FOR RESEARCH AND THERAPY OF
FATHERS OF MALE HOMOSEXUALS:
A Collective Clinical
by Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D.
It is widely agreed that many factors likely contribute to the
formation of male homosexuality. One factor may be the predisposing
biological influence of temperament (Byne and Parsons, l993). No
scientific evidence, however, shows homosexuality to be directly inherited
in the sense that eye color is inherited (Satinover, 1996).
Recent political pressure has resulted in a denial of the importance of
the factor most strongly implicated by decades of previous clinical
research--developmental factors, particularly the influence of
parents. A review of the literature on male homosexuality reveals
extensive reference to the prehomosexual boy's relational problems with
both parents (West 1959, Socarides 1978, Evans 1969); among some
researchers, the father-son relationship has been particularly implicated
(Bieber et al 1962, Moberly 1983).
One psychoanalytic hypothesis for the connection between poor early
father-son relationship and homosexuality is that during the critical
gender-identity phase of development, the boy perceives the father as
rejecting. As a result, he grows up failing to fully identify with his
father and the masculinity he represents.
Nonmasculine or feminine behavior in boyhood has been repeatedly shown
to be correlated with later homosexuality (Green, l987, Zuger, l988);
taken together with related factors--particularly the often-reported
alienation from same-sex peers and poor relationship with father--this
suggests a failure to fully gender-identify. In its more extreme form,
this same syndrome (usually resulting in homosexuality) is diagnosed as
Childhood Gender-Identity Deficit (Zucker and Bradley, 1996).
One likely cause for "failure to identify" is a narcissistic injury
inflicted by the father onto the son (who is usually temperamentally
sensitive) during the preoedipal stage of the boy's development. This hurt
appears to have been inflicted during the critical gender-identity phase
when the boy must undertake the task of assuming a masculine
identification. The hurt manifests itself as a defensive detachment from
masculinity in the self, and in others. As an adult, the homosexual is
often characterized by this complex which takes the form of "the hurt
little boy" (Nicolosi, 1991).
During the course of my treatment of ego-dystonic male homosexuals, I
have sometimes requested that fathers participate in their sons'
treatment. Thus I have been able to familiarize myself with some of the
fathers' most common personality traits. This discussion attempts to
identify some clinical features common to those fathers of
For this report, I have focused on sixteen fathers who I consider
typical in my practice--twelve fathers of homosexual sons (mid-teens to
early 30's), and four fathers of young, gender-disturbed, evidently
prehomosexual boys (4- to 7- year-olds). The vast majority of these
fathers appeared to be psychologically normal and, also like most fathers,
well-intentioned with regard to their sons; in only one case was the
father seriously disturbed, inflicting significant emotional cruelty upon
However as a group, these fathers were characterized by the inability
to counter their sons' defensive detachment from them. They felt helpless
to attract the boy into their own masculine sphere.
As a whole, these fathers could be characterized as emotionally
avoidant. Exploration of their histories revealed that they had typically
had poor relationships with their own fathers. They tended to defer to
their wives in emotional matters and appeared particularly dependent on
them to be their guides, interpreters and spokespersons.
While these men expressed sincere hope that their sons would transition
to heterosexuality, nevertheless they proved incapable of living up to a
long-term commitment to help them toward that goal. In his first conjoint
session, one father cried openly as his 15-year-old son expressed his deep
disappointment with him; yet for months afterward, he would drive his son
to his appointment without saying a word to him in the car.
Further, while they often appeared to be gregarious and popular, these
fathers tended not to have significant male friendships. The extent to
which they lacked the ability for male emotional encounter was too
consistent and pronounced to be dismissed as simply "typical of the
American male." Rather, my clinical impression of these fathers as a group
was that there existed some significant limitation in their ability to
engage emotionally with males.
