E Jane Dickson: Staying Afloat

'We all know fathers have rights. Will they claim their responsibilities with equal sound and fury?'

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There is a vaguely Masonic feel to our Father's Day celebrations. On Sunday afternoon, Clara and Conor and I troop round to daddy's house where gifts are duly presented. From Clara there is a cake, baked, decorated and boxed with infinite care and a barbecue apron customised with the word "Dad" spelled out shakily in sequins and glitter. From Con, there is a no less gorgeously customised balloon that makes farty noises. Daddy dons the ceremonial apron (airily dismissing the design fault of a pinny that can never be washed), lets off the balloon and pronounces the gifts to be works of staggering beauty and usefulness. There are also gifts and cards organised by daddy's wife, and I, in turn, am presented with a lovely photo my ex has taken of our children.

There is a vaguely Masonic feel to our Father's Day celebrations. On Sunday afternoon, Clara and Conor and I troop round to daddy's house where gifts are duly presented. From Clara there is a cake, baked, decorated and boxed with infinite care and a barbecue apron customised with the word "Dad" spelled out shakily in sequins and glitter. From Con, there is a no less gorgeously customised balloon that makes farty noises. Daddy dons the ceremonial apron (airily dismissing the design fault of a pinny that can never be washed), lets off the balloon and pronounces the gifts to be works of staggering beauty and usefulness. There are also gifts and cards organised by daddy's wife, and I, in turn, am presented with a lovely photo my ex has taken of our children.

It's all very modern and friendly, with the kids running the show and the adults on their best behaviour. Similar scenes of functional, fractured family life will have taken place all over the country, but you'd never know it from reading the newspapers. The headlines are full of fathers campaigning for access to their estranged children and the latest statistics on the "alarming proportion [to quote the Daily Mail] of children who live with just one parent". These children, we are reminded, are likely to do worse at school, suffer worse health and commit more crime than those with two parents. No account is taken, in this dire demographic, of the other social factors affecting one-parent families, but I'm willing to bet that child poverty - a political cold potato if ever there was one - plays a substantial role.

Leaving aside the issue of divorced parents, whose responsibility it is to thrash out an acceptable deal for their children (and no, it's not great fun, but sometimes you just have to make like the grown-ups), there is the information that one in five babies is now born into a home without a father. For 85 per cent of these lone mothers, pregnancy was unplanned and, presumably, came about without the help of a turkey baster. Nevertheless, the "blame" for the increase in lone parenthood is laid squarely at the door of the mothers. Robert Whelan of the Civitas think-tank huffs and puffs about the selfishness of "young women who have never bothered to bring a man into the house". (My italics). Does Mr Whelan honestly believe that most single mothers are slamming doors in the faces of cheque-book-waving fathers desperate to play happy families? If so, he is dangerously deluded.

The sad, politically unglamorous truth is that absent fathers frequently don't give a damn, financial or otherwise, about their children. Of course there are exceptions and it is right that the profile of this unhappy group should be raised, although I can't for the life of me see how putting on fancy dress and having to be rescued from tall buildings demonstrates a capacity for responsible parenthood.

All the world now knows that fathers have rights. Will they claim their responsibilities with equal sound and fury? I won't be holding my breath.

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