Friday, 4 June 2010

the daddy wars begin

THIS week saw the first shots exchanged in what you could call the 'daddy wars'. On one side, David Cameron and Nick Clegg changed the time of a Cabinet meeting so they could take their kids to school first - sending a powerful signal to fathers and employers about the importance of family life.
Fire was returned with both barrels by the Daily Mail's Richard Littlejohn, who complained in his Friday column that when his children were small he left home at 5.30am and only saw them at weekends. The Mail's diary column says Cameron and Clegg 'invite our contempt', a view I suspect the Mail's editor Paul Dacre probably shares. I'm sure some older male MPs are muttering similar things, and there may be jitters around Downing Street.
Well, I hope they stick to their guns. Littlejohn reflects what many British men, particularly older men, probably think. But there is another generation of fathers who don't want their children to grow up in their absence, and Cameron and Clegg owe it them to show the sky doesn't fall in if you occasionally put family first.
The 'daddy wars', just like the much better-chronicled mummy wars, are often rooted in guilt: if a man announces he won't sacrifice his children to a career, men who have essentially had to do just that are bound to feel criticised and defensive. There's a sense of 'I had it hard, why shouldn't they?'
And men who disagree don't always dare say so. Some years ago when the Commons was debating changes to late night voting, those campaigning for more humane hours were nearly all women (and mothers) while those against were nearly all men. A male MP (and father) told me he and several colleagues were privately on the women's side but staying quiet because it was easier to let the women take the flak.
Well, where working fathers and working mothers share the same frustrations about office life it's time they made common cause. Cameron and Clegg have a unique chance to make a difference: I hope they grab it with both hands.


  1. Cynically I would say that, with an absence of women in the Cabinet, maybe they had to do something like this.
    But I'm glad, all the same, and hope it continues - and if I've guessed the reason at least partially right, then I imagine it will have to carry on, as there's no prospect of the Cabinet balance changing any time soon.

  2. Yes absolutely! I'm sure Richard Littlejohn would agree that 5.30am starts and only seeing his kids at weekends (when he was probably too knackered to care for them anyway) were not in any way conducive to a happy or more egalitarian family life. Must everyone crucify themselves just because he did? It's time for some changes no?

  3. Truly we have reached an age where everybody feels entitled to have an opinion on anything.

    WTF does it matter to Mr Littlejohn if the cabinet meeting starts at 8 or at 9?

  4. An interesting dimension being that by holding on to ministerial cars with outriders they could probably do both!

    However, applaud the principle - this could be one of the few benefits of having a PM my own age

  5. Raising children is one of the most important jobs anyone will ever do. It's much more important than most jobs - certainly more important that being a journalist in the Mail.

    I'm delighted that the PM and DPM are showing that being a fully engaged Dad is possible alongside a job. What needs to happen now is that we also ensure that it is genuinely possible for everyone else too. Enabling Dads to be more involved is the other half of sexual-equality which has sadly been missing - it will pay dividends for both men and women.

  6. I agree with Pete Bagnall.

    My husband works extremely hard at work with the stresses of running his own business and yet is always home for tea - sometimes a late one but is absolutely amazing with the kids. My father was always gone before we got up, came back after we were asleep and we rarely saw him. He was great fun on holiday but they were few and far between.

  7. jane, i think there may be a grain of truth in that - tho to be fair both cameron and clegg have walked the walk as well as talked the talk for last few years (both had wives who wouldn't have put up with any less). but yes, never hurt to have a few working mothers in govt.
    interesting point from jonathanflowers about age. i think it is quite possibly a generational thing - tony blair was considered an unusually involved father for his era (used to get out of late night votes when opposition frontbencher occsaionally to put kids to bed), but somehow not quite the same.
    and justherdingcats your husband sounds rather lovely!

  8. I think its a fabulous thing to do, a great opportunity to try and change the wider view of society and hopefully to make things easier for parents (at least that's my optimistic view and hope)

  9. Interesting to hear you refer to the time when women MPs were lobbying to change the working hours in the HOC. The Boss was, probably predictably, against it - and seemed to take pride in taking a "Wall Street" approach to everything, once telling me that "lunch is for wimps." I think some MPs also resisted the changes as they foresaw that losing the late sittings would restrict their freedom to spend late nights in Annie's Bar (or elsewhere) without being questioned by their spouses! In fact, The Boss says that he doesn't think he will ever voluntarily retire as an MP - as he'd have nothing to do, and would probably drop dead as soon as he stopped working. Given that The Boss is a husband, father and soon-to-be grandfather, isn't this sad? Also, as social commentators note the increasingly negative effects of fatherlessness on children, and a sense of redundancy amongst young men, it's not a little concerning that some MPs still take such an outdated view of a father's role, simply as a default position. Can't help but admire Cameron's position on this...

  10. Following on from the above, this may be of interest (despite it's being from The Mail!):