Interview With
Dr. Dominic Callahan &
Dr. Constance Avery-Clark

Fathers and Daughters: A Complex Mirror

APRIL 2019

Teresa Oster MSW, MS, CJSSF board member

CJSSF: What led you two to present together on this topic? 

DR. CALLAHAN: A while ago, Constance and I realized we were each therapists for a daughter and father, Constance seeing the daughter and myself the father. When I began seeing the daughter and father together for a few sessions, I found the daughter to be so often histrionic in her responses to the father that I needed Constance’s clinical perspective on what she thought was going on. After securing the daughter’s permission, Constance and I consulted and had a very stimulating discussion in which we found we were each treating one half of an intense dyadic structure whose nature struck us as containing something archetypal about daughters and fathers. We both felt the daughter’s histrionic responses were, like Cassandra, a veiled and not believed prophecy of the father’s psychic impact on her of which he was unaware and that she could only acknowledge by intense emotion. I felt for this daughter who knew her father needed her to remain his muse, someone to usher him back into an uncomplicated space rather than engage her as the complex woman she was becoming. Marooned between remaining a treasured yet unseen child and desiring to be loved as a separate individual, she raged at the blindness of her accomplished yet puer father, thus becoming the clinical issue on display rather than his refusal to leave Eden. In my ongoing therapy with him, we have continued to focus on how his desire for women to remain childlike and sweet has hampered his romantic life, leaving him with a string of failed relationships in which he always refers to his temporary companions as “girls.”

It struck us as interesting that the daughter-father relationship had not been looked at before by the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida and that we had an opportunity to bring some needed attention to this extraordinarily important relationship. The question we asked one another is, “What, in depth psychology terms, is trying to happen in the psychic space between a daughter and father and what is the connection between this relationship and the culture in which it unfolds?” If time permits, we intend to present some aspects of this fascinating therapy case.

DR. AVERY-CLARK: Yes, it was fascinating to discuss Dominic’s perspective on the father and on the father-daughter dynamics in the case we synchronistically shared, since all I had access to was the daughter’s experience. Here was a father who ostensibly had all the power – intellectually, financially, age – and yet it became evident that what had seemed originally like histrionics on the part of the supposedly powerless daughter were, in fact, not so much overly dramatic utterances as prescient expressions of the pathological dependence of her father on her, and her inability to cope with his emotional neediness. It was she who was less ineffectual in communicating both their distress and the distresses of the relationship. It was she who carried the emotional reality and burden of the relationship, and it was overwhelming her. During our discussion, we worked on integrating our perspectives and this, in turn, stimulated our reflecting on the importance of this entire topic. Our discussion also turned to acknowledge that while the topic of fathers and daughters often proceeds in the direction of the effects of the father on the daughter, much less frequently does it emphasize the effects that having a daughter has on the father. It is this aspect that Dominic is going to be covering at our workshop.


CJSSF: Constance, as a certified sex therapist, will you bring that element into the discussion —  how the relationship with the father can be formative for a daughter’s sexuality?  

DR. AVERY-CLARK: Yes, time permitting, I am hoping to weave this into the discussion. I think we are terrified to address it. We often think this carries incestuous overtones, and we keep it at a ten-foot pole distance. And yet need we be reminded that the father’s influence is not just formative but critical in the development of a daughter’s sexuality. After all, the father is usually THE FIRST MAN with whom a girl has a relationship. Her original template for interacting with men is set through this interaction. I once had a client who remembers her father telling her when she was 15, “Men like women who have something interesting to say.” When honoring her mother at an anniversary dinner one time, the daughter can remember the father’s beaming: “My wife has a marvelous turn of the mind,” referencing a quotation from a Jane Austen novel. And her father was a very intelligent man. Needless to say, this young woman initially gravitated toward men who she found intellectually stimulating; and she cultivated her intellectual and academic talents in large measure with her father’s admonition in mind. Interestingly, in this case, and since Eros will not be denied, she was able through therapy to reclaim and embrace her feminine energy by allowing her sexuality to play out in a rather passionate form in these very same relationships. As a result, while she originally experienced her father’s admonition as just that, an admonition that stilted her ease in initially forming relationships, she increasingly was able to experience his advice as not so restrictive that it prevented her from responding in visceral and sensual fashion in her relationships with men as they developed. Her father’s influence was powerful but not suffocating thanks in large measure to her consciousness of its dual nature.


CJSSF: Dominic, in the event description you mention President Donald Trump and daughter Ivanka, as well as President Obama and his daughters. Why did you decide to reference these high-profile daughter-father relationships?

