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Looking Like Daddy? To What Degree?

The following is excerpted from pages 48-49 (Chapter 5) of Edward Wallerstein's classic text,
Circumcision: An American Health Fallacy  New York:Springer Publishing, 1980

Although Dr. Spock abandoned his earlier belief in the importance of peer and paternal identification, i.e., that the boy should feel "regular," this view is still found in guidebooks [36]. Although many "authorities" present penile identification as one of the reasons for recommending circumcision, a recent guidebook (1976) stated: "The baby should...match his father and this should be your main rationale for choosing circumcision." [37]

Since this specious argument is still prevalent, it deserves comment. Generally speaking, a boy wants to feel "regular" and identify with his father and his peers. However, such identification must be within the bounds of reason. For example, if a boy's father is tattoed or has an appendectomy scar, or wears eyeglasses, should the child be similarly provided? In discussing the penis though, identification seems to acquire some special arcane meaning in that a boy's penis, different in appearance from his father's or his peers', is considered potentially traumatic. The speciousness of this argument can be seen when the consequences are reduced to an absurdity.

What has happened to the millions of American boys who were circumcised during the past century whose fathers were not? The difference was very likely noticed and, when questioned, parents probably stated, with much ease and assurance, that it was better to be circumcised. [NOHARMM note: Today, circumcised fathers of intact sons simply explain, "When daddy was born, people used to think that cutting off the foreskin was a good thing. Now we know better, and that's why you have all the parts you were born with."]

There is no evidence that a national psychiatric trauma occurred during the period of change.

Or take the case of Britain, where millions of boys were circumcised up to 1950, before the rate precipitously declined. That is, from 1900 to 1950, many boys were circumcised while their fathers were not, and since 1950 the reverse is generally true. Again, there is nothing in British medical or psychiatric literature indicating any trauma resulting from lack of paternal penile identification.

This question was succinctly dealt with by three physicians in Taking Care of Your Child (1977): "We feel medical procedures should be for medical reasons and not to make a baby look like someone else." [38]


36. Virginia E. Pomerantz and Dodi Shultz, The Mother's Medical Encyclopedia (New York: Signet Reference Books, 1972), p.99; David T. Hellyer, Your Child and You (New York: Delacorte Press, 1966), pp.32-33.

37. Gideon G. Panter and Shirley Mitter Linde, Now That You've Had Your Baby (New York: David MacKay, 1976), pp.18-19.

38. R.H. Pontell, J.F. Fries, and D.M. Vickey, Taking Care of Your Child, (Reading, Mass: Addison Wesley, 1977), p.29.

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