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Busch, F. (1999). What Men Want: Mothers, Fathers, And Manhood: John Munder Ross. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994, 252 pp., $29.95.. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 47(1):270-271.
(1999). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 47(1):270-271
What Men Want: Mothers, Fathers, And Manhood: John Munder Ross. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994, 252 pp., $29.95.
Review by: Fred Busch
The issues covered here by John Munder Ross include men's wishes to have babies; fathering as a developmental step for men; the importance of fathering for children, both in their identity as males and females and in the development of the capacity to love; the legacy of men's hostility, especially toward their children; and men's ambivalence over discovering the femininity within themselves, including its consequences for conflicts over loving and fathering. All of these issues are presented within a framework of multiple causation that involves unconscious fantasies and their instinctual derivatives, interpersonal dynamics, cognitive and affective development, and social factors. It is a complex model of human development, with multiple hues and rich textures.
More than half the book investigates the adaptational and developmental issues associated with fathering. Infants react differentially to fathers earlier than had been thought, with the paternal role usually being more animated than comfortable. During the early phases of life, the father offers an important alternative to the mother, which aids in separation and rapprochement. The father's role in the development of core gender identity in children of both sexes seems critical, based on his active, empathic involvement with them during the latter stages of toddlerhood through the oedipal phase. Ross suggests that the father's physical and emotional availability to his son, and to the child's mother, has a wide-ranging effect on the son's attitude toward sex as an act of love within a context of familial sharing, as opposed to a self-serving, aggressive act isolated from familial love. Paternal absence brings about rage and projection, which color the child's representations of the missing father. Ross brilliantly reinterprets the Oedipus myth as a case of intergenerational child abuse. He suggests that what most psychoanalytic writers have ignored is Laius' active part in the narrative. Oedipus' fate is seen not only as a representation of a four-year-old's psychic fixation, but as the result of generations of bad parenting. Ross takes us through the prehistory of the myth, leading to the suggestion that Laius' fate as a murderous father, and Oedipus' as the murderer of his father, was set on course with crimes committed against children by previous generations.
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