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  • Writer's pictureRony Alfandary

The Who's Tommy - An Instance of Emotional Absence of a Father Traumatized by War

This article was first published in the American Journal of Psychotherapy in 2014


In his minor essay from 1914, Some Reflections on Schoolboy Psychology, Freud placed immense significance upon the father-son relationship as enabling, or inhibiting, the individual quest towards a mature, separate and healthy development. In this essay, I will explore Freud's observations to illuminate the journey taken by Assaff[1], a 34 year old man whose father became emotionally absent during the early stages of his adolescence due a traumatic experience during his military service in the Israeli Defense Forces. Through transference work, the impact of the emotional absence will be shown. I will demonstrate how the boy was able to unconsciously use as a transitional object the music of "Tommy", a rock opera by the British Rock band The Who. I will show how that piece of Rock music provided Assaff with the sense of hope which helped him to hang on during the darker times of his adolescent.

Key Words: Emotional Absence, Father, Adolescence, Trauma


Of all the imagos of a childhood which, as a rule, is no longer remembered, none is more important for a youth or a man than that of his father. Organic necessity introduces into a man’s relation to his father an emotional ambivalence which we have found most strikingly expressed in the Greek myth of King Oedipus. A little boy is bound to love and admire his father, who seems to him the most powerful, the kindest and the wisest creature in the world. God himself is after all only an exaltation of this picture of a father as he is represented in the mind of early childhood. But soon the other side of this emotional relationship emerges. One’s father is recognized as the paramount disturber of one’s instinctual life; he becomes a model not only to imitate but also to get rid of, in order to take his place. Thenceforward affectionate and hostile impulses towards him persist side by side, often to the end of one’s life, without either of them being able to do away with the other. It is in this existence of contrary feelings side by side that lies the essential character of what we call emotional ambivalence. In the second half of childhood a change sets in in the boy’s relation to his father - a change whose importance cannot be exaggerated. From his nursery the boy begins to cast his eyes upon the world outside. And he cannot fail now to make discoveries which undermine his original high opinion of his father and which expedite his detachment from his first ideal. He finds that his father is no longer the mightiest, wisest and richest of beings; he grows dissatisfied with him, he learns to criticize him and to estimate his place in society; and then, as a rule, he makes him pay heavily for the disappointment that has been caused by him. Everything that is hopeful, as well as everything that is unwelcome, in the new generation is determined by this detachment from the father (Freud, 1914, p. 243).

The theme of the boy's ambivalence towards the imago of the father, as explored in this extract, is not foreign to psychoanalytic literature. Freud refers to the boy's disappointment and ambivalence once he realizes his father is not the omnipotent figure he had thought him to be. Such a disappointment is a conscious event. It has, of course, a positive developmental aspect as it leads, amongst other things, to the development of the boy's ability to further separate from his original objects of identification and seek his place in the world. Interestingly enough, it is an aspect Freud does not expand upon in this short piece of writing.

In this essay, I would like to further develop the unconscious aspect of that disappointment and ambivalence. I will explore that aspect both in the context of Freud's own writing and biography as well as illustrate it through a clinical vignette. I will use the term unconscious in the sense suggested recently by Ogden. "When we use the term unconscious, we are referring to an aspect of mind operating outside of one's awareness that coexists with an aspect of mind in which we are aware of our thoughts and feelings (Ogden, 2013, p. 22)."

I suggest that the sense of ambivalence of the maturing boy can be related not only to conscious aspects of the Oedipal Complex, as Freud suggested, but also to the father's own disposition and to the unconscious aspects of their relationship. Without attempting to make a universal claim, as Freud (1914) did, I would suggest that it is possible at times to examine the boy's ambivalence as an emotional response to some failure on the father's side to maintain the same loving stance he held towards the boy in the past. That failure is not necessarily a result of the father deliberately distancing himself from the boy but quite often a result of some event, external or internal, which emotionally over-engages the father, rendering him emotionally absent to the boy. That emotional absence remains mysterious to the boy and becomes a source of his disappointment, once realizing that his pre-adolescent loving father has now changed and become preoccupied and distant.

