spiked editor Mick Hume in The Times (London).
When I gazed down at our first child, the age-old doubts that afflict new fathers went through my mind: should we be wearing Armani or Gap; which choice of car, CD or sexual position would make me look a better parent? And what would David Beckham do in my boots?
Today’s new fathers are luckier. They will have the benefit of a free copy of Dad, ‘the magazine for new fathers’, sponsored by the Department for Trade and Industry and the Scottish Executive Health Department. The aim, apparently, is to make new dads better informed and more confident about their rights and responsibilities. How our fathers and grandfathers got by without its wisdom is anybody’s guess.
Dad’s beautiful, glossy, government-sponsored pages reflect a rather ugly, dull, government- sponsored view of what men are like. Whitehall believes that young men today are feckless, irresponsible products of the ‘lad culture’. In which case, one way to get them to act like parents might be to pretend that it is possible to be both a top lad and a good dad.
So why not wrap up your message of paternal correctness in a men’s magazine that purports to be largely about sex, style, relationships, football, cars, consumer goods and celebrities? The opening line of the interview with ‘father-of-five’ Pierce Brosnan sums it up: ‘Can dads be cool?’ The answer: of course! As the last line has it, ‘Just imagine: James Bond is your dad.’
How cool would that be?’ Almost as cool, apparently, as being parented by the first issue’s other big interviewee, ‘Britain’s favourite dad’, David Beckham.
Fear not lad-dads, you can still be into gizmos and gadgets. Dad has a photo-feature on ‘Kid kit – 30 pieces of essential baby gear’, that mimics a men’s mag’s moodily-lit pictures of must-have, useless consumer goods. The difference is that it features a nappy stacker and a TV camera alarm (as seen on Footballers’ Wives) rather than Austin Powers-type techno nonsense.
And no, dads do not have to be sad. Alongside the full-page advertisements for designer clothes, Dad has a fashion shoot of ‘six stylish fathers’ and their children dressed by, er, Marks and Spencer. The fathers are all ordinary lads, of course: a music producer, a model, a film actor, a commercial director, a motor mechanic and a milkman. (Guess which two of those I made up.) Despite the pseudo-cool packaging, the worthy messages of the therapeutic parenting industry are as easy to spot as a baby-sick stain on the shoulder of your designer suit. So there are plenty of plugs for helping your partner to breastfeed but no mention of what is the biggest help you can provide: giving the baby a bottle in the middle of the night. The ‘ten tips to keep your baby healthy’ amount to another patronising lecture about giving up smoking, cutting down on drink and not dropping your baby in boiling water.
‘The Truth About Sex and Pregnant Women’ suggests that, after childbirth, men should ‘put in ten hours of cuddling and helping out to get ten minutes of sex’ – the sort of advice that makes us sound like perverts ‘grooming’ our poor helpless little partners. And of course, in the ‘natural’ relationship problems that a baby brings, the ‘important thing’ is to get counselling. Dad’s agony uncle is the psychologist Oliver James (latest book, They F*** You Up, Your Mum and Dad).
Dad is a sad product of a culture that the writer Andrew Calcutt describes as ‘arrested development’. It is a culture that promotes a sort of Peter Pan syndrome, where people want to stay forever young and immature, adultescents like the cast of Friends. Uncomfortable with the idea of growing up and taking responsibility, we invite the ‘experts’ to treat us as children in need of guidance, even when we become parents.
When my wife was pregnant the first time, one book she found useful was a Men’s Guide to Pregnancy from the 1970s, which offered a rational, factual description of the mechanics of childbirth. Now the expertise men are offered is all about emotions and how to feel, in the name of ‘feminisation’, which appears to assume women are irrational creatures and that men should be more like that. The end result is to infantilise us all.
One new father writes in Dad how the birth of his child has opened up ‘a world of emotion’. ‘Now, ravaged by sleepless nights, I cry all the time, my bowels smell evil (postnatal stress), and I can’t lift my head off the pillow without help. It seems fatherhood has turned this particular man into a baby himself – but deep down, I know it is the other way round.’
Reading that should give anybody pre-natal depression.
This article is republished from The Times (London)
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