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The inner father.

The primary purpose of this article is to examine the inner subjective experience of the father; hence, the inner father. The focus on the subjective makes possible the exploration and unification of two significant dimensions of the father experience: first, the inner representational world of human consciousness as it involves the father experience, and second, the meaning of having a father or being fathered. Present-day research on paternal relationships focuses on the male parent himself, on the father role, and on father-child interaction, often in the context of other family relationships (Marsiglio, 1995; Pleck, 1997). It also looks at institutional factors that may influence paternal practices. Some contemporary investigations also address the child, examining his/her gender, level of development, and attitudes toward the male parent (Doherty, Kouneski, & Erickson, 1998).

The focus of this article is on an additional dimension: the inner, subjective experience and meaning associated with the father. Here, inner subjective experience refers to the ways in which the individual intrapsychically represents the father and the images and attendant feelings connected to mental representations of him (St. Clair, 1986). The meaning of the father signifies the individual's interpretations of his/her intrapsychic images of and feelings about the father. Interpretations are infused with both personal experience and cultural ideology. I enumerate the features of the inner subjective world, particularly those aspects that pertain to family life. I then explicate the attributes of the inner father and father meaning.

A second and related purpose is to offer a new way of thinking about the son's and daughter's bond with his/her father, one that is theoretically rooted in object relations theory, analytic psychology, and John Bowlby's ethological attachment theory (1969/1982, 1973, 1980; Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983; Jacobi, 1953/1970; Jung, 1933; 1959/1968). I draw from Bowlby's work to explore the possibilities of innate structures in the personality that lay the foundation for the inner father. I then draw from cultural anthropological and psychological literature to hypothesize that aspects of the inner father may be genetically inherited. In the next section of the article, I discuss three levels of fatherlessness that appear to exist--personal, psychological, and societal. Finally, I address the significance of the inner father for the practitioner working with individuals, families, and the larger community.


In object relations theory, the external world is known internally through the process of mental representation (St. Clair, 1986). Object relations theorists recognize that the inner world of humans not only contains representations of the individual's present life but images of the past that exercise influence on everyday experiences, particularly interpersonal relationships. These mental representations are affect-laden. They contain the emotions generated from the interpersonal encounters and life experience that gave rise to the imagery. Not only is the remembrance of the event housed in memory even when the memory is unconscious, but the associated emotions are also retained. The uncovering or revelation of the subjective inner life of persons thus illuminates and makes meaning of the observable, behaviooral dimensions of an individual's life and of the feelings that underlie his/her behavior (Ross, 1982).

Cognitive psychologists such as Piaget and Inhelder (1971) empirically examined the inner world of humans, including the process of symbolic representation. These theorists primarily investigated imaginal representation of the external world of objects and the sequences through which the form and content of images evolve. According to their work, the earliest manifestations of mental representation occur with the formation of schemata. These cognitive structures serve as a map of events and persons in the external world and can be generalized. With advancing age and mental capacity, the child forms more complex imagery that specifically represents phenomena in the external world.

Bowlby was initially trained as a psychoanalyst. He was aligned with the "British School" of object relations thought. His work comes closest to that of W.D.R. Fairbairn (1954), an early contributor to the object relations perspective, who focused on the individual's drive for relationships with others rather than for physiological gratification, as emphasized in classical psychoanalytic thought (Greenberg & Mitchell, 1983; St. Clair, 1986). It was later that Bowlby brought more recent discoveries in biology into his psychoanalytic thinking (Schorr, 1999).

According to Bowlby's (1969/1982, 1973) ethological attachment perspective, symbolic (mental) representation takes place using internal working models of the world that include other persons and oneself. As with Piaget's schemata, these internal working models appear to evolve from the generalization of specific events and experiences early in the infant's life. These models, once formed, tend to be stable properties in the personality, and usually operate unconsciously. When internal working models are based upon early attachment relationships, they provide guidelines for the organization of memory, including rules that shape the person's access to subjective knowledge about the self, the attachment object, and the quality of the relationship between self and other. Both cognitive psychologists such as Piaget and Inhelder (1971) and attachment theorists such as Bretherton (1985), Main, Kaplan, and Cassidy (1985), and van Ijzendoorn (1995) propose that the child/individual actively constructs this imagery out of real-world experienced events.

