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Wisdom, J.O. (1976). The Role of the Father in the Mind of Parents, in Psychoanalytic Theory and in the Life of the Infant. Int. R. Psycho-Anal., 3:231-239.

(1976). International Review of Psycho-Analysis, 3:231-239

The Role of the Father in the Mind of Parents, in Psychoanalytic Theory and in the Life of the Infant

J. O. Wisdom

Here I am concerned about fatherhood and not about paternity. Of course there is sometimes, even nowadays with A.I.D., a connexion between the two; but I shall have nothing to say about paternity in the sense of procreation; I am concerned only with the social role of fatherhood.

1.

In the minds of parents

How do parents view the role of the father? It is commonplace that in babyhood and for a few years it is only the mother that matters and the father is almost of no account. This is something that we have had reiterated by various wise observers and people of considerable authority, and I think analysts and analytic writers generally have largely concurred. As a friend of mine in Holland has put it, the father has all the fun, he can throw the baby up and catch it—it is only the mother that does the disagreeable things to the baby. I have never quite discovered why the disagreeable things that a mother does do to a baby should seem so numerous, but it is taken for granted (so far as I know them) in a variety of western European countries. Again when the baby is upset, it is the maternal instinct that counts, the mother knows what to do, the father is a bit at a loss and he takes the part just of an auxiliary. What he does, he does not do so well, perhaps not even so well as a nanny. And then for some years infants call all men Daddy, and so only the mother is individualized. All this is well known and completely universally accepted and I do not think I need paint the picture any further.

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