The ages-old father son conflict continues—but in a different, modern light.
PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE DAILY NEWS
Often regarded as the greatest of all Greek tragedies, Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” dates back at least to 400 BC. Like so much of our great literature, like “The Wizard of Oz” which we discussed in the last column, it predates modern psychiatry in its psychological sophistication. In this case, Freud tried to update and clarify what it meant as far as the inevitable father and son conflicts.
In the play, Oedipus unwittingly or unconsciously kills his father and marries his mother, becoming King of Thebes. However, to end a plague, he promises to find the culprit of his father’s death, which turns out to be himself. Upon the revelation, his mother kills herself and then he blinds himself.
Freud felt that the competition of the son with his father for his mother was built into development and was solved best by leaving home and achieving some positive identification with the father. Without too much self-disclosure, it certainly applied to my own development and family.
Though less universally agreed upon nowadays in psychiatry and Freudian-oriented psychotherapy, certainly father and son family conflict is common. Just look at the news that a father was recently sentenced to 7 years in prison after his son played a major role in identifying him as part of the January 6 invasion of our Capitol building.
In the CNN interview of the son—and more briefly his sisters and mother—that I saw on Wednesday, the family conflict was obvious.1 No psychiatric analysis or knowledge is needed. The son conveyed that this was a moral, and not a political, conflict at its basis, and morally he had to identify his father to the FBI. The 2 sisters conveyed more blame on the cultish influence of the prior President, while the mother supported her incarcerated husband as a patriot. The 18-year-old son still hoped to maintain some sort of relationship with his father, but felt the incarceration was well-deserved. Whether any or all of the family have received mental health care seems unknown.
Perhaps this example has some connection to the popular Star Wars movies. Luke Skywalker ends up confronting his father, Darth Vader, who has gone over to the dark side of the force. Instead of killing Luke, his father ends up sacrificing himself in order to try to save his son from the Emperor.
Socially, it seems that we are in a difficult transition of the identification of sons with fathers. The historical role of aggressive, assertive, and domineering no longer fits a society so well as women and daughters are seeking comparable roles in the workplace and politics. Rather, more vulnerability, tenderness, and compassion are needed on the part of boys and men, not the continued attempt by some to keep women down.
How well we resolve this societal conflict will be crucial for our future.
Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues related to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times™.
1. Stracqualursi V. Convicted US Capitol rioter’s son says he ‘absolutely’ agrees with father’s sentence. CNN. August 2, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/2022/08/02/politics/january-6-rioter-guy-reffitt-son-sentence-cnntv/index.html