For example, both object relations and attachment theories spell out the process of mental representation and its role in subjectivity or the subjective inner world. The analytic psychology of Jung (1933; 1959/1968) also addresses and offers accounts regarding the deeper symbolic structures operative in human life and relationships. Unlike object relations theory, Jungian contains genetically inherited and preformed patterns (i.e., thought structures or ways of thinking, which shape and influence incoming sensory stimuli). These inherited structures are called archetypes. Jung compared the archetypes with dried riverbeds, which are often unobservable but which materialize with the next rainfall or appearance of water. They are primordial images that cannot be represented, but which manifest themselves in their content, archetypal images or ideas (Jacobi, 1953/1970). Here it is important to recognize that it is the basic structure and not the contents that are inherited, although archetypal images and ideas are expressed in symbols that resonate with humans across history and cultures (de Laszlo, 1958).

Archetypes, although always unconscious, when activated become evident in the feelings and actions of the person. They function as a template or set of expectations against which existential life is experienced. It is from the interaction of the archetype and real-world experience, including interpersonal relations, that specific images are formed (Samuels, 1985). When events and encounters with others are at odds with the archetype, images lack resonance and are cacophonous; when experience converges with the archetype, images support and comfort the individual (Fair-weather, 1981).

Jung's (1959/1968) work is theoretical, not empirical, and is therefore vulnerable to scientific discrediting. At the same time, it addresses an important question about which aspects of psychological functioning may be biologically based. In the behavioral sciences, Bowlby's (1969/1982) ethological attachment theory, which has empirical underpinnings, has already mapped a course suggesting that innate structures may shape and color experiences with self and others. It is on Bowlby's foundation that I believe the case for innate templates of intrapersonal and interpersonal experience can be built, which may be extended to understand the son's or daughter's tie to his/her father.

Bowlby (1969/1982) plotted the path from instinctual behavior to social attachments and interaction with others. It is his discussion of behavioral systems that is most useful for understanding the possible existence of innate psychological structures in the intrapsychic life of the individual. Behavioral systems provide a bridge between instinctive life, which is concerned with adaptation and organism or species survival, and the expression of behaviors such as attachments and interactions with others. These systems are goal-directed; they are purposeful. Behavioral systems allow for choice, in a non-random manner, of the most appropriate means in the behavioral repertoire to achieve the set goal. An example of a set goal is survival of the organism that in turn promotes the continuation of the species.

Behavioral systems are also goal-corrected, meaning that they make use of a feedback mechanism to stay on course (Bowlby, 1969/1982). Both goal-directed behavior and goal-corrected behavior imply an innate intelligence and epigenetic principle in the animal. In other words, these abilities to orient toward a set goal may result from the organism's genetic heritage. Behavioral systems also appear to possess some type of schematic representation or cognitive map of the environment in which the organism lives. These cognitive systems are able to coordinate multiple behaviors, both simple and complex. They seem to navigate the goal-attainment process with a "working model" of the environment, a model in the brain that helps guide behavior to the completion of a task or achievement of a goal. To Bowlby the clinician, the concept of a biologically based behavior system provides a new paradigm for describing the inner world demarcated by traditional psychoanalysis.

Bowlby's (1969/1982) concept of behavioral systems may also illuminate and explicate the proposed existence of innate templates or sets of expectations, similar to Jung's (1959/1968) archetypes, which comprise the human psyche. These expectations serve as the inner matrix for the development of the internal working model and the images that arise and develop. The substance or content for the working model comes from real-world experience and encounters with others. It interacts with the basic inherited substructure to form the image. The underlying matrix furnishes a set of expectations with which the real-life experience must dovetail. Both the form and function (orientation, navigation, and survival in the external world) of the working model also derive from the innate, genetically inherited structures.


Bowlby (1958, 1969/1982) put his concept of behavioral systems into operation in his examination of the child's tie to his/her mother. Here he links instincts (the physiological need for food and warmth) with innate behavioral systems (initially sucking, clinging, following; later more advanced goal-corrected behaviors such as locomotion, language, and the internal working model) to achieve the set-goal of proximity to the mother and attachment (i.e., preference for the mother above other [adult] objects that are in the service of survival of the organism). In his paradigm, it is the need for protection and survival that prompts the development of the mother-child bond. In Bowlby's formulation, the child is born with an innate tendency to search for the mother.

