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Clifton Edward Watkins

Over the course of the past century, the dominant psychoanalytic paradigm for understanding boyhood and male gender identity development has been grounded in two complementary visions: Freud’s original formulations and, later, the propositions of Ralph Greenson and Robert Stoller. Each of those visions, history suggests, contain a certain harshness, rigidity, and fixity about gender roles and can even be seen as supporting an unhealthy bifurcation between male and female. In the last generation of psychoanalytic scholarship, a viable alternative vision about boyhood and “boys becoming men”—what I term the “post-structuralist psychoanalytic view”—has emerged and increasingly gained structure, definition, and traction. In this paper, I identify some of the important elements of that evolving vision (still very much a work in progress), review briefly three robust areas of current post-structural focus, and consider some of the differences between past and present conceptualizations. While not ignoring pathology and dysfunction, the post-structural psychoanalytic vision also gives voice to health and function, variation and differentiation, creation and construction, and “more life”; it can be seen as a reclamation of the positive and a celebration of the infinite hope, promise, and possibility of all that is boys and boyhood.

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The Father in the Boy

On Roles, Goals, and Imagos in Boyhood—An Evolving Psychoanalytic Vision

Clifton Edward Watkins

The psychoanalytic vision of the father-son relationship, for far too long, remained yoked to patrifocal, patriarchal, phallocentric, and heteronormative biases. Fathers were seen as the paragons of masculinity, providing their sons with rescue and salvation from the sinister specter of enmeshment with and engulfment by mother. Only in the last approximate 25 to 30 years have we seen a significant shift in that vision of fathers begin to occur in psychoanalysis. In this paper, I consider some of the essentials that appear to now define that ever-evolving psychoanalytic vision of fathers. Some ways in which fathers seemingly contribute to boys’ development will be examined, and the roles, goals, and imagos that characterize the father-son relationship during boyhood will be accentuated. This current vision, still very much a work in progress, reflects earnest efforts to contemporize an antiquated and gender biased psychoanalytic perspective and render it relevant for the twenty-first century father, fathering, and father-son relationship. Upending psychoanalytic overemphases on pathology, misery, and negativity, it is an optimistic iconoclasm that challenges and questions tradition, proposes an alternative path to explanatory possibilities and conceptualizations, and above all else, embraces and celebrates “more life,” joy, happiness, health, and positivity in fathering.