Father Hunger: Explorations with Adults and Children (Book Review)

Author:  Herzog, James M.
Publisher:  Hillsdale, NJ: Analytic Press, 2001
Reviewed By:  Johanna Krout Tabin, Fall 2004, pp. 68-69.

A Main Course With Too Many Trimmings

James Herzog’s apparent mission in this book is to rectify the imbalance in current psychoanalytic theory and practice of neglecting the role of the father in personality development from the earliest days of a child’s life. In spite of Freud, with the important exceptions of Loewald (1951) and Edith Jacobson (1964), psychoanalytic thinking has privileged the mother/child dyad. Loewald pointed out the father’s role as a bulwark against a child’s fear of maternal engulfment and Jacobson pointed out the importance of the father as offering the child proof that one could be a different being from the mother. Relatively recently, Abelin (1971) and Lamb (1976a, 1976b) encouraged more emphasis upon the significance of the father. Herzog himself coined the phrase “father hunger” for his report (1980) on treating 12 toddlers whose night terrors revealed their need for their absent fathers.

Reading this book should convince one of the necessities for a constructive father figure in the development of healthy boys. The author does not really provide any theory and not much clinical evidence as to the meaning of a father figure to girls. This slantedness does not limit the scope that Herzog tries to bring to his text. In what sometimes reads as if it were his magnum opus, he repeats a number of times his understanding of what psychoanalysis accomplishes, his idea of the progression of mental processes, his framework for psychoanalytic work. It seems to be important to him to show his originality of thought (or at least of phrasing) and the scope of his European, cultured background. One subtext is the impact of trauma, particularly the Holocaust, on succeeding generations.

Much of the book is devoted to Herzog’s process notes from several cases. These he gives in a spirit of collegiality, sharing his thoughts and personal associations in response to patients’ material. He does not offer what he might have recognized as the reasons for his particular reactions; but they are not really necessary to communicate in a book for publication, even though they must have been germane for him. Unfortunately, the spirit of collegiality often shifts to the tone of a master who explains psychoanalysis to newcomers to the field or even to intelligent laypersons. This seesawing is underscored by the repetition of themes already clearly stated in earlier chapters. It gives an impression that the book is largely made up of case studies Herzog previously presented to other audiences. Father Hunger seems to be an edited book in which all of the chapters are by the same author. There are gems of insight, of course, that one might expect from such an experienced and able psychoanalyst. For example, he mentions first on page 34 that boys’ recognition of sameness to their fathers is useful for boys for learning to deal with mutual concerns and in particular to modulate aggression. Herzog goes on to explain, on the basis of his experience: When a father is absent, if he is revered/valued as an important family member, this mitigates against a deformative effect of his absence upon the son’s developing personality (p.35). A repeated but interesting theme contrasts a mother’s homeostatically attuned relating to a child with a father’s disruptively attuned relating. The significance of this distinction is that the father’s behavior requires mental gear shifting by the child, paving the way for flexibility in the larger world.

Another repeated theme is applicable to thinking about the progression of any analysis. Herzog keeps in mind the natural development of mentation from expressive action to interpersonal action to symbolic action (which he calls displacement). Under emotional pressure, he sees this progression in reverse order. Thus, acting out is typical of the most distressed, next comes interaction—at first with sharply defined requirements for the analyst/other—and gradually, increasingly, the ability to deal with inner situations symbolically. He demonstrates the process in adult patients as well as in children he has treated.

The clinical vignettes are clear and instructive. It is distracting, however, to read about familiar concepts in the terminology that Herzog prefers. Thus, he always refers to symbolization as displacement. Analytic space becomes play space, which he consistently refers to in German, as Spielraum. In discussing the patient’s larger world, he uses Umwelt rather than “surround,” to which we are accustomed in English. (Maybe Herzog considers Umwelt, literally, “world around,” to connote a larger area, including the cultural and historical, but he does not explain this.) Most of the time, he translates the German word before continuing to use it. Once in while he skips this step, e.g., Schweinhund on page 149, without a helpful translation of “pig hound.”

The worst example of the sloppiness of the editing is on page 56, where Herzog is describing the exciting quality of a father’s play with a child and refers to it as Kamikaze action. In another example, in Chapter 16, he presents the case of Tommy. Tommy starts out to have a single younger sister named Abby who was born before the boy came to treatment; and then turns out to have a single younger sister named Amy who is born a long time after treatment begins.

There is an admixture of familiar psychoanalytic wording, straightforward expression and ponderous, or gratuitously difficult phrasing or simple pomposity (citing what is patrilineal and then, parenthetically saying nom de père). In one carryover from his background in medicine, Herzog talks frequently about a shift to the left (from hematological deterioration) rather than regression. Yet, the book has an important message.

The generous supply of process notes from a variety of analyses is in itself a boon. These pages are lively with a sense of immediacy. Above all, the necessity of a sound father image for constructive integration of a man’s inner world becomes palpable as one learns how deformed egos can be ameliorated through dedicated analytic work.


Abelin, E. (1971). Role of the father in the separation-individuation process, In McDevitt and Setttlage, eds. Separation/Individuation: Essays in honor of Margaret S. Mahler, pp. 229-252, New York: International Universities Press.
Herzog, J.M. (1980). Sleep disturbance and father hunger in 18-to-28-month-old boys. In Solnit, et al., eds. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 35: 223-230.
Jacobson, E. (1964). The self and the object world. New York: International Universities Press.
Lamb, M.E. (1976a). Interactions between 8-month-old children and their mothers and fathers. In Lamb, ed., The role of the father in child development, pp. 307-327. New York: Wiley.
Lamb, M.E. (1976b). Interactions between two-year-olds and their mothers and fathers. Psychological Reports, 38: 447-450.
Loewald, H.W. (1951). Ego and reality. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 32: 10-18.

Reviewer Note

Johanna Krout Tabin is a longtime member of the Division. Her affiliation is with the Chicago Center for Psychoanalysis.


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