This emotional absence is different than a physical absence of the father such as death or parental dispute. In such a case, the strain such an absence places upon the development of the child is obvious. I focus instead upon the metaphoric absence of the father due to some emotional strain. Still, the two instances are related. To demonstrate the similarity, I will refer to Freud's (1915) seminal paper "Mourning and Melancholy" which was written during the same years as the paper concerning the father imago, indicating perhaps Freud's preoccupation with his own father's death, and allowing us to link the two thematically. In short, that paper draws a parallel between the clinical descriptions of mourning as an actual loss and of depressions. Though the two states share many phenomenological aspects, they differ crucially on one significant point. In the case of depression, the individual will also suffer from a lower self-image, indicating that he has turned his unexplored ambivalence towards the departed object inwardly, and thus caused himself self-image injury.

I suggest that in the case of the emotionally absent father, the boy experiences his father's absence as having something to do with his own, developmentally natural, wish to distance himself. If the father remains emotionally available to the boy, the boy is then able to re-position himself in relation to his beloved father without fearing retaliation. This would describe a good-enough state of affairs where the second individuation is dealt with successfully enough to both maintain a good-enough relationship between the boy and the father and at the same time allows the boy a sense of autonomy and separation he needs for his emotional development.

However, if the father is not consistently and repeatedly emotionally available and attentive to the boy's needs, he will be experienced as emotionally absent or even "dead." The father imago will be internalized as "a bad object," in the sense that Guntrip (1974) expounded when he described internalized objects as a result of not good enough external object relationships:

Objects are only internalized in a more radical way when the relationship turns into a bad-object situation through, say, the object changing or dying. When someone we need and love ceases to love us, or behaves in such a way that we interpret it as a cessation of love, or disappears, dies, i.e. deserts us, that person becomes, in an emotional, libidinal sense, a bad object. This happens to a child when his mother refuses the breast, weans the baby, or is cross, impatient and punitive, or is absent temporarily or for a longer period through illness… it also happens when the person we need is emotionally detached, aloof, and unresponsive (Guntrip, 1974, p. 21-22).

If that is the case, the boy will be left with a reduced sense of containment for his ambivalent feelings. He will have less access to the actual object through which he is able to transform his ambivalent feelings and those will be turned inwardly. As Guntrip (1974) suggest, this bad object will be projected as it cannot be digested and remains a foreign object that needs to be evacuated. This can take the shape of a symptom, impact the boy's superego or, hopefully, will be given some creative sublimated expression. It is this last option which I wish to explore further.

I suggest that some adolescents' interest in particular pieces of literature and music during the time of their adolescence can be attributed to that sublimation. In such a case, a careful interpretation of that specific piece of music or writing can contribute greatly towards the understanding of the boy's inner world. Such an interpretation based upon conventional cultural criticism would not be sufficient as it would reduce the discussed work to its objective elements. I suggest that a different reading is needed. Such a reading is portrayed by Ogden (2013).

In a recent publication, The Analyst's Ear and the Critic's Eye (2013), the psychoanalyst Thomas Ogden and his son the literary critic Benjamin Ogden, joined forces to suggest a psychoanalytical reading of literature that draws from both disciplines without subjugating either, or in other words, without turning the psychoanalytic method into an objective, know-it-all method and the piece of art into a subject that can be analyzed to death. What they both suggest is that language is not only a means of communication but an essential part of the process by which we form our self, a process which has to go on for as long as we live. "Language is not simply a medium for the expression of the self; it is integral to the creation of the self (which is a continuing, moment-to-moment process (Ogden, 2013, p. 9)."

Being a process which accompanies us, the process of relating to pieces of art, music and literature, is a part of the way in which we enrich our lives, imbuing those works with life so that we can feel nourished by them. "…we must add something to what we hear, and in that way transform it. Otherwise, we are simply making echoes and not offering original response (Ogden, 2013, p. 19)."

The work we do with pieces of culture we identify with, as my patient Assaff did as a boy with the Rock Opera "Tommy", is comparable to the work we do with dreams. Dreams are not simply clues as to what we have repressed but contribute to the way our psyche is formed. As I will show later, the way Assaff related to the text and music was similar to the way one deals with dreams. In both instances, they served him both as sources of inspiration and solace but also formed part of his maturational process.

