The Role of Fathers in Society

September 5, 2014

The son of convicted Ponzi schemer Bernard Madoff died this week. As Andrew Madoff's death indicates, you don't stop being a father when your children are adults.

PSYCHIATRIC VIEWS ON THE NEWS

Most of you know that Joan Rivers just died. But, unless you read the obituaries, you may not know that Andrew Madoff died on Wednesday.

Andrew Madoff was the second son of the convicted Ponzi schemer, Bernard (Bernie) Madoff. Andrew's brother, Mark, committed suicide on the second year anniversary of the arrest of his father, leaving a note saying "no one wants to believe the truth." Both sons were investigated as to whether they were part of the scheme, but no wrong-doing on their part was ever found.

Andrew Madoff died from a recurrence of mantle-cell lymphoma, which first presented in 2003. He apparently felt that there was a connection of the relapse to his family's stress-- the kind of connection we are still researching in psychiatry. He once said in an interview that his father's fraud was "father-son betrayal of biblical proportion."

We in psychiatry have always been interested in how to raise mentally healthy people, though the recommendations seem to still be in flux. In the Madoff family, surely the role of a father failed. Traditionally, that meant protecting the family financially and physically, modelling how sons should function in society, conveying moral values, controlling wayward behavior, and helping the son successfully negotiate the Oedipal conflict.

The role of traditional fathers is surely changing. There is more shared child-rearing and home responsibilities with the mother. A "father" can be a woman in a same-sex marriage. So far, the results in the development and emotional well-being of the children in these changing families seems to be as good. However, more time and research is needed.

As the Madoff tragedy indicates, you don't stop being a father when your children are adults.