Bowlby (1969/1982) derived the empirical documentation for his theory primarily from ethology, the study of social behavior in other non-human species, and supplemented these data with findings from experimental and developmental psychology and neurophysiology. Had he drawn his explanation of the development of the human young from cultural anthropology rather than ethological studies, he might have constructed a different paradigm of the child's development of early bonds with others. For example, Bowlby acknowledged Schaffer's and Emerson's (1964) research finding that human infants show evidence of having multiple attachments rather than just an attachment to the mother, as his theory specifies. Nevertheless, he did not modify his model of the human baby's early social experience to include the male parent, even though the father was a primary elicitor of attachment behavior in the infant in the Schaffer and Emerson study. While ethological evidence supports the fact that animal young typically imprint on one other animal, Schaffer's and Emerson's work suggests that the human child may operate according to a different set of instinctual principles.

For example, in her recounting of the development of the human family, anthropologist Kathleen Gough (1971) identified the cultural universals that are found in families across societies and under different types of social organization. One universal is marriage, some type of a stable, socially accepted, although not necessarily lifelong association between a man and a woman. Another is social fatherhood, which grows out of the adult male-female relationship. Social fatherhood occurs even when the children are not biological kin of the man, although in most societies, it is assumed that the children are biological descendents of the social father.

Social fatherhood also exists in societies where the male role in reproduction is not understood. Gough (1971) proposed that the father's status in relation to the child seems to stem from the sex-based division of labor and the interdependence this creates for adult males and females. It also results from the prolonged period of dependency of the human young and the mother's need for support as she needs to devote much more time and energy to her child than is found in other species. In hunter-gatherer societies, adult males are always associated with groups of women and children, and in societies where husbands do not live with their wives or children, the mother's brothers and even the mother's adult male children maintain a protective function. Until the development of agriculture where extended families began to live together, most families lived in nuclear family households.

Anthropologist Barry Hewlitt' s (1991) work on Aka Pygmy fathers also suggests that the evolution of male-female social and sexual relationships across history is a principal factor that affects the nature and content of fathering. As both societies and subsistence activities become more complex, males and females assume new forms of cooperation with each other in both economic and family life. With increased cultural complexity, the father's participation in cultural transmission becomes increasingly necessary for the survival and well-being of his offspring. In contemporary society, paternal provision of emotional support to the mother becomes a key, albeit indirect, form of investment in his child. Chisholm (1984, as cited by Hewlitt, 1991) found that across societies, infant and child illness and death are inversely related to whether or not the father is present.

Since for most of human history, humans lived in households with an adult male and an adult female, it is possible that the human infant possesses behavioral systems and symbolic structures that predispose him/her to form a bond with the father as well as the mother. While father lacks the nourishing breast, he may provide other survival benefits beyond the need for food. As noted above, the father most commonly serves as a protector of the group, particularly from predatory animals. Thus, an attachment to the father has adaptive value in insuring physical survival in the face of external threat.

Fathers may meet yet another important survival need. Anthropologist Ashley Montagu (1966) observed that cooperation is a key characteristic essential for survival over the course of human history, and that without the ability to interact and problem-solve with others, individuals in early societies would not have been able to survive. Thus, a high level of cooperation and communication appears essential for humans to contend with and surmount environmental challenges. It is here that the father may provide an important set of skills for the infant and young child. Greenspan (1982) described the father as the "second other," as the one who introduces the infant to the world beyond mother. In his relationship with the young child, the father's involvement with him/her helps to transform the intense, comfortable, symbiotic connection the baby initially forms with the mother into a relationship that includes others (i.e., the father, for one) and that promotes the development of age-appropriate independence and autonomy. Fathers appear to facilitate the development of empathy, and when he is a warm, friendly, emotionally available, empathic figure himself, the child's separation and individuation process is made easier. Typically, it is the mother who learns to read and attune to the baby, so the child has less need to develop these skills in his/her relationship with her.

