The more emotions are flaunted, the more suspect they are

When a wife declaims in public the virtues of her other half, he should take a look at her diary
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The Independent Online

It has been a cracking week for young Charlie Boonker. He has had his first birthday and his grandparents have come over to the house to spoil him rotten. His dad has written him a letter all about how he came into the world, from the moment that his mum's waters broke, and ending with the heartfelt message, "Thank you for coming into my life Charlie Boonker. I love you. Dad."

It has been a cracking week for young Charlie Boonker. He has had his first birthday and his grandparents have come over to the house to spoil him rotten. His dad has written him a letter all about how he came into the world, from the moment that his mum's waters broke, and ending with the heartfelt message, "Thank you for coming into my life Charlie Boonker. I love you. Dad."

As it happens, Charlie has been sharing that touching, if only marginally literate, thank you from Dad, as well as the rest of the letter, with quite a few other people. His father is the actor Russell Crowe, on whose website the letter to the boy whose family nickname is Charlie Boonker has appeared.

Maybe, when he is slightly older, Russell's lad will be able to appreciate this very public gesture of affection. Once he is able to go on-line, Charlie will be able to read about his birth and discover in his father's words just what he meant to his parents. "I can truly tell you, it has been the most wonderful year of our lives. You are a very special little boy, so affectionate and lovely." Then there will doubtless be responses from fans on a message-board. Perhaps Charlie will be able to make his own contribution, sharing some early thoughts on what it is like to be brought up by the ex-hellraiser and his lovely wife Danielle, formerly a star of Home and Away.

Open declarations of love have become quite the thing among famous fathers, what with Russell's love letter to his son and the now legendary "my little lad" declarations of David Blunkett. For many people, it is reassuring that even a Hollywood star, or one of the fiercest and most powerful members of the British government, is prepared to lay himself emotionally bare and admit that he is as vulnerable and human as any other man, perhaps more so. The fact that an abrasive politician has turned out to be not only a victim of love but can become overcome by emotion at the thought of his little one losing out on his company, must surely be a sign of a kind of emotional integrity.

For these anti-cynics, a loud-hailer approach to love confirms the genuineness of the feelings. In fact, the more openly that public dads confess to their sensitivity, to the great surge of emotion within them, to the sacrifices they are prepared to make, then the greater their love is judged to be.

Does this view of behaviour actually accord with our everyday experience? Most shrinks or social workers would surely confirm that it is often the very parents who protest their adoration for their children to all and sundry who are, when things get tough, likely to be the least reliable. The most openly uxorious husband is almost always the one who is having a little Kimberly on the side. When a wife takes to declaiming in public the virtues of her other half, he should start taking a closer look at her diary.

Of course, there is nothing new in men playing the vulnerability card: over the past decade, blubbing has paid handsome dividends when it comes to establishing a man's credentials as a fully functioning emotional being. Until now, though, all but the most hard-bitten celebrities have resisted gurgling over their children for the benefit of their image.

It is no coincidence that, while they are different in every other way, both Crowe and Blunkett have established reputations as being the very opposite of what Arnold Schwarzenegger called "girlie men": they have been rough, tough types not averse to a bit of strong-arm tactics to get their way. Now, by the simple, shrewd expedient of deploying emotional exhibitionism, each of them has been rehabilitated in the public eye as that all-important thing, the sensitive guy.

So when Crowe writes to Charlie Boonker that "I'm going to wake you up in a minute and give you your first bottle," his words are really addressed to the world at large and concern the gentle, loving father he has become.

Blunkett went considerably further - in fact, such was the level of egotism in the remarks he made when leaving office that, at a saner time in history, he might have been thought to be genuinely unbalanced. The boasts about his honesty, about the support he has had from ordinary folk, about being in public life to help people, about his reputation for honesty, were the sort of embarrassing guff to which politicians resort when they are in a tight corner.

His declaration of love for his son was at a different level of shamelessness: the little lad, holding his little one in his arms, his pride that one day the boy "will want to know ... that his father actually cared enough about him to sacrifice his career." Few more nauseatingly self-serving (and inaccurate) remarks can have been made by a public figure.

None of which is to say that the love of these men for their children is not genuine. But it is a useful rule that the louder people pronounce their feelings, the more suspicious the rest of us should be. Sometimes, behind emotional declarations that are expressed too openly, there lurks another love of a rather more self- interested kind.

terblacker@aol.com

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