DR. CALLAHAN: If we compare the relationship between Ivanka and her father, President Trump to the one we saw between President Obama and his daughters, Sasha and Malia, we see two very different depictions of how a daughter and father negotiate their bond in the public realm. With President Trump, we see a father who has rendered his daughter into an object for his own self-aggrandizement and a daughter whose value to herself appears profoundly determined by the extent to which she can hold his primitive projections. By contrast, the relationship between President Obama and his daughters suggests a much different connection in which the father cherishes the Otherness of his daughters and sees them as having a destiny separate from his own. One might wonder if President Trump represents the most disturbing aspects of a patriarchal mind that is slowly being replaced by a post-patriarchal consciousness best exemplified by fathers such as President Obama. As already mentioned, the daughter-father bond unfolds within a particular culture that deeply influences the father’s connection to his feelings and capacity for vulnerability.  When the pop artist John Mayer, in his song, Daughters, sings, “On behalf of every man, looking out for every girl, you are the God and the weight of her world”, he is appealing to fathers to own their seminal influence on their daughter’s ability to come to trust their own authority and bring into balance the urgings of spirit and body, thought and feeling. To be both Divinity and burden is the unique and sacred assignment each father carries for daughters at a time of profound change in our culture and consciousness.


CJSSF: Constance, which Jungian-oriented authors (or others) have you found helpful on this subject?

DR. AVERY-CLARK: I don’t think you can present anything having to do with fathers and daughters without tipping your proverbial hat to Marion Woodman’s work, Leaving My Father’s House A Journey to Conscious Femininity. It not only outlines in conceptual fashion the (primarily the negative) dynamics of a powerful father influence on daughters but also present in more experiential terms the embodied manifestations of these dynamics through the stories of three women. It is “a story of the feminine releasing herself from patriarchy. By patriarchy I mean…power” (p. 10). She emphasizes an often overlooked element, the fact that “Father’s daughters tend to discount their mothers,” a metaphor for discounting the depths of their own femininity (p. 354). Accessing this femininity in an intentional and thoughtful way offers a path out of patriarchal power and into one’s own empowerment. Another Jungian-oriented author is Susan E. Shwartz who has written a fascinating article, The Parallax Between Fathers and Daughters in which she notes, “Both father and daughter suffer, each in a different way, and both are affected by the abuse of unconscious paternalism” (p. 300). She goes on to quote one of my Jung Center/Saybrook University professors, noted analyst Lyn Cowan, who has written imaged-ly about the father-daughter complex in her Jung Page article, Dismantling the Animus: “Because our culture is a patriarchy, the very air she breathes, the boundaries of her consciousness, the contents of her personal unconscious psyche, and the complete cast of the collective psyche, are full of The Man: his image, his history, his definitions, his requirements, his expectations, his needs, his desires, his threats, his power, his laws, his religions, his gods, his money, and his ambivalent, unrealistic image of her.

Of course, it is easy to focus on the negative aspects of a daughter’s father complex. However, a 2006 dissertation entitled Embodied Love: Healing the Father Wound Through Individuation by Pacifica graduate student, Janet C. Chatwin, is well worth reading if only because it notes some of the positive influences, such that it “protects and guides.” And we can’t leave out Jung himself who noted, “a positive father complex … induces [in women] the liveliest spiritual aspirations and interests” (CW9i, para. 396). All of these authors are well worth reading for stimulating reflections on this subject!


CJSSF: Dominic, are there any particular movies that might inspire reflection on the theme and that you might recommend attendees view before the event? I remember an intense and revelatory film, The Ballad of Jack and Rose (Daniel Day-Lewis) about a father and daughter who live blissfully alone on a remote island until she grows up and they must grapple with tormenting choices.  

DR. CALLAHAN: The Ballad of Jack and Rose is an exquisite examination of how the Edenic space that some daughters and fathers create with one another must give way to the developmental prerogatives of the psyche for movement out of Eden and into life. The father (Daniel Day-Lewis) sees the world as a fallen and corrupt place. In the film, he states to his daughter (Camilla Belle) “Decline and rot. That’s the way of the world. Except for you, my love. You’re exempt.” In these words, we hear how she carries his projections of purity, which, while heartfelt, are also a denial of her necessary and approaching complexity. I highly recommend this film and thank you, Teresa, for mentioning it. Another film I found to be both moving and true is Fly Away Home, a lovely depiction of an adolescent girl’s (Anna Paquin) initiation into the larger demands of her soul mediated by a father (Jeff Daniels) she barely knew until the sudden death of her mother forced them back into a relationship. Two films I previously presented, Captain Fantastic and The Descendants, are also ones that come to mind as worth watching for their thoughtful treatment of the daughter-father journey.


