Father presence in infant awareness: The role of father-stimulated conflict in infant representation and self-formation

Deane James Zarvis (1992)

Psychoanalytic developmental theory and research has traditionally neglected the father's importance in infant development by focusing primarily on the mother-infant dyad. However, the last few decades haved witnessed an increased interest in the father's role. This study builds on this interest by examining how father's presence serves as a conflict stimulus for the infant, promoting healthy self-formation within an intersubjective context. Research related to the infant's early capacity to differentiate self and Other, and mother and father, is reviewed. Then two types of father presence are introduced: reciprocal, which involves the father and infant's direct, physical interaction; and nonreciprocal, which is communicated through mother's representations. The role of conflict in relation to interaffective sharing, representation, and integration of self-estranging experiences is examined, especially as a derivative of father presence. Consequences of father absence are then discussed in light of possible future psychopathology. As an illustration of these consequences, a clinical vignette of a thirty-five year old man who suffered profound father absence in infancy is provided. The study concludes with a broad discussion of father presence in relation to a theoretical integration that includes a dialectical view of the father's triadic interaction with the infant and mother.