From their sons' earliest years, these fathers showed a considerable
variation in their ability to recognize and respond to the boys' emotional
withdrawal from them. Some naively reported their perception of having had
a "great" relationship with their sons, while their sons themselves
described the relationship as having been "terrible." Approximately half
the fathers, however, sadly admitted that the relationship was always poor
and, in retrospect, perceived their sons as rejecting them
from early childhood. Why their sons rejected them remained for
most fathers a mystery, and they could only express a helpless sense of
resignation and confusion. When pushed, these men would go further to
express hurt and deep sadness. Ironically, these sentiments--helplessness,
hurt and confusion--seemed to be mutual; they are the same expressed by my
clients in describing their own feelings in the relationship with their
The trait common to fathers of homosexuals seemed to be an incapacity
to summon the ability to correct relational problems with their sons. All
the men reported feeling "stuck" and helpless in the face of their sons'
indifference or explicit rejection of them. Rather than actively extending
themselves, they seemed characteristically inclined to retreat, avoid and
feel hurt. Preoccupied with self-protection and unwilling to risk the
vulnerability required to give to their sons, they were unable to close
the emotional breach. Some showed narcissistic personality features. Some
fathers were severe and capable of harsh criticism; some were brittle and
rigid; overall, most were soft, weak and placid, with a characteristic
emotional inadequacy. The term that comes to mind is the classic
psycholanalytic term "acquiescent" - the acquiescent father.
Homosexuality is almost certainly due to multiple factors and cannot be
reduced soley to a faulty father-son relationship. Fathers of homosexual
sons are usually also fathers of heterosexual sons--so the personality of
the father is clearly not the sole cause of homosexuality. Other factors I
have seen in the development of homosexuality include a hostile, feared
older brother; a mother who is a very warm and attractive personality and
proves more appealing to the boy than an emotionally removed father; a
mother who is actively disdainful of masculinity; childhood seduction by
another male; peer labelling of the boy due to poor athletic ability or
timidity; in recent years, cultural factors encouraging a confused and
uncertain youngster into an embracing gay community; and in the boy
himself, a particularly sensitive, relatively fragile, often passive
At the same time, we cannot ignore the striking commonality of these
In two cases, the fathers were very involved and deeply committed to
the treatment of their sons, but conceded that they were not emotionally
present during their sons' early years. In both cases it was not
personality, but circumstance that caused the fathers' emotional distance.
In one case the father was a surgeon from New Jersey who reported atteding
medical school while trying to provide financial support for his young
family of three children. The second father, an auto mechanic from
Arizona, reported that when he was only 21 years old, he was forced to
marry the boy's mother because she was pregnant. He admitted never loving
the boy's mother, having been physically absent from the home, and
essentially having abandoned both mother and boy. Both fathers, now more
mature and committed to re-establishing contact with their sons,
participated enthusiastically in their therapy. But in both cases, the
sons had, by then, become resistant to establishing an emotional
connection with their fathers.
Attempt at Therapeutic Dialogue.
My overall impression of fathers in conjoint sessions was of a sense of
helplessness, discomfort and awkwardness when required to directly
interact with their sons.
These men tended not to trust psychological concepts and communication
techniques and often seemed confused and easily overwhelmed with the
challenge to dialogue in depth. Instructions which I offered during
consultation, when followed, were followed literally, mechanically and
without spontaneity. A mutual antipathy, a stubborn resistance and a deep
grievance on the part of both fathers and sons was clearly observable. At
times I felt myself placed in the position of "mother interpreter," a role
encouraged by fathers and at times by sons. As "mother interpreter," I
found myself inferring feeling and intent from the father's fragmented
phrases and conveying that fuller meaning to the son, and vice versa from
son to father.
Some fathers expressed concern with "saying the wrong thing," while
others seemed paralyzed by fear. During dialogue, fathers demonstrated
great difficulty in getting past their own self-consciousness and their
own reactions to what their sons were saying. This limited their
empathetic attunement to the therapeutic situation, and to their sons'
position and feelings.
As their sons spoke to them, these fathers seemed blocked and unable to
respond. Often they could only respond by saying that they were "too
confused," "too hurt," or "too frustrated" to dialogue. One father said he
was "too angry" to attend the sessions of his teenage son--a message
conveyed to me by the mother. At the slightest sign of improvement in the
father-son relationship, a few fathers seemed too ready to flee,
concluding "Everything is okay - can I go now?"
Before conjoint father-son sessions begin, the client should be helped
to gain a clear sense of what he wants from his father. To simply expose
the father to a list of complaints is of no value. He should also decide
on a clear, constructive way to ask for this. Such preparation shifts the
son from a position of helpless complaining, to staying centered on his
genuine needs and the effective expression of them.