CJSSF: If you feel comfortable sharing, what do you bring to this topic from your personal lives?

DR. CALLAHAN:  As the father of an extraordinary daughter and person, I have come to personally know the difficulty and privilege being held accountable and found wanting by a daughter’s fierce need for the father’s integrity, courage, adoration, and ability to let go. In the course of our time together, we fell in love with one another and then had to navigate our way out of this captivating yet perishable matrix. She required nothing less than my own willingness to leave my cherished tower of ideas and descend into the messy and wild garden of feeling where her questions were waiting.  Like all fathers, my daughter made it essential for me to develop a conscious connection with the anima.

When she turned 15, I wrote her a song, perhaps appropriately called Swan, which I will be sharing in our presentation. In it, I tried to express the mystery of fathering a person I both intimately knew yet, in so many ways, did not know at all. I was inspired by her growing need that I approach her sideways and that my veneration becomes increasingly subtle. This honored the boundaries required to manage my well-intentioned yet often overwhelming directness. As I re-read these words, I can see how they are charged with the projections, drama, rueful reflection and impulse for excess that I think resides organically in the unique space constellated by every daughter and father, each in their own manner and form. Fathering a daughter at this time in our history is to be summoned into the best version of a man one can become. As the age of the patriarchy is inexorably and painfully absorbed into a new epoch of consciousness which values connection, inclusivity, and empathy over power and separation, fathers and daughters will become one the most important expressions of how this shift is managed.

DR. AVERY-CLARK: I have one answer to your question, Teresa: My father was larger than life. He was everything a man was supposed to be in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s: Yale- and Harvard-educated; a Marine; sharp as a tack; master of finance; an international banker who traveled the world negotiating with the likes of Russian presidents, Latin American dictators, African revolutionaries – you name it. He was even hijacked once on a plane in Bulgaria because the hijackers knew he was on the plane representing U.S. banking interests. Needless to say, he and his three colleagues were instrumental in jumping on and disarming the hijackers. He was steeped in Shakespeare. Once, when bicycling around England in his youthful 20s, he stayed the night at a lodging where he proceeded to recite most of Hamlet as he bathed. When he opened the door, the residents of the house applauded him as they had been listening! How is a daughter, his first born of four children, not supposed to find this mesmerizing? And I did. The most difficult aspect was that he was the warmest, most friendly and interesting person I have ever met. I didn’t experience him as wounding, and his intention clearly never was. But it has taken me 60+ years to recognize how, ultimately, it was all about him, and rarely did he enter my world. It has been hard to find my own voice without always referencing it to, as I mentioned above, “The Man: his image, his history, his definitions, his requirements, his expectations, his needs, his desires.” It is perhaps even more crucial that daughters with positive father complexes understand the need to move beyond this Man.

Professional headshot of Dominic Callahan Ph.D.

Dominic Callahan, Ph.D., is a Past-President of the Center for Jungian Studies of South Florida and a psychologist in private practice in Coral Springs, Florida. He has given numerous presentations for the Center on subjects including the trauma of 9/11, presidential politics, pornography, addiction, and film. He is best known for his cinematic workshops, his most recent on A Beautiful Mistake: Possession and Consciousness in Captain Fantastic, and Life of Pi: Faith, Reason, and the Tiger in Between.

Professional headshot of Constance Avery-Clark, Ph.D.

Constance Avery-Clark, Ph.D., is a Jungian-oriented, licensed Psychologist with Ph.D.’s in Clinical Psychology and in Psychology-Jungian Studies. She is also an AASECT-Certified Sex Therapist and served as Research and Clinical Associate at Masters & Johnson Institute for five years. She has been in private practice for over 30 years, specializing in sexual, intimacy, and relationship difficulties from cognitive-behavioral, systems-oriented, and depth psychological perspectives. She co-authored the book Sensate Focus in Sex Therapy: The Illustrated Manual. Constance has presented several times for the Center for Jungian Studies, most recently on James Hollis’s The Eden Project and on her dissertation topic, Sex, Jung, and Photographs: The Nature of Yearning. She is CJSSF’s Vice-President and Program Chair.


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As a Not-For-Profit organization we exist because of the generosity of our friends, volunteers and donors. None of the work that we do would be possible without you.