Because of the ongoing presence of an adult male in human groups and human family life over time, Samuels (1985) argued that triads and triangles may be more characteristic of the human infant's associations and that "... three-ness may precede two-ness" in the human psyche (p. 121). Thus, the symbolic structure and working models of human relationships in the infant psyche may include his/her tie to the mother, his/her tie to the father, and the father's and mother's tie to each other. Psychologist Paul Fairweather (1981) proposed that the inner world of the human child contains a symbolic family, which is an innate structure, comparable to an archetype, and an imaginary family that is developed from introjecting aspects of his/her existential family into the matrix of the symbolic family. It is the paternal aspects of the inner family that I wish to address.


The inner father is composed of the symbolic father, introjected elements of the personal father, and the father image. The symbolic father is the paternal dimension of the symbolic family. The introjected personal father develops from experiences with the first father in the child's life and from messages from others, particularly the mother, about the father. Both of these contribute to the father image, a more complex composite derived from the symbolic father, the personal father, and the introjected father. The father image may also contain and reflect cultural attitudes and expectations about the father (Fairweather, 1981; Samuels, 1985).


Fairweather (1997; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993) refers to the symbolic father as the sense of father; it is also called father consciousness. Because the sense of father or father consciousness is part of the human genetic endowment, it is present in the self from conception. The sense of father is an innate energy that inheres in the deepest symbolic structures of the self. Drawing from object-relations theory that states that the mother-child bond tends toward exclusivity, Fairweather proposed that the sense of father or father consciousness is characterized by inclusiveness and empathy, and is most clearly expressed in emotional sensitivity and responsiveness to others (Fairweather, 1997; Mahler, 1968; Mahler, Pine, & Bergman, 1975; Winnicott, 1963). As noted earlier, object relations theorists also emphasize that the drive for relationships with others overrides the need for physiological gratification, as originally proposed by Freud (Bowlby, 1958; Fairbairn, 1954).

Fairweather's (1997) conceptual model builds upon and extends object relations theory. He hypothesized that because the sense of father is innate, there is an active search for the personal father from the beginning of the child's life. He located the sense of father at the center of the personality, and the search for the father as the primary motivating system in the individual. Thus in Fairweather's formulation, the need for father and meaningful relatedness with others supersedes other behavioral systems in humans. At the center of this need is the desire to be included, to belong, to have origins in that which preceded oneself, and to be oriented toward empathic involvement with others. Father thus symbolizes bonding, belonging, and the experience of empathic relatedness (Fairweather, 1997).

Historically, the symbolic father has several meanings. Father also represents authority, power, reason, leadership, and protection (Fairweather & Wright, 1967). In Jungian thought, the masculine principle, which underlies the father archetype, incorporates the propensity to create systems of law and order, social organization involving hierarchical arrangements, rationality, linearity, and the value of impersonal objectivity. Its central principle is Logos, the word; its cultural expressions are found in government, science, and the law. At the personal level, the father principle manifests initiative, adaptation to the external world, and the ability to form associations with others that are non-symbiotic, inclusive, and interdependent (Hill, 1992).


A second dimension of the inner father results from the child's experience with his/her actual or personal father. In Jungian theory, the personal father is the male whom the child knows and by whom he or she is parented (Samuels, 1985). If the child had more than one "father" or father figure, typically the personal father is the male whom the child considers his/her father. In family research, the personal father is rarely specified, and instead is often the male residing with the child's mother at the time of the study (Dawson, 1991; Mort, 1990; Ottosen, 2001).

In this article, I am referring to the biological parent as the personal father for several reasons (Krampe & Fairweather, 1993). First, the biological father is one of the providers of the child's genetic heritage. It is beyond the scope of this paper to explore the degree to which biology influences human behavior and relationships, but there is evidence that biological parents invest more in children's lives than do non-biological parents (Coney & Mackey, 1998; Grych, 2001; Hewlitt, 2000). A second reason why the biological father needs to be taken into account is that while the culture, or even social scientists, may dismiss him, he remains psychically and often viscerally present (Chiland, 1982; Johnson, 1981). Chiland argues that even when the father is physically absent, he is always present in the mother's psyche. Johnson (1981) observes that the child will always have a father image, even if that father was never personally known to his offspring. (See discussion of the father image below.) In those cases where the son or daughter knew his/her male parent, the child's bond with the father contains a visceral component associated with his body, his touch, his voice, and other physical qualities (Fairweather, 1997).

