Monday, August 02, 2004

Choosing How Your Kids Will Blame You

I came across this quote in a book recently:

"Freudian analysis is nothing if not a system that compels its acolytes to render the fiercest judgments on those nearest and dearest to them."

I think that there is a certain type of personality that is attracted to psychoanalysis. There is a certain egocentrism to that attraction that stands out. I also know that many aspects of our personality are genetic in origin, and my bet is that the source of an attraction to psychoanalysis is genetic. That is not to say that people who go to psychoanalysis don't have legitmate complaints about their parents - they may, but it seems to me that dwelling on the shortcomings of your parents is too often a crutch to explain your own. And a certain personality needs that crutch.

If I am right, and genetics determine who goes to psychoanalysis, then whether or not my kids end up seeing a shrink is independent of my behavior. No matter how I act, I won't keep them out of therapy. So I often ask myself - if I've passed on some genetic predisposition for my kids to pay some quack $300 an hour to trash me, what will be their indictment of me? I don't ask the question rhetorically out of conceit that I am not capable of behavior that will screw them up down the line. Rather, I ask myself the question so that I can choose how I will ultimately be criticized. Do I want to be the distant tough guy or the new-age sensitive enabler? It's not an easy decision.

It puts in mind of an essay I once read by Andrew Ferguson on the then burgeoning "men's movement." This was the poor man's psychoanalysis, done in the presence of other men. He has an hilarious passage that I quote here at length so that anyone of you out there who is father to a son will see what is at stake in the choice of how to screw up your kid:

"Tell me about your fathers...", Lee said, and they did. "But I must ask you this - make your comments short and succinct, so we can all talk."

Good luck, fellows! It was an impossible request. One lucky guy from Lubbuck jumped in first: "My dad - I feel a real need to reconnect with the other men here because it was just like his hyperreligiosity that I just couldn't work through when he'd come to me and ..." Good luck John! But it is not for nothing that John Lee is a superstar, a workshop sultan. He vacuumed the fog of loggorrhea that was gathering in the center of the room by cutting the fellow off. He instead suggested the men break up into little groups, according to what kind of dad they had.

All you with passive fathers, leave your seats and come up to the front of the room. I tell you, the passive father is one of the most abusive kinds of father there is. He just won't do it. 'Dad', you say, 'I want to talk about masturbation,' and it's like, 'Argh, I ain't gonna listen to ya.' Like that. You know?


"Critical fathers - really abusive - you all come up here."

"What about if your father was really passive until he drank?"

"Over here", said John authoritatively. "If you had a dad who just wasn't f*&%ing there, just a disappearing dad, you all get here in the center." People with aggressive dads were put over by the window. A number of men had questions about what kind of dad they had, and they inquired at great length. "What if your dad wasn't exactly invisible; it was that you were just sort of invisible, he wouldn't notice you unless sometimes - like there was once..." John put him with the disappearing dads.

A mountain, a Matterhorn, an Everest of grievances! They dissolved and poured out in tears and sometimes in gut-wrenching field hollers. One fellow had to sit all by himself, because he said his dad was okay. This brought John up short. Momentarily. "We'll talk about this dad later. Because let me tell you", John said, full of pity, "this dad - this one who did a pretty good job - this dad is the toughest of all. We've got some work to do."

Meaning: Let's talk. "My dad never taught me how to be intimate with a woman," one man said.

"The men's movement will teach you," John reassured him. "It's going to take some time. You better be in it for the long haul."

One fellow's dad refused to go out to brunch with him. "Ho!" said the other men. Nobody's dad would talk the way the New Men wanted him to talk. They wanted to talk about their feelings; Dad wanted to watch football or read the paper or, worse, go to work.

But there comes a point when the talking must cease and another kind of work be done. The last hour was given over to a guided meditation. The men let their heads fall as the lights in the room went down and they were told to envision Dad in their mind's eye. John's voice was quiet. "Tell your dad good-bye. Good-bye, Dad. I gotta letcha go. Dad left you. Now you leave him. Gotta letcha go." The sniffles began in the darkened room, and then the keening, and the mewling, and then a loud "Daddy!" And then another: "Bastard!"

And so ends my long exercise in plagiarism. But now do you grasp the importance of my decision? I've always wanted to be the okay dad, but as it turns out that could make me one of the toughest of all - worse even then the passive father who doesn't teach his kids to masturbate!


The author of the first quote above, in an earlier passage, comments that the "Freudian psychoanalytical enterprise constituted a politics as well as a psychology, and even at times a moral system. Its morality was an inverted Puritanism that conferred upon the most extreme varieties of self-revelation and self-vindication the status of an absolute ethical imperative. In the politics of Freudian analysis, villainy was unequivocally identified with the disabling impostures of the bourgeois family." And finally, "it may well have been this view of the bourgeois family that commended Freudian analysis to intellectuals the wake of their disenchantment with Marxism ... On the couch, Marxian class conflict was transformed into a contest with parents, siblings, and spouses, while the bourgeois enemy remained firmly in place as the obstacles to be surmounted."

The essay that contained these comments was a review of memoir published by a literary critic who, in her private life, was dedicated to her own psychoanalysis. She remarks in the memoirs that "Freudian thought excited much emotions among intellectuals, but not much intellection. Intellectuals tended, indeed, to voice their opinion of analysis in the language of religion: one 'believed' or did not 'believe' in it." Her husband, also a famous literary critic and devotee to psychoanalysis, received what must have amounted to his last rites in the Freudian religion, meeting for one last session with his analyst at his deathbed.

Perhaps rather than confessing in search of absolution, he simply sat quietly while his analyst assured him, and any higher power that may have been listening, that any buggery he may have committed in life ultimately is the fault of his distant father, or smothering mother, or a combination of the two. Of course, his parents probably had already walked through the Pearly gates on the strength of their own parents' shortcomings, and so on down the line until we get to Adam and Eve, who really didn't have any say in their creation. The blame regresses back to God; there is no need to confess


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