What if one is compelled to love exactly the person most dangerous to love? Such questions are generally associated with romantic love. One could list the probable characteristics of the loved one: he is self-absorbed, needy, can’t see you clearly, demands all your attention. But dangerous love can be found outside of romantic love as well. What if the loved one is one’s father, and the love he offers is paternal love and the love demanded is just filial devotion? Halpern is not concerned here with the sexually abusive father or the absent father, but with the affectionate father, the ever-present, the too-present father, the “embarrassing father.” Focusing on Henry James Sr. and John Butler Yeats, as dramatized in the autobiographies of their sons, Halpern explores the potentially crippling aspects of a certain kind of paternal love, in particular its intellectual and psychological coerciveness.
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