Finally and most importantly, when other males are treated as the parent, which occurs fairly frequently in contemporary society, then the loss of the biological father must be understood from the viewpoint of the son or daughter in order to comprehend its impact on the child (Bowlby, 1980; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993). Thus, in this initial exposition of the inner father, it becomes more useful to describe this phenomenon under the least complex circumstances (i.e., when the biological and personal father are the same individual). There are no doubt other "father figures," other males, or even females, who contribute to the content and operation of the inner father, but I am examining the biological parent here.

The personal father comes into the child's life biologically at conception. Because the mother gestates the fetus, the earliest experiences with the father come through the mother. I emphasize this point for two major reasons; first, the father is initially the "other," meaning he is outside the mother-child unit during pregnancy. The second point is more significant; the child seeks the father in his/her relationship with the mother, for the first experiences with the father come through the mother's bond with him. The earliest paternal experiences of the fetus are hypothesized to be sound resonances and other body states perceived through the body of the mother (Fairweather, 1997; Krampe & Fairweather, 1993). After birth, the mother serves as a facilitator or "gatekeeper," as it were, of the relationship between father and child (Atkins, 1982; Doherty et al., 1998; Lansky, 1989; Levine, 1993). This does not mean that the mother is responsible for the relationship between father and child; it is because of her relationship with each of them that she exerts a major impact on the child's growing bond with his/her father.

It is the person of the father himself that is the critical element in the child's paternal experience. Paternal involvement during pregnancy, as noted above, mainly occurs in the context of the father's relationship with the child's mother. The social and behavioral sciences provide ample documentation of the way fathers typically interact with their newborns and young infants after birth. One distinct paternal effect is that fathers seem to provide a "wake-up call" with their stimulation that complements the more soothing styles mothers use with babies; the outcome is that as early as 30 days after birth, newborns behave differently with their fathers and mothers. Even at this early age, they tend to be more alert and anticipatory with their male parent (Yogman, 1982).

The father's qualities continue to play a central role in the child's bond with him and his/her identification with him. Mussen (1969) examined the process of primary identification, where attitudes and behaviors are unconsciously "caught" rather than explicitly taught. In his discussion, identification includes the child's efforts to imitate feelings, attitudes, and aspirations, as well as the replication of the model's more complex behavior patterns. Mussen reasoned that this type of identification occurs when the child and the model have an intimate relationship. The child's love and attachment to the model and positive interactions with the parent promote identification. This process is also facilitated by having a model, in this case, a father, who is warm, affectionate, and highly emotionally involved with the child. Greenspan (1982) likewise observed that when the father is warm, emotionally available, and has an empathic identification with his offspring, the child, in turn, identifies with him. Roll and Millen (1978) found that when the sons in their study felt understood by their fathers, they felt closer to him; conversely, when they felt misunderstood by their male parent, they not only felt afraid of him, but they also did not want to be like him. Thus, paternal warmth, understanding, and accessibility appear to be key components that promote a positive relationship between father and child.

While a loving, close bond fosters identification with the father, the process of introjection occurs regardless of whether the paternal relationship is positive or negative. Introjection accounts for the way in which aspects of the personal father and messages from others about him are incorporated into the inner father (Schafer, 1968). According to Schafer, introjection refers to the taking of an attribute from the external world, particularly another object (person), into the self. This is a process similar to osmosis, where psychic energy is then attached to the now-internal image of the object. When there is a strong identification with the object (i.e., the object is "good"), introjection is non-problematic and supportive to the individual. It is when the object is experienced as "bad" that difficulties occur. The negative experience with the male parent is discussed below, in the section on fatherlessness.


The third dimension of the inner father is the father image. I use this term in the same way that Samuels (1985) and Lansky (1989) discuss the father or paternal imago. The term "imago" suggests that the image is not a singular entity, but a composite of many images that are contributed from numerous sources, real (external) and imagined (internal). The father image, along with other intrapsychic images, operates as a perceptual filter in the personality, and is similar to Bowlby's (1969/1982) concept of the working model. These images play a major role in shaping the individual's interpersonal relationships with others.

