I got a bunch of responses to my call for examples of parent-child envy across gender lines , from mother to son and father to daughter. An on-point example: Angela Lansbury in The Manchurian Candidate (or Meryl Streep in the remake). Jeff Ryan writes in that these mothers “desparately, basely, (Clintonishly?) want their progeny’s political power for their own.” Other ideas that bring in more varieties of dysfunction: Medea (she kills her children to get revenge on her husband). The mother in Ordinary People (she is weirdly tied up with her teenage son, but isn’t it more about compensating for the problems in her marriage than about feeling competitive?). Psycho (deeply screwed up mother-son connection in every way). A great father-son example, from another reader, Robert: Searching for Bobby Fischer, the line where the father says that his 8-year-old prodigy son is now better at chess than he himself has been at anything in his whole life.
And a personal example of father-daughter envy, from a third reader, Albert: “My five-year-old little girl comes in from her summer camp and we’re talking. All of a sudden, I’m an out of touch old man. She rolls her eyes and flicks her head and is running down a path of social interaction that is second nature to girls and women. I’m the amateur.” Not second nature to many of us. But I can see him standing by, slightly awestruck.
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