The rise of the casual daddy

Hugh Grant says he couldn't be happier about his latest role: being a father without a relationship. He's not the only one...

The story of Hugh Grant's fatherhood could have gone two ways. On learning that the Chinese actress Tinglan Hong, with whom he enjoyed a brief relationship earlier this year, was pregnant, Grant could have played the cad. He wouldn't have been the first to do so – Eddie Murphy was famously ungracious in fatherhood, initially denying responsibility for his daughter with the former Spice Girl Melanie Brown. So, too, was Boris Becker, who reportedly accused the child's mother of being a "gold digger". Yesterday, Justin Bieber's management issued a rebuttal of fan Mariah Yeater's claim to have given birth to his child, though paternity tests have yet to be taken. And, of course, Grant's former partner Elizabeth Hurley – with whom the actor remains close friends – was publicly forced into taking DNA tests by Steve Bing, who refused to acknowledge the one-time couple's son, Damian.

On-screen, it's a role with which Grant is only too familiar. But off-screen he has followed a different script. Grant – unlike Bing, Becker and Murphy – has played the gent. Instead of denials or accusations, he's issued a glowing statement welcoming his new daughter into the world. He is, his spokesperson says, "delighted". He "couldn't be happier and more supportive". Of course, the proof of that is in the pudding – but, at this stage, the ingredients look good. Hong has moved into a house in Fulham, near Grant's, and the actor has long spoken of wanting to be a father. In fulfilling this ambition, Grant has become the latest in a string of high-profile "casual fathers" – dads who may not still be with the mother of their child, but seem to be taking to the role.

When Jude Law was named as the father of Samantha Burke's baby, the story was reported with a frenzy similar to the one that has greeted Grant's bundle of joy. Burke, a model, posed for pictures in Hello! before Law had visited. A merry divorcé, father of three children from his marriage to Sadie Frost and now something of a playboy, his subsequent silence was greeted with a hefty dose of scepticism. But it seems Law has come good. There has been no mudslinging, no public acrimony. The parents have come to an agreement and appear to be sticking to it.

Likewise, the American actor Ryan Phillippe became a father after an off-and-on relationship with the actress Alexis Knapp. He was present at his child's birth and the couple have come to an amicable agreement. And Benicio Del Toro, who learned of his impending fatherhood after splitting from Rod Stewart's daughter Kimberly, has been the model of responsibility.

Ideally, when it comes to Grant, the "casual" moniker will be a misleading one. "The importance of a father's role is paramount," says Andrew Watson, a parenting expert and author of Down To Earth with a Bump: The Diary of a First-Time Dad. "Studies reiterate it again and again. It affects the child's self esteem and academic achievement. Children with involved fathers are less likely to be associated with drugs and crime." With parents living apart, it can be difficult to obtain the right sort of relationship – but there's no reason to think it isn't possible. "It would have to be a pretty special arrangement to make it work," Watson says. "But in principle, it's entirely possible. And I'm sure that with someone of Hugh Grant's means, there will be resources available that help considerably."

Given the bilateral way in which the birth has been announced, it seems safe to assume that Grant will be sharing these resources with his daughter's mother. In situations like these there's rarely any need to involve the courts. Quite aside from the benefits of avoiding adversarialism, this option is likely to provide some material benefit to the child, too.

"If the parents aren't agreeing on the terms of their relationship, the first post of call would be the Child Support Agency," David Osborne, a barrister specialising in marital law, says. "Then it becomes a balancing act between the mother's needs and the father's income." Requests such as private security or schooling – potentially preferable given the child's likely role in the public eye – may not always be given the benefit of the doubt: "It's about the ability to give a stable upbringing, not to freeload."

Thus far, then, things look good for Grant Jnr. With her father publicly committed to maintaining a role in her life and her parents on seemingly good terms, she might be destined to lead a charmed existence. Still, there are a few golden rules to follow. "When fathering from a distance, consistency is key," Watson says. "Let your child know what to expect and stick to it. Short, regular visits are better than long and infrequent ones. When you're with them, give your undivided attention – remove any obstacles that could prevent that. And taking time off work to spend with them may mean there is less money in the bank for the ever-increasing bills, but it is an investment of another sort."

With Grant living just around the corner, his daughter is likely to see plenty of him – but for parents who live further apart, there are other ways to keep up relations. "Do everything you can to maintain a presence – send regular photos, Skype, pick up the phone." Done right, Grant's unexpected fatherhood might just prove the making of him. Something of a man about town, he has long been pictured in the paper more often than he might like – be it for his high-profile relationships with beautiful women, his late-night indiscretions or his reputation as the ultimate commitment-phobe. Aged 51, he has now been obliged to commit, big time. And it's a move that can pay dividends.

"It's all out there for him," Watson says. "It is a cliché, but the benefits of fatherhood are enormous. You gain a better understanding of relationships, see what the other half is like. You learn new skills. You're more engaged with the world around you. He's got some great days ahead."

Distant relatives: The reluctant fathers

Eddie Murphy The comedian's relationship with the former Spice Girl Melanie Brown received no shortage of public attention. Still, the comedian felt moved to distance himself from Brown when she claimed she was pregnant with his child. "I don't know whose child that is until it comes out and has a blood test," he told one journalist. Charming.

Boris Becker Becker conceived his daughter Anna during a (very) brief encounter at the high-end restaurant Nobu. He was informed of the fact by fax, said Anna's mother, Angela Ermakova. Comparing the tennis star to a "runaway train" she has claimed he accused her of going after his money.

Steve Bing In the ultimate unchivalrous act, Bing claimed he couldn't be sure that he was father of Elizabeth Hurley's son Damian, since "the relationship hadn't been exclusive". Still, DNA tests proved that Hurley was, in fact, correct in her assumption. It is not known whether Bing has a relationship with his son.

Justin Bieber? Yesterday Justin Bieber's management shifted into crisis mode, following claims in an American tabloid that a fan named Mariah Yeater had given birth to the pop star's child. Yeater has asked Bieber to submit to DNA tests, claiming they shared a tryst last year. He has yet to co-operate.

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