April 26, 2002 (Ira Pilgrim)


How many hopes and fears, how many ardent wishes and anxious apprehensions are twisted together in the threads that connect the parent with the child!

Samuel Griswold Goodrich

When I lived in Salt Lake City, I was doing a bit of spring skiing. Half way down the hill, I stopped for a breather and looking up at the ski lift. On it, I spied a beautiful female attired in a bathing suit. She was exquisite, and for a moment I had thoughts and, as Jimmy Carter said, "I lusted in my heart."

The girl looked down at me and shouted "Hi, Mr. Pilgrim; is Annie here." She was a friend of my 16 year old daughter. Some people aren't disturbed, having thoughts like that about someone their daughter's age, but I am. At least I was then. It wouldn't bother me much now, because that daughter is 52 years old.

I am going to talk about sexual feelings between fathers and daughters. I know nothing about the feelings between mothers and sons.

Another one of my daughters has been happily married for over 30 years. She has a fine family. A number of years ago, she was having some emotional problems and ended up in analytic therapy. She called me and asked me, "Dad, did you ever sexually molest me?" I assured her that I hadn't and she believed me. We have always had a high level of trust. "But, Dad," she said, "I can't understand how I could have had those feelings without anything having happened."

Those kinds of feelings are nothing new. Sigmund Freud analyzed a woman whose problems were traced to her repressed feelings of wanting to go to bed with her father. Freud dismissed the possibility that she was actually molested by her father by stating that he knew the man and that he definitely would not do that. He labeled her feelings the Electra Complex, after a character in a Greek legend who persuaded her brother Orestes to kill her mother and her mother's lover. Freud was criticized for even suggesting that a daughter might have deep (and repressed ) sexual feelings for her father. How could he possibly have known that his patient's father hadn't molested his daughter? Many have questioned this, particularly women who feel that Freud really wasn't fair to the fair sex. In short, his conclusions hinged on whether the woman was or wasn't actually molested. I can never know about Freud's patient, but I do know about me and I know what I did and didn't do to my daughters. Now I think that Freud was probably right. I have guessed that the reason that Freud "knew" that the daughter hadn't been molested by her father might have been because his "female patient" was his own daughter.

A father loves his daughter, and she loves her father. It is inevitable that sexual feelings come into play. With almost all of us, they are immediately repressed by both the father and the daughter. Eric Berne refers to the sound of a slammed bedroom door.

In short, some of my daughter's problems came, not from my having abused her, but from my having been a loving father.

I always thought that people have psychological problems because their parents did something wrong. It came as a complete surprise to me that some of my kids might have emotional problems, not from what I did wrong, but from what I did right.

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