You bloody traitor, Kathleen Parker. You weak-willed, belly-showing traitor. Maybe you’ve the luxury of a man to help take care of your two sons, but, please, know for sure that that’s what it is – a luxury. Women have been raising children alone for centuries untold, and, since feminist liberation, we have been enabled to provide for ourselves and our children on a more basic level. If that alienates men from their traditional roles of breadwinner and head of the table then too bad. I was raised by a single mother who was also a part-time lawyer; it did me no harm whatsoever, and I fully intend to be one myself one day.
Michael Gove and his ilk can rant about absent fathers until they’re blue in the balls, but if what we really want is for men to return, of their own accord, to the home, then we’d better do something about how domestic work and childcare are seen in this country. House-work and the raising of children are not seen as noble occupations, worthy of respect; if they were, I’d venture that fewer women would be so desperate to throw themselves into the non-domestic world of work, still so fundamentally a man’s world. Since the opening up of legal gender emancipation in the 1960s-70s, women won the right to enter into work organized for men, on men’s terms. Nobody told men that they now had the right to stay at home with the children: the idea would be laughable. That’s women’s work. And, partly because it’s women’s work, child-rearing is still one of the least respected professions on the planet. No wonder the men aren’t lining up to take their turn with the late nights, dirty nappies and parents’ evenings.
So, precisely in what way do children ‘need’ fathers – or is it, in fact, fathers who need children? Traditionally, the role of the head of the household was to provide for his wife and kids on a material basis. Now that that financial role is being adequately filled by many women all on their own, if men want to be more involved in the lives of their children, there will have to be a genuine sharing of domestic roles on a more sustained level, along with policies to back that up from the highest levels of government. The plain fact is that now that women are allowed to financially provide for themselves, we no longer need husbands to raise children effectively, if, indeed, we ever did. What women could do with, fundamentally, are wives –other people, male or female, to share the load of domestic work and money-earning in a spirit of genuine support and partnership. When more men can stomach seeing themselves in the role of ‘wife and father’, then we’ll have a basis for negotiation. Parker goes on to claim that contemporary reproductive freedoms have emasculated men:
Granted, many men are all too grateful for women to handle the collateral damage of poorly planned romantic interludes, but that doesn’t negate the fact that many men are hurt by the presumption that their vote is irrelevant in childbearing decisions.’
I love my partner deeply and would be thrilled to bear a child who carried half of his genetic material. If we are still together at the time my child is born I will be only too happy for him to help me raise it, for him to share legal guardianship and for my child to call him ‘dad’. And this is not because it’s his moral or genetic right, but because I’m lucky enough to have met an emotionally and domestically literate man who I think would make a wonderful parent. But I want him around because he’s a fantastic person, not because my kids need a male parent. And if he doesn’t want to be involved, I’ll manage. Before they are their own, my kids will be just that – mine – and my money will pay for the nappies and school shoes.
So sorry about your balls, guys, but before they are their own these babies are ours, and they will remain ours whilst they are born from our bodies. We would be only too delighted for you to help us – genuinely help us – with the work of raising the next generation, but fatherhood is a privilege, not a right. If you’re truly man enough to be a wife and father, bring that to the table and we’ll talk.