Attacking Feckless Fathers: For The Greater Good

On Father’s Day, in an article for The Sunday Telegraph, the British Prime Minister, David Cameron offered an outspoken defence for traditional family life – the ‘cornerstone of our society’ – by attacking ‘feckless fathers’, likening absent fathers to drunk drivers:

“It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them… They should be looked at like drink drivers, people who are beyond the pale. Leaving single mothers, who do a heroic job against all odds, to fend for themselves simply isn’t acceptable.”

He continued by asserting that Britain needs to be made a ‘genuinely hostile’ place for runaway fathers, stressing his determination to bring in tax breaks for married couples. Before last year’s general election, the Conservatives promised a tax cut of at least £150 a year for married couples, a move Nick Clegg deemed ‘patronising drivel’ belonging to the Edwardian age. The Prime Minister, in his article, wrote: “I want us to recognise marriage in the tax system so as a country we show we value commitment.” From here he launched his fierce attack on fathers who fail to show long-term commitment: “They need the message rammed home to them, from every part of our culture, that what they’re doing is wrong.” He said fathers must make the decision to support their children ‘financially and emotionally’ even if they have separated from their mothers – spending time with them at weekends, attending nativity plays and ‘taking an interest in their education’. Cameron extolled the values he learned from his own father, Ian Cameron, who died aged 77 last year:

“From my father, I learned about responsibility. Seeing him get up before the crack of dawn to go and do a hard day’s work and not come back until late at night had a profound impact on me.”

DavidCameron

There have been many responses to Cameron’s outburst. The founder of the first UK’s women’s refuge, Erin Pizzey, said that Cameron is displaying a lack of understanding about the reality of family break-ups:

“There are a lot of reasons why [fathers are] not with their children… not least that women won’t let them… There is a vast mass of women who are equally as feckless as the men and we never talk about them.”

She has a point. Why is Cameron singling out men as the problem?

Bob Greig, from the single parenting website Only Dads, asserts that the Prime Minister’s argument was ‘too simplistic’:

“There are many cultural, employment, financial, [and] legal issues as well which prevent dads from having a full-on relationship with their children post-separation and divorce… Why that isn’t recognised in his article in the Telegraph I just don’t know.”

Perhaps David Cameron should take to writing anti-male, Marxist feminist propaganda. Of course, I am not here presenting myself as an advocate of genuinely incompetent fathers, but there are other questions that Cameron should be asking, not least concerning the feckless mothers to whom Erin Pizzey quite rightly draws attention. Many mothers find ways to disrupt the potentialities of assured familial existence, not least by inhibiting fathers from having a continuous presence in their children’s lives. In this context, it was a callous and contemptible generalising comment for Cameron to make on Father’s Day, a day during which so many men would be celebrating fatherhood, while many others would be suffering imposed separation from their children. If society is going to insist upon committed fathers, it should do more to ensure that the system supports them. The Prime Minister should also have addressed the issue of mothers making it difficult for fathers to play an active role in their children’s lives. Perhaps he is saving it for Mother’s Day.

Fathers 4 Justice spokesman Mike Kelly seems assured, however, that “[Cameron] would not dare criticise mothers on Mother’s Day… He is jumping on the bandwagon and has lost the plot over this.” It wouldn’t be the first time he has jumped on the bandwagon. In 2008, following Barack Obama’s lead (as British leaders are naturally inclined to do) Cameron – highlighting a ‘crisis in fatherhood’ – called for absent black fathers to take more responsibility for their children, calling for a ‘responsibility revolution’ to change patterns of behaviour. This is also the man who made his ‘moderniser’ image tenuous by voting against legislation making it easier for lesbian couples to receive IVF treatment (all the time insisting that he was not discriminating against lesbian couples), maintaining that the issue of absent fathers goes to the heart of his message that Britain’s society is broken. His emphasis on the importance of family is rooted, he proclaims, ‘for the good of society as a whole.’

Fathers 4 Justice are to protest following Cameron’s statement that runaway dads were worse than drink drivers. There are sure to be groups that will follow them.

While on this subject of ‘runaway fathers’, one final question: What about the men who have no desire to be fathers and whose other half get pregnant against their wishes? Cameron, in his oversweeping generalisation would most likely say:

“They need the message rammed home to them, from every part of our culture, that what they’re doing is wrong – that leaving single mothers, who do a heroic job against all odds, to fend for themselves simply isn’t acceptable.”

Really, Cameron? Context.

RELATED LINKS

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/8583752/Runaway-fathers-are-like-drink-drivers-blasts-David-Cameron.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/8584238/David-Cameron-Dads-gift-to-me-was-his-optimism.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/22/boy-7-drove-20-miles

SOURCED IMAGES

http://www.flickr.com/photos/nipocrite/sets/72157623702339305/

http://politicalpromise.co.uk/2010/09/09/the-effect-of-parents-on-a-childs-politics/

http://www.hickorymensfrat.com/2010/10/25/absent-father/

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Categories: Health, Medicine, Politics, Law

Author:Mary-Ellen L

Lives at www.animadvert.co.uk. Lecturer in Literature and Philosophy, Poet and Professional Cynic.

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8 Comments on “Attacking Feckless Fathers: For The Greater Good”

  1. June 24, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    Excellent article, the quote “There are a lot of reasons why [fathers are] not with their children… not least that women won’t let them… There is a vast mass of women who are equally as feckless as the men and we never talk about them.” perfectly summed up my response to David Cameron’s position. I can’t help but feel it was nothing but cynical rhetoric from the conservative leader. Personally I think the days of the nuclear family are numbered and conservatives know this so they’re trying to hold onto it with legislation which is an act of desperation for any democratic government to try and dictate to the people what the people “really” want.

  2. James Hill
    June 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm #

    Cameron got slow close to identifying a genuine problem in the modern age and at the last minute just chose to pin it on a politically easy target. Absentee fathers and single parent households put young children (particularly young boys) at greater risk of substance abuse and criminal behaviour later on in life. Without a genuine, responsible masculine figure in a child’s life, that child will naturally gravitate to masculine caricatures in the media and base their understanding of men on those. The United States is full of fatherless young men emulating criminals and gangsters.

    In attempting to remove the stigma associated with single