The Deadly Dilemma.
Eventually, within the course of conjoint sessions a particular point
will be reached which I call "the deadly dilemma." This deadlock in
dialogue--which seems to duplicate the earliest father-son rupture--occurs
in two phases as follows:
Phase 1: With the therapist's assistance, the son expresses his
needs and wants to his father. Hearing his son, the father becomes
emotionally affected, so much so that he cannot respond to his son's
disclosure. He is overwhelmed by his own reactions, becoming so "angered,"
"hurt," "upset," or "confused" that he cannot attend to his son's needs.
Blocked by his own internal reactions, he is unable to give what his son
asks of him.
Phase 2: In turn, the son is unable to tolerate his father's
insular emotional reaction in place of the affirmative response he seeks
from him. To accept his father's non-responses, the son feels he must
abandon the needs he has expressed. The only recourse for the son is to
retreat again to the defensive distancing which is already at the core of
the father-son relationship. The son cannot empathize with the father's
non-responsiveness because to do so is painfully reminiscent of childhood
patterns that are associated with his own deep hurt and anger: namely the
imperative, "My father's needs must always come before mine." The son's
hurt and anger is in reaction to what appears to him to be "just more lame
excuses" for Dad's inability to give the attention, affection or approval
he has so long desired from him. Indeed, to the son this seems like Dad's
old ploy, with all the associated historical pain.
This deadly dilemma originated, I believe, during the preverbal level
of infancy. As one father's recollections confirmed, "My son would never
look at me. I would hold his face with my hands and force him to look at
me, but he would always avert his eyes." Other men have described an
"unnatural indifference" to their fathers during their growing-up
During the course of therapy with these fathers, I began to see the
deep hurt in them--a hurt that came from their sons' indifference
to their attempts (however meager) to improve the relationship.
Reflecting on his now-elderly father, one client sadly recalled:
"I feel sorry for my father. He always had a certain
insensitivity, an emotional incompetence. Many of the interactions at
home simply went over his head. He was dense, inadequate. I feel a pity
These fathers appeared unwilling or unable to be open and vulnerable to
their sons; unable to reach out, to hear their sons' pain and anger with
respect to them, and unable to respond honestly. Their emotional
availability was blocked and they were unable to turn the relational
problem around. Rather they remained removed, seemingly dispassionate and
In conjoint sessions, none of the fathers were incapable of taking the
lead in dialogue. When dialogue became stagnant, they were unable to
initiate communication. I believe the consistent inability of these
fathers to get past their own blocks and reach out to their sons
played a significant role in these boys' inability to move forward into
full, normal masculine identification and heterosexuality.
Bieber, I. et al (1962) Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male
Homosexuals. New York: Basic Books.
Byne, W. and Parsons, B., "Human sexual orientation: the biologic
theories reappraised," Archives of General Psychiatry, vol. 50:228-239,
Evans, R. (1969). Childhood parental relationships of homosexual men.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 33:129-135.
Green, Richard (l987) "The Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of
Homosexuality. New Haven, Ct.: Yale U. Press.
Moberly, Elizabeth (1983) Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic.
Greenwood, S.C.: Attic Press.
Nicolosi, Joseph (l991) Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality; A New
Clinical Approach. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1991.
Satinover, J. (1996). Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth. Grand
Rapids, MI: Baker Books.
Socarides, Charles (1978). Homosexuality. New York: Jason Aronson.
West, D.J. (1959). Parental figures in the genesis of male
homosexuality. International Journal of Social Psychiatry 5:85-97.
Zucker, K. and Bradley, S. (1995) Gender Identity Disorder and
Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents. N.Y.: The Guilford
Zuger, Bernard (l988) Is Early Effeminate Behavior in Boys Early
Homosexuality? Comprehensive Psychiatry, vol. 29, no. 5
(September/October) p. 509-519.
This article provided by NARTH
NARTH. All Rights Reserved.
Email this to a
copyright © 1995-2006 Leadership
U. All rights reserved.
This site is part of the Telling the Truth Project.
Updated: 14 July 2002