic training programmes highlights general thoughts and processes that
focus on the maternal function in clinical settings. Another explanation that
relates to the question of the father in clinical practice, is that
psychotherapists have found it increasingly difficult to construct the role of
the father as instinctually as they have been able to construct that of the
mother. The cause of their inability to instinctually construct the functionary
roles of the father could be as a result of the pre-oedipal experience of the
mother as the primary caregiver, therefore psychotherapists seem to provide
undecided descriptions in formulating the clinical role of the father in
therapy. However, research has shown that when fathers are consciously constructed
in clinical practice, they seem to be constructed as absent entities of which
patients are encouraged to mourn and although this is of significant value to
the patient, the direct and adverse psychological effects of his absence is to
be deeply considered and addressed in therapy (Davies, 2015).

In addition, there lies the reluctance
of psychotherapists to include the father in clinical thinking and practice.
This reluctance may be caused by the unconscious hostility of clinicians
towards the characterisation of masculinity, men and the father as malevolent,
cruel and harmful. This persona of maleness and fatherhood in clinical practice
may be related to the role of men and fathers as historically and culturally
embedded in ideas of autocracy and patriarchy, hence there appears to be
conceptualisations of the male figure as insignificant in clinical practices.
Moreover, the role of the father has been associated with descriptions of un-empathy
and violence as more particularly in South Africa there is increasing evidence
of violent transgressions by men as in case of assault, rape, murder and
mutilation of infants, children, women and men alike. Thus, men receive more
negative forms of attention than positive forms of affirmation and as a result
people are not unfamiliar with associations of maleness and fatherhood as abandoning,
domineering, abusive and violent. Consequently, conceptualisations of the
father may elicit repulsive feelings in the unconscious, thus inadvertently
causing psychotherapists to reject the idea of the father and further render it
their duty to protect patients from the atrocity associated with the functions
of the father. Hence, it appears that functions of the father are abandoned in
the conscious work of psychotherapists as unconscious, unfavourable
associations encompass ideas of maleness and fatherhood (Davies, 2015).   



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