Dreams are not simply the disguised expression of repressed impulses, desires and fears (as Freud [1900] would have it), but are the expression of multiple forms of thinking in which we struggle and experiment with a plethora of ways of gaining a sense of truth of our lived experience, of who we are in relation to other people, and of the knowable and the unknowable world (Ogden, 2013, p. 24).

What allows the comparison in this case between our relationship with dreams and our relationship with pieces of culture is the assertion that in both cases we can rely upon the unconscious communication to enrich our lives. For example, one can engage in symbolic interpretation of a dream and find its relevance to the dreamer's life, but one can also explore the way in which the actual dreaming of the dream contributes to the dreamer's life (Spero, 2010). In a similar way, one can interpret the way a piece of text influence the reader's conscious mind, but one can also explore the way the process of reading, or listening to music, builds up internal space within the reader (Spence, 2003). As this case will demonstrate, when Assaff was 13 years old, he both listened to music and dreamt. He was dreaming (in the sense Ogden describes) while being wide awake and the psychic work he was engaged in, allowed him both to deal with the sense of emptiness and terror due to this reaction to his father's emotional absence and to develop his self around those experiences. He was engaged in a dreaming activity through the music which saved his life.

There are many personal, familial and cultural factors involved in the determining of the impact of the father's emotional absence: gender, gender identification, psychosexual stage, age of the child, place in family, and previous relationship with the father vis-à-vis the dependence-separation spectrum (Botèro, 2012; Dick, 2011; Lugar, 2013).

Psychoanalytical literature is bountiful with material regarding the ambivalence the boy develops towards his father (Laplanche and Pontalis, 1973). At its center, is the wish to eliminate the father. That wish can coincide with an actual disappearance, be it a temporary and internal one as in the case of emotional absence. If that happens, it is possible to view the damage caused to the father imago as a result of the fulfillment of the ambivalent wish as tragic. The proverb "be careful of what you wish for" resonates here. The boy's experience of the emotional absence of his father is tragically attributed to his own ambivalence. The boy is unable to see that the change his father underwent is due to external circumstances. The ensuing guilt creates a gaping hole in the boy's psyche. In this case report, it was the boy's ability to find solace in an artistic object as a container for his unconscious drama which allowed him to stay in relatively good-health and prevented an emotional breakdown. His ability to seek such an alternative is based upon the wish for the survival of the father so as to be reassured of the integrity of the world as a safe holding environment for the boy’s active libidinal engagements.

And yet, it is important not to underplay the power of the ambivalent wish and the impact that its fulfillment might create. If at first there seems to be a complementary integration between wishing to overcome the father and wishing his survival, one need only to refer back to Freud's (1939) acknowledgement that aggression was not the only dominant feature of the father and son relationship. In "Moses and Monotheism" he acknowledged that even cannibalism might have a holding function; “…not only hated and feared their father but also honoured him as a model… wished to take his place in reality. We can, if so, understand the cannibalistic as an attempt to ensure identification with him by incorporating a piece of him (Freud, 1939, p. 82) .”

How does one reconcile between the aspect of the boy-father relationship where the father is devoured and the aspect of the boy-father relationship where the boys needs to place the father, time and time again, in a position where he is available to him? One possible way of thinking about this almost impossible integration, is provided by D.W. Winnicott (1963) who described a dream he had which clarified for him the way aggression was contained and dealt with in the inner theatre of the mind. His dream was in three parts. In the first one he was in the world being destroyed, in the second part he was the one doing the destroying and in the third part something else happened.

…and I knew I had dreamt of being destroyed and of being the destroying agent. There was no dissociation, so the three I’s were altogether in touch with each other. This felt to be immensely satisfactory although the work done had made tremendous demands on me (p. 229).

In Winnicott’s language, the boy's ability to integrate those aspects and to survive such powerful forces of destruction, allows him to repair his injured father imago and continue with the developmental task of continuously relocating himself in relation to his internal objects. Thus, the path towards growth and creative self-articulation is more stable. This path has to go through the psychic effort contained in the dream-work. Thus dream work is not only a way of making conscious unconscious material, but also a way of building up psychic reality (Spero, 2010).