In Jungian tradition, the father image results from the father archetype, and from cultural expectations and personal experience with a particular father (Samuels, 1985). In Fairweather's (1981, 1997) model, the father image derives from the symbolic father (i.e., the innate sense of father), the introjected personal father, and messages from others, particularly the mother, about the personal father. The innate sense of father provides a symbolic matrix into which the real-life experiences with the personal father can be situated intrapsychically. A lack of fit between the innate sense of father and perceptions of the personal father generates a dissonant image, laden with negative affect; congruence between the inner sense of father and the personal father produces a psychologically resonant father image.

Lansky (1989) and Atkins (1984) propose that the mother makes a substantial contribution to the father image, primarily through her own affective, nonverbal relationship with him. Atkins also recognizes that the mother's representation of the father even when he is physically absent exerts a powerful influence on the off-spring's perception of the father. Drawing from Lewis's and Weintraub's (1976) concept of "transitive vitalization," Atkins observed that the mother can facilitate the emotional presence of the father even when he is physically absent. It is her affective messages that make him present. If the mother represents the father as lovable and accessible, as modeled by her own feelings toward him, the child will develop more positive feelings about the father. Conversely, if the mother communicates contempt for or fear of the father, the youngster will construct a very different picture of him. Atkins concludes that the child comes to see the father through the mother's eyes.

As noted earlier, sociologist Miriam Johnson (1981) observes that while some children lack the physical presence of the father in their lives, every child has a father image. She argues that others' perceptions of the father, not just those that take place in the child him/herself, contribute to the formation of this image. In addition, recollections of the father, pictures, even possessions belonging to the father, and the stories connected to these artifacts, also contribute to the child's construction of the father image. Since the father's physical presence is not a necessary condition for the formation of the father image, children who have no personal father in their lives may also have a paternal imago. This, in fact, turns out to be the case.


Many individuals associate fatherlessness with the physical absence of the male parent from the child's home. This indeed is one type of fatherlessness because it often involves a change in the relationship between the father and his son or daughter (Hertz, 2002; Orbuch, Thornton, & Cancio, 2000; Seltzer, 1991). Fairweather (1997) describes two other types of fatherlessness, however, which involve denial of the need for father. This phenomenon is rarely addressed in the literature and merits attention, particularly in an examination of the inner father. It is Fairweather's definition of fatherlessness that I am drawing from here.

Fatherlessness exists on three levels: the personal, the psychological, and the social or societal levels. The first type is easiest to understand and explain. Judith Wallerstein and Joan Kelly (1976) found that the latency-age children in their study whose parents divorced had a very different conception of parental absence due to death versus absence because of separation and divorce. For these youngsters, death provided a "legitimate" excuse for a parent to be gone. Divorce was a different story. These researchers found that the children in their sample did not believe in no-fault divorce. For these offspring, one of the parents was mainly at fault for the divorce occurring, and they took the departure of the non-custodial parent very personally, often feeling responsible for his/her (usually the father's) departure. Similarly, Madeleine Rose (1993) found that the children in her sample, who were conceived by single women who did not want the youngster's father in their homes and lives, formed an image of their absent male parent as not liking them. In their reasoning, his dislike of them explained why he was not around. The findings from both of these studies suggest that children do not easily accept the absence of a father when he is still alive.

The second type of father absence is psychological fatherlessness and it is more insidious and destructive than the first. Fairweather (1997) refers to psychological fatherlessness as the state of the anti-father. This is denial of the need for father and the need to belong. It results from a void of positive father presence in the individual's life. This occurs when paternal abuse, neglect, and/or rejection characterize the individual's early life. Under these conditions, the individual may develop a protective perceptual distortion that screens out the innate sense of father in order to preserve it, and creates a contrived sense of father in the self. The individual then functions from a false perceptual father center in the self, and all perception, particularly that related to the sense of father, is distorted. This person is unable to grieve over the loss of connection to the energies of the sense of father or to empathic relatedness with others. The individual redefines existence as a non-relational life. Symptomatic behavior results because the individual cannot perceive clearly, nor can he/she feel the need for anyone else. For the individual to be able to abandon this inner state of fatherlessness, he/she must have empathic support for the self (Fairweather, 1997). Often psychotherapy is needed to be able to break from this anti-father denial system.

