Tim Lott: I have three of them. But children and fathers don't mix

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The Independent Online

Margaret Hodge's proposal that men should be entitled to six months' paid leave on the birth of a child will be welcomed by a lot of people, a few of whom might be men.

However, I suspect the overwhelming majority of fathers will now be required to do something that has been required of them depressingly often since the invention of "new men" and "househusbands". They will be required to lie.

Publicly, they will welcome the chance to spend the first six months of life with their progeny, just as they will coo and fuss over the choice of cot, the colour of blanket and the brand of nappy.

But privately many of them will be thinking that, first, six months is a very long time. And, second, that they'd better keep their mouths shut about the first thought.

The perception of fatherhood has reached an ideological pitch where it is a moral imperative for men to covet the role of parenthood. It is a given, indeed it is a positive demand, that offered the choice between sweating in an office or bouncing their newborn on their knee, they will choose the latter.

The reality is that many men are terrified of becoming fathers - for the very good reason that a lot of them are just not cut out for the modern definition of it.

I suspect that I am one of those men, despite the fact that I have three children, all of whom I both conventionally and sincerely must define as adorable. But the problem with being a father is that fathers are men, and this renders them in some ways constitutionally inadequate - or at least unmotherly - as parents.

This is not merely an anecdotal point of view. A new survey by the market researchers BMRB shows that teenagers overwhelmingly agreed that mothers were the number one parent of choice.

On nearly every issue they were identified as more supportive, affectionate and involved than fathers. Fathers were less likely to know the name of their children's best friends, often couldn't give advice without lecturing or preaching, were more inclined to lose their temper and were more reluctant to spend time with their kids.

Fathers and children, to be frank, often do not mix. To be even more frank, let me speak personally. I do not like changing nappies. I do not like playing snakes and ladders or any other game which implicitly involves letting the other person win. I do not like Spot Goes on a Picnic or any children's books.

I do not like tickling, or being tickled. I do not find the distribution of nursery food across the kitchen wall "cute". I find nursery rhymes tedious. Pushing swings bores me to death. Having even the cutest toddler crawl into bed at six in the morning is profoundly annoying. I don't like being either the recipient or the administrator of piggybacks.

You get the point. I am a man. Men are a little bit autistic, and they are single minded, not multi-taskers, which means they find distraction very hard when they are trying to complete a task, be it reading a paper or changing a fuse. And children are unbelievably, and fundamentally and always, distracting.

I should add that I do not think that women are congenitally predisposed to shit work. Or to enjoy unending games of patacake. I merely observe that in the battle with the challenges of parenthood, women are more successful. Men, after 40 years of social reprogramming, still pick up the weapons only diffidently - and run to the garden shed at the first sign of trouble.

Why have them then? Because they provide meaning. Without children, many men - at least heterosexual men - find themselves more and more unrooted and irrelevant as they approach middle age. Also they are, despite everything, lovable. I am often overwhelmed with feelings for my kids, and some of those feelings are even positive. I do not regret for a moment having any of them. But I fear I am not much use to them.

I do think men have at least one redeeming feature as parents, however - and this is one picked up on by the BMRB survey. Teenagers mostly thought that fathers were considerably less manipulable than mothers.

Which is another way of saying that men find it a lot easier to shout at their kids and tell them off, and stop them doing what they want to do. This rings true. In fact a great deal of my relationship with my kids is based around the word "no". It is not a welcome word, or a lovable one, but it is very much a necessary one. This is especially true at a time when many mothers want to be their kids' friend as much as their parent, and explains why so many modern children are both overweight and ill-mannered.

The toughness of fathers does much to explain kids' preference for their mothers. But if fathers were as close to their kids as their mothers were, they wouldn't be able to perform well the one role which nature seems to have allotted them.