The Case of Assaff

One major nodal point I would like to focus upon was the impact of Assaff's father suffering a traumatic event during his military service when the boy was 12. The impact of that traumatic event affected the father's emotional capability rendering him emotionally absent to his son, leaving what he later described as "a gaping hole" in his sense of well-being. That sense of absence was in many ways incomprehensible to him. His difficulty processing the absence is understandable considering it was never spoken about in the household. The boy was left with a terrible sense of loss even though the actual father was physically present, seemingly healthy and functional after having returned from the period of military service duties which had lasted only three weeks.

During the course of his therapy, Assaff recollected that the only thing which helped him somewhat to cope with the sense of bewilderment he experienced as a result of the inner change his father underwent, was a particular piece of music he listened to almost obsessively during and since that time. That piece of music was The Who's "Tommy", a Rock Opera written during the 70's.

Assaff was 34 years old when he presented for psychotherapy. After ending a painful relationship with a woman with whom he had lived for four years. Though he was the instigator of their break-up and at first felt relieved to be on his own again, several weeks after he began experiencing sleep loss, poor concentration at work, moodiness and irritability. He felt as if he was grieving over a beloved person without knowing who it was. He was, in his own words, "experiencing bereavement without anyone actually dying around me!"

Despite his depressive symptoms, he appeared eager to fully engage in understanding what was happening with him. He brought recollections of dreams to therapy and his associations were abundant. My initial liking of him deepened and I experienced myself in the transference as a loving father, appreciating the emergence of his personality. At times I felt slightly concerned, as a father would, when he reported episodes of deep despair which he dealt with either by staying home, smoking a joint and listening to music until he fell asleep, or by going out and meeting a friend. These recurring but very short spells of despair, never lasting more than a few hours at a time and did not appear during our weekly sessions. I began to wonder as to how he was able to split-off that aspect of himself and hide it from me.

The therapy was on-going for several months when the Jewish Holidays period came near. It meant that we would miss three sessions. All our efforts to find alternative dates were to no avail as we were both travelling abroad during the holidays. I noticed that he was dealing with some disappointment when we were discussing this but he rebuked my efforts to put it out in the open. His charming smile literally dazzled me into silence. I realized he was not yet ready to discuss those aspects of the therapeutic relationship. I attributed his reluctance to the early stage of therapy but also made a mental note of what seemed to me a manic defense against feelings of separation and loss.

When we returned from our respective holidays, he seemed more anxious. While on holiday abroad, he met a young woman with whom he started an intense affair. The affair continued after they returned but seemed to fill Assaff with anxiety lest he will again find himself "stuck" in a relationship he did not really want.

Towards the end of the session following his return, after a silence that lasted more than usual, I noticed that he was humming quietly to himself. It was an almost indiscernible hum but loud enough so I could hear it without being able to recognize the tune. I let it pass that time and again made a mental note to myself. It felt as if Assaff was creating a private space within himself and within the process, in response to something that has been going on. At that point I remained in the dark and felt excluded from a part of the process which impressed me as significant.

During the following session, the humming returned. I maintained my position of not commenting on it but also recognized that my abstinence was building up tension within me. It felt somewhat disproportionate to the event and I wondered what the underlying unconscious communication being acted out between us was. I noticed that my preoccupation with the significance of the humming was interfering with my ability to pay close attention to Assaff when he was speaking. I felt myself withdrawing from him and becoming somewhat absent as a retaliatory response to his distance from of me during his humming.

The content of these two sessions centered on his dissatisfaction with the prolonged holiday affair. He related his reluctance to end it to the unfinished business with the relationship that had brought him into therapy initially. After some time he paused, hummed, fell into silence and then commenced to tell me a dream. In his dream he was watching over his younger brother while his parents were going out. His father was dressed in clothes which seemed inappropriate, and he was unshaven and seemed distracted. His mother seemed oblivious. He watched them as they went out the door and when he looked back at his young sister, she was gone. The crib in which she had been was empty. At that point Assaff woke up. He said that he felt no fear through he knew he should have. Silence followed and before I had a chance to say anything, he began humming. This time the humming was slightly louder and I could tell what tune it was. Assaff noticed my interest and asked with a smile if I recognized the tune.