The third type of paternal absence is social fatherlessness. It is found in any society that legitimates denial of the need for father and father meaning (i.e., empathic relatedness and the need to belong). This society condones personal and psychological fatherlessness and does not take seriously their effects on children of any age who are victims of these conditions. Social fatherlessness can be found in the contemporary United States as well as in other post-industrial nations. For example, social commentator David Blankenhorn (1995) decries the absence of fathers from an ever-increasing number of U.S. children's and adolescents' lives. He refers to this phenomenon as "our most urgent social problem" and explains how father presence or absence is a major predictor of being a "have" or "have-not" in our society. Many social and behavioral scientists challenge Blankenhorn's work, classifying him as a religious and political conservative with a hidden agenda beneath his concern about social fatherlessness. They may be right, but I think they miss an important point; from the viewpoint of the infant, child, or adolescent, growing up without a father has adverse effects--psychologically, interpersonally, and socially.

A high level of male bashing and in particular, father depreciation, is tolerated in contemporary U.S. society. At the popular culture level, this may be seen in Father's Day cards, which typically carry a very different tone and message than those for Mother's Day. Similarly, comic strips depict father as an "easy touch," a bumbling backup to mother, overwhelmed by children, and ignorant about what they need. Regardless of the reason for this denigration, the outcome is the same; many women, and even some men, think that by definition, males are incompetent or expendable parents (Doherty, 1991; Hawkins & Dollohite, 1997).

Belief in paternal incompetence is no doubt rooted in the observation that men do not do things, including parenting, in the same way that women do. Empirical research indicates dissimilarity between both the activities of male and female parents with offspring and in parenting styles. Clinicians can also contribute to the disregard of fathers by failing to recognize the unique contributions that men make to their children's lives. They may overlook evidence showing that even when there is more than adequate mothering, paternal absence can produce short-term effects such as difficulties in achievement and goal-directed behavior and curtailment of aggressive or anti-social impulses, and long-term effects such as difficulties with adult roles involving cross-sex relationships and the ability to work productively (Rodgers & Pryor, 1998).

In her book, Love in America, Francesca Cancian (1987) wrote about male-female differences in ways of loving and concluded that culturally, in the United States and perhaps other western industrialized nations, we have adopted a feminine style of loving as the way to love. I would argue that the same has occurred with parenting; parenting is associated with the traditional activities of mothers. By definition, fathers fall short of the mark, whether by type of activity in which they engage or by the way in which they execute these tasks. Either way, fathers are viewed as deficient (Doherty, 1991; Hawkins & Dollohite, 1997).

The recent work of Silverstein and Auerbach (1999) more insidiously devalued fathering by reaffirming an emerging theme in behavioral science that the gender of the parent does not matter and the need for father may be met by any one of a number of caring adults, regardless of sex. This point is underscored by references to cross-sectional studies on child outcome, rather than longitudinal analyses that could more clearly show how children are affected by a father's presence or absence. Thus far, empirical findings reflect that most children appear to be healthier, more competent in school, and more emotionally healthy when they live with two biological parents and have the most troubled lives when neither parent is present (Amato, 1998; Phares, 1997).

The final form of social fatherlessness is a reaction to the first two. This is the idealization of the father that demands that we "restore father to his rightful place" (Gottman, 1998). Father idealization is also fatherlessness because the meaning of the father described here incorporates an empathic relatedness that includes the mother and recognizes that the child seeks the father through the mother. Thus, the antidote to fatherlessness that is needed is not an idealization of the father but restoration of the empathic union between the father and mother and the place they create for their child. This will bring about the true end of social fatherlessness, according to Fairweather (1997). For this to take place, all of the social institutions, among them the family, the economy, the political order, religion, and the medical community have a role to play in the eradication of social fatherlessness.


The concept of the inner father presented here offers a new paradigm for understanding the meaning of the father to the sell I extended Bowlby's postulate that the search for the mother is innate, to include the corollary that the search for the father may likewise be an innate attribute of the child. My explication of Fairweather's (1997) work addressed the innate inner sense of father in the individual. In his formulation, at the intrapsychic level, the inner father resides at the center of the personality and operates as a metaphorical compass in the inner world, orienting the individual to an understanding of his/her need to belong and engage in meaningful and empathic relatedness with others. Here, the inner father symbolizes and facilitates the individual's need and right to belong to the inner family of father, mother, and child. This psychological place, as it were, houses the self in the security of the inner parents' relationship.

