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Present at the creation: The experience of men becoming first-time fathers

Neal Aponte, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation utilizes an object relational framework to explore how prospective fatherhood represents an important transitional moment in a man's normative psychological and emotional development. The interpersonal and intrapsychic changes wrought by this transitional moment are first conceptualized around several related themes: (1) how becoming a father engenders a concurrent identification with and separation from one's father and family of origin; (2) how the process of becoming adult symbolically destroys and transforms the relationship with a parent and how becoming a parent generates an opportunity to make reparation; (3) how the child's birth reverberates against oedipal wishes for omnipotence and immortality yet also presages the limits of generational authority and one's physical mortality; (4) how becoming a father conjures up feelings of envy about a woman's procreative capacity and her relationship with the fetus and resurrects aspects of a man's childhood relationship with his own mother. Twenty men whose partners were in the last trimester of their first pregnancy were interviewed. A qualitative analysis of the interview data was used to illuminate how prospective fatherhood: (1) engendered an internal dialogue between an established and inchoate sense of self; between the self as adolescent and the self as adult; (2) intensified an emotional dependence on their partners, generated a sense of awe and reverence towards their partner's bodies, and produced feelings of helplessness about being responsible for their infants, all of which resurrected aspects of a man's early childhood relationship with his mother. Ten case studies are presented focusing on subjects' relationships with their fathers to demonstrate how prospective fatherhood enables men to engage in three inter-related dimensions of reparative work. Prospective fathers can repair: (1) their own fathers by offering the grandchild as a quid pro quo for the child they have lost and by enabling the father to be idealized anew by the grandchild precisely when the sons become increasingly aware of their fathers' mortality; (2) the father/son relationship as men identify more with their fathers; the experience of prospective fatherhood represents a potential emotional bridge back to their fathers; and (3) themselves as the desire to create a different relationship with their own children and the related identification with the unborn child reflects a need to alleviate the emotional wounds they endured as children.

Subject Area

Psychotherapy|Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology

Recommended Citation

Aponte, Neal, "Present at the creation: The experience of men becoming first-time fathers" (1991). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9207357.