I replied that it sounded familiar. I then repeated what I thought I heard him hum: “It’s a Boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a Boy! It’s a Boy, Mrs. Walker, it’s a Boy!”

Assaff glowed in response to my recognition. He did not expect me to know that piece of music. It was a moment of closeness and understanding in the process which symbolized the therapeutic alliance that had formed between us. It prompted Assaff to tell me in detail the story about the album, "Tommy"

"Tommy" – The Story

The story begins with the news of Captain Walker, a British Army Officer, being missing in action during World War I. Shortly after his wife, Mrs. Walker, receives this news, she gives birth to their son, Tommy. Life goes on for the family and after an appropriate time, his father is declared officially dead. Tommy's mother forms a new relationship with a man who becomes Tommy's step-father. Their relationship is good enough though Tommy feels somewhat put aside. His mother is very focused on her new partner.

Seven years later, Captain Walker, actually alive, returns home unexpectedly and without an explanation. Discovering his wife remarried, he becomes enraged and confronts her new husband, who pulls out a knife. The violent scene takes place in front of Tommy who witnesses the fight between the two men and the death of his father at the hands of his step-father. To cover up the killing, Tommy's mother and step-father tell him that he "didn't see it, didn't hear it, and he will say nothing to no one ever in his life." The terror stricken Tommy takes the command literally, becoming blind, deaf and dumb.

In a state of shock, Tommy begins to experience chronic visual hallucinations. The hallucinations continue as Tommy develops into a young man. With the encouragement of his mother and step-father, Tommy begins to feel inspired by these hallucinations and sets off on an internal spiritual journey upon which he learns to interpret his hallucinations as signs of unique psychic powers. One power is his extraordinary talent for pinball machines which he develops in his early twenties. He becomes a worldwide celebrity, defeating all other contenders in pinball despite being deaf, dumb and blind. Meanwhile, Tommy's parents pursue futile attempts 'to cure the boy', taking him to various medical specialists as well as parapsychological charlatans. After numerous tests, they are told that there is nothing medically wrong with him, and that his problems are psychosomatic. Tommy's mother continues to try to reach him, and becomes frustrated that he completely ignores her while staring directly at a mirror. Out of this frustration she smashes the mirror. The smashing of the mirror snaps Tommy out of his unreceptive state and becomes able to see, speak and hear. Tommy's cure becomes a public sensation and he attains a quasi-messianic status and tries to lead his fans to an enlightenment similar to his own. Tommy demands that his followers blind, deafen and mute themselves in order to truly reach their spiritual height, but the heavy-handedness of his cult and the exploitation of its followers by his family and associates cause his followers to revolt against him. Abandoned by his followers and worshippers, Tommy gains a new enlightenment through solitude. Thus the opera ends. Tommy is a disillusioned but wiser man, no longer suffering from his multiple hysterical symptoms nor from his public status. He is left alone to carry on and rebuild his life.

"Tommy" as a Transitional Object

Assaff was ten years old when his father was called to service. Up until that moment, the family’s life in 1980's Tel Aviv could be characterized as comfortable. Both parents worked, Assaff was doing well at school and they led a middle class way of life. Assaff was the second child with a sister on either side. His parents were loving towards the children and to one another. Assaff shared his father's interest in football and went to Saturday matches with him. As a young man, Assaff’s father dreamt of becoming a professional footballer and showed promise. He played in a professional club but a severe injury, which nearly crippled him at the age of 19, ended those aspirations.

The day Assaff’s father was called to service had been intended as a day when they would go playing together in the park. When his father came back from service, Assaff waited for him wearing the same outfit he wore two months previously, holding in his hands their football as a welcome-home gift. His father hardly smiled. His unshaven cheeks were withdrawn. He avoided his family and after a few minutes went into the bedroom, and slept through the following morning. Assaff, and his sisters, were shocked and could hardly be consoled by their mother. His disappointment soon turned into rage which he only avoided with sleep.

The memory of that return haunted Assaff for years. Even though his father seemed much better the following morning and dutifully took Assaff to play football in the park that same afternoon, Assaff was not quite the same. He soon lost interest in football, and gradually began to despise it and deride anyone who showed interest in the sport. As an adolescent, he developed such hatred towards football he once called his father “a moron” for trying to coax him into going to see a match together.

His mumbling of "Tommy," was in tune with his manner at that time. His experience of his father (who had deteriorating health and was in a nursing home at the time of therapy) was still of a weak and fragmented figure. He was unable to articulate his wish for a more robust and stable father clearly. He used the theme of "Tommy" to relate to a memory fragment of a boy who had lost his father and as a result lost his own competence in the world, escaping into fantasy.

During the following sessions, we were able to retrace the significance of those few words which he hummed which were the opening lines of the rock opera. The significance of these words, uttered by the midwife who delivered the baby Tommy, remained puzzling for Assaff throughout his life. All he knew was the whenever he began listening to that album, which he did many times, he was seized with a deep sense of loss and longing.

In time, it became clearer that the adolescent preoccupation with the music, the lyrics, the narrative and the cultural background of the fictional character of Tommy may have presented Assaff with an opportunity to register, digest and work-through the emotional change he had experienced in the relationship with his shell-shocked but formerly beloved father. While the music lacked conscious links with his own life experience, he continued to regard it with awe, unable to interpret it and make it his own. It remained a remote object he was absorbed with which gave him some degree of emotional and spiritual solace but failed to help him come to terms with the mundane physical reality of living with a shell-shocked father and the disturbed family which they had become.

In time, Assaff began to recollect more memories from that time. Though he was no longer able to ask his father about that traumatic time, he could speak to his mother about it. She was surprised that it had affected him so strongly. It was her that reminded him that he came across The Who's "Tommy" almost by chance when they went shopping and found the double LP lying in a heap by the grocery store. Assaff added the LP to his budding collection and began listening to it. It was only a month or so later that his father was called to duty. The sounds of "Tommy" were the soundtrack of those days for Assaff but he disassociated the memory of the music from the actual events of those months.

The memories from those days were scant. He knew that his father's military unit encountered a group of terrorists on their way to plant a bomb in an Israeli city. His father went back to his normal activities at work and with sports and seemed to recover but not quite. Assaff was particularly sensitive to the minute change in his father's inner state. Though he soon returned to taking him to football matches, something was not quite the same and never became the same again. Assaff was left with a feeling that his father had become absent in ways he could not even formulate to himself. A gap was created and that gap was filled with The Who's music. His relationship with the music attempted to bridge over the trauma.

The break in the therapy due to the holidays just when Assaff was forming a close attachment to the therapist, led to a regression and the use of the "Tommy" object as a way of bridging over the unspeakable. By listening to the sounds emanating from that gap and interpreting them it allowed Assaff to recollect his memories from that period. In the following months, Assaff was able to work-through the various aspects of his ambivalence towards his father and process the period of his father's emotional absence from which he struggled.


Before commencing the discussion of the clinical vignette which served as the stimulus for this theoretical exercise, I would like to briefly interpret an instance in Freud's own relationship with his father, Jacob Freud. That incident will help, I believe, to further illustrate the way I interpret Freud's essay (1914) from which I quoted at the beginning of the essay.

This is not a reductionist attempt to link Freud's biography with the theoretical framework he outlined in this article. It rather serves as a suggestive illustration of one possible interpretation of the emotional ambivalence Freud refers to in the boy's attitude towards his father.

The incident is fairly well known. I shall recount it briefly, using Gay's account. For example, when Freud reached early adolescence he experienced (Gay, 1988. P. 11-12):

…Equivocal feelings about his father…'I may have been ten or twelve years old when my father began to take me along on his walks', and to talk about the world he had known. One day, to show how radically life had improved for Austrian Jews, Jacob Freud told his son this story. 'When I was a young fellow, one Saturday I went for a walk in the streets of your birthplace, beautifully decked out, with a new fur cap on my head. Along came a Christian, knocks off my cap into the muck with one blow, and shouts: Jew, off the sidewalk!' Interested, Freud asked his father, ' And what did you do?' the composed reply: 'I stepped into the road and picked up my cap.' His father's submissive response, Freud recalled soberly, perhaps a little ungenerously, 'did not seem heroic to me.' Was his father not a 'big strong man' (Gay, 1988, pp. 11-12)?"

I suggest that Freud's realization that his father was not the omnipotent figure he had thought him to be can be considered in relation to his conceptualization of the father imago. I suggest that his disappointment relates to a minor case of emotional absence of his father due to an external event which preoccupied the father's awareness to the extent that he was temporarily unavailable for the boy's projections. Freud viewed his father to be absent not as a result of a physical disappearance, but through his reluctance to stand up to anti-Semitic verbal abuse, which functioned as what Freud the son viewed as a weakness. It is significant in my opinion that the father's weakness in his son's eyes was related to his experience as a Jew in a hostile environment. Freud viewed his father as weak and without the glamour of omnipotence he attributed to him earlier, because of his father's failure to deal successfully with hostile external circumstances. The racial abuse his father tolerated without apt response, created a sense of abandonment in the young Freud. In a sense, one could argue that Freud was left alone in a hostile Gentile environment without the benevolent protection of his father, both as a real presence but even more significantly as an injured and partially absent father imago.

Freud's father has been described as a warm figure in Freud's early childhood. One could not easily attribute emotional absence to his figure. The economic hardship the Freud family endured during Sigmund's early years did not seem to cause too much emotional upset. One can refer to Freud's letter to Wilhelm Fliess after his father's death in 1896 to attest his attachment to him as well as sense some unresolved issues. Freud seems to be surprised by his own pain. "By one of those obscure paths beyond official consciousness the death of the old man has affected me profoundly (Freud, 1960, p. 232)." He then makes a surprising statement which seems to go way beyond a description of his father's illness which caused his death, "His life had been over a long time before he died (Freud, 1960, p. 232)."

I would suggest that Freud refers here to the "death" or at least the decline of the father imago he had experienced during his early adolescence. The disappointment he experienced from his father in his response to the anti-Semitic abuse, and probably other events which remain unreported, would be one instance, perhaps the only one he allowed himself to remember, indicating to us that it might be interpreted as a screen memory. The impact of his father's death, though anticipated due to his illness, was immense. "I now feel quite uprooted (Freud, 1960, p. 232)."

It is not only his father that has been lost, but Freud's own sense of belonging. The injury to the father imago, which was left unattended, has resulted in an injury to his sense of belonging. One must also remember that it was after his father's death in 1896 that Freud began his famous self-analysis which laid the foundation for the writing of his most significant work on dreams. It was the father's absence which motivated Freud to undergo the inner quest of which psychoanalysis was the fruitful product (Quinadoz, 2005).

The music of "Tommy" helped the young Assaff to deal with a psychic phenomenon he could not comprehend nor articulate verbally and became a part of his inner world. In a sense it came to represent for him an effort to come to terms with incomprehensible piece of reality. It was not a conscious effort to use that of piece of music as a defense and as a transitional object and its significance only became clear during the therapy when it surfaced as a reaction to an event of absence of the therapist. Though the absence was seemingly mundane and anticipated, it evoked a deep reaction, as he unconsciously relived an earlier and traumatic experience. That experience contained a disassociated memory of Assaff's father emotional absence which had never been properly understood by the boy. It has sunk into near oblivion, wrapped with the music that was significant for Assaff at that time. What brought the memory back into consciousness, thus allowing its working-through in therapy, was the piece of music itself, hummed by Assaff. Once the memory, with its previously disassociated feelings, was relived, Assaff was able to come to terms with aspects of his relationship with his father. The father imago, which had been injured due to the father's emotional absence, was acknowledged to contain less-than-ideal aspects. This allowed Assaff to let go and continue the delayed process of separation from the beloved father-son paradigm. Consequently, Assaff was able to deal more effectively with current relationships in his life. He was able to disengage the ambivalence he had felt towards his father during his adolescence from the sense of loss he had felt earlier, when his father had "gone missing" due to his traumatic experience. The "return" of his father to Assaff's life in later years did not totally overcome the sense of injury. It had remained a painful memory, but thanks to Assaff's embracing of the The Who's" Tommy", he was able to find a source of solace in his attachment to the music and its associated themes. Those provided him with transitional cultural objects with which he could identify and onto which he was able to transfer his attachment.


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[1] All the names have been altered.

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