This has important implications for the clinician. Awareness of the inner father will sensitize the therapist to listen for the client's need for and grief over the lost father, which may be obscured by hurt feelings or anger, or a belief system that supports the notion of the father's irrelevance to one's life. The practitioner can support the client's need to grieve meaningfully, to recognize the significance of father loss, and to integrate the lost father into the larger spectrum of one's life. In some cases, this may lead to reconciliation and reunion with the personal father. In other instances, when the parent is no longer alive, or is not receptive to the individual, grieving meaningfully over the lost father may promote the need for more meaningful relatedness with others (Fairweather & Wright, 1967). The psychotherapist is in a primary position to mirror back the need for father to the patient, to help the patient transcend his/her defenses against the importance of the father, and to find his/her way back home to an inner self located in the meaning of being the child of a particular male and female parent.

At the interpersonal level, the inner father activates the need to belong in a drive for empathic relatedness with others that is intimate, inclusive, and directs the individual toward meaningful involvement with others, beginning in the family. Because the father-child bond is embedded in the matrix of the father-mother relationship, Hewlitt (1991) argues that for men in the United States to improve their connection with and investment in their offspring, the interpersonal relationship between the husband and wife may need to change first. His work with the Aka Pygmy provides food for thought for practitioners who wish to sponsor paternal involvement in family life. In Aka society, couples forged a "multistranded reciprocity" consisting of playful activity and enjoyment of each other, along with a cooperative partnership in both economic and domestic activities. Hewlitt concludes that the road to active fathering would thus grow out of intervention in the couple's relationship and not from direct work with the father alone. Coiro and Emery (1998) also make this observation, yet to date, many of the interventions to strengthen fathering involve only the male parent.

The societal level of the inner father principle promotes both intrapersonal and interpersonal recognition of the importance of father for the well-being of the off-spring. At the same time, it focuses on incorporating the inner father and father meaning into its various social settingst--schools, physical and mental health delivery systems, social services, the juvenile justice arena, the religious sector, the workplace, and government, the law, and social policy. While this may appear self-evident to the clinician, in practice attention to the importance of the father does not happen very often. For example, we now know that children who are well-fathered tend to be more successful in school and work (Amato, 1998). At the same time, schools have very little outreach to male parents and often overlook the times when they are involved in the child's school experience (Levine, 1993). Many practitioners in physical and mental health care facilities do not regard the quality of fathering, the child's feelings about his/her father, or even the father's absence as significant factors affecting the well-being of the infant or child (Phares, 1997). In the workplace as well as in family policy, there continues to be an implicit maxim that mother is the parent, or at least, the primary parent. Adherence to this belief has produced a surprising level of blindness to the importance and contributions of the father to children's lives.

The above are all areas where awareness of the inner father in all persons may lead to more systematic effort to seek the father's input with any planning for or intervention with his child, and to recognize the impact of a disengaged father on his offspring when he refuses to be involved (Long, 1997). Awareness of the inner father is also very important in the development and evaluation of laws and social policy around parental divorce, child custody, and visitation arrangements (Kruk, 1994). Failure to recognize the inner father and need for father in all persons perpetuates social fatherlessness and a strong anti-father presence throughout society. It is here that clinicians and community mental health personnel can be leaders and metaphoric elder siblings, as it were, to teach, guide, and point the way toward the reality of the inner father and the importance of father meaning for the well-being of the larger commonwealth, as well as for the individual.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Paul Fairweather, B.D., Ph.D., clinical psychologist, pastoral counselor, author of the theory of the inner father explicated here, and the intended co-author. An earlier version of this article was presented at the Theory Construction and Research Methodology Workshop at the annual meeting of the National Council on Family Relations, Irvine, CA. I wish to thank Paul Amato, Peter Ebersole, Brenda Volling, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments about previous drafts of this article.


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California State University, Fullerton

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Edythe M. Krampe, Department of Sociology, California State University, P.O. Box 6846, Fullerton, CA 92634-6846, U.S.A. Electronic mail:
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Date:Jun 1, 2003
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