WHO’S YOUR DADDY? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

When a significant number of men take no responsibility for raising their sons and daughters, the kids take it upon themselves to create the father they don’t have. They visit daddy in prison and see what a tough-ass the guy is — jailhouse tats, bad attitude slouch, and the if-u-mess-with-me-I’ll-break-every-bone-in-your-body deadeye stare.

Everyone needs a daddy. If you can’t have one home at night helping mom and helping with your homework, you become just like the one who lives behind bars or works the street.

Add  to the mix, the need for a teenager to differentiate himself from his parents [music, dress, attitude, defiance], what better way to piss off an entire generation of free-thinker-baby-boomers than to act like a low life hoodlum. So now rock stars, young men and woman of all socioeconomic classes, and adults with a teenage wannabe mentality, are walking around with jailhouse tattoos. They are adamant that it’s not a jailhouse, screw-you mentality. It’s a fashion statement. You’re so uncool if you can’t see it.

The mind of this psychiatrist watches in awe at how crazy we all are. Oh yeah, I need to go out and buy pants 4 sizes too big and wear them around my knees.

10 thoughts on “WHO’S YOUR DADDY? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. Great insight, Dr. Smukler. I worked in a jail for five years; some of my patients were adolescent inmates. Proportionally, the 16-year-olds, most with no paternal presence in home, or fathers were in prison, had the most heinous charges. [“What are you here for?” “Attempt’ murder,” with a proud fist-bump to his chest.] The tattoo is issue is relevant; its significance has been magnified by the offended posters here to irrelevant situations [I have one, too — I hope I can tell the difference in motivation!]. Whenever a patient-inmate came to session with his trousers pulled down low, I asked that he pull them up “before you come into the doctor’s [my] office,”. [Many also needed better Mother figures as well.] I always wondered what THAT was about: did they think they had to show they were “ready” for a special moment with a women? [and it was so ’80’s!] One of many provocative behaviors, as you have noted, aimed at imagining SOME constellation of a father.


  2. I did not mean to imply that all kids who see their dads in prison become just like them; i.e. tattoos etc. Thankfully so many forge their own productive lives and don’t follow their parents’ lead. I was mainly focusing on the way society has taken prison experiences and turned them into something that is now a fashion statement. This is not a condemnation of tattoos, but my way of wondering why so many people take the lead from the violent and antisocial members of our society.


  3. I do think that I honed in on the tattoo comment a little much, but I guess that is because I failed to see the connection between not having a Daddy, tattoos, and the “hoodlum” mentality. For me, this post was too one dimensional. There wasn’t enough substance and substantial linkage between not having a Daddy and the effects. Not having a Daddy to “help Mom” does not mean that “you become just like the one who lives behind bars or works the street.” Working with at-risk youth I have the unique perspective and understanding that there are so many factors that contribute to why one may veer toward a life of crime or indignation.


    1. With all due respect, cindy, perspective perhaps not “unique.” Before I did Correctional Facility psychiatry, and WAY before I went to med school, I worked as a Caseworker/DSS & BCW in the South Bronx [“Fort Apache”– late’60’s-’70’s]. Teen crime was relatively lower than their fathers’ then — THEN they were more “at-risk.” In the 2000s, no longer “at-risk,” but now in the System. Gang-dynamics continued — gangs are another way to get a surrogate family with a form of “father-,” or “older-brother” figure. I think Dr. Smukler’s post brings up an important psychodynamic point: we tend to focus on the “Bad Mother,” but under-address the “Bad Father,” which may more likely be an absent father — so here is one way the father can be “created”. I don’t see where other ways have been excluded.
      It may also be very difficult to internalize a father-Object from an early age, so transference onto the “Absent Father” may look very different from transference onto the “Bad/Inadequate” Mother, maybe take much longer to manifest itself, — or never.


  4. This arrived in my inbox at the same time as a series of pictures past on to me by a friend… it was of a grandmother winning an award for her tattoos and piercings… I won’t go in to detail but lets just say she looked ok from the neck up, the rest was one huge tattoo and as for the piercings… I had trouble holding down my supper!! It’s not just kids who do stupid things, at least they have a chance of growing up and improving their mental attitude, some poor soul has a multi-coloured grandma who rattles when she walks!
    Cindy, I agree with Jim, Art doesn’t mean everyone with tattoos just those who copy the prison tats in an effort to emulate criminals.


  5. Oh God, do you have the trousers-at-half-mast look in America too? It was fashionable here in Britain for a while but is now thankfully dying out. I’m glad – looking at a builder’s cleavage doesn’t do it for me!


  6. Cindy, I think you are missing the point. I don’t think he’s talking about everyone who has tattoos as having a jailhouse mentality. I read it as certain kinds of tattoos and the attitudes to go with them, i.e. people who chose to emulate low life hoodlums. You don’t sound like that even though you have tattoos.


  7. Usually, I am in agreement with your analysis of people and why they do things. I respectfully disagree with this post. I think there may be a generational gap here. As someone who has tattoos, I can most definitively state that I do not possess a jailhouse, screw you mentality. (To further prove the generational gap – no one uses the term jailhouse these days.) Many people feel that tattoos are an art form and a form of expression. Many people find tattoos visually pleasing and interesting. I am one of those. Many people like the look of boxers hanging out of pants. I am not one of those. It doesn’t matter. Free expression is free expression. We are all unique and different which is what makes us interesting. Whether or not you like tattoos is your choice. I do feel that your ancient tunnel vision prevents you from truly understanding and tapping into the energy of other generations.


  8. Thanks. this is a very thoughtful analysis of what is incomprehensible to many people. I’m an avid reader of your blogs and find each one adds a new perspective. I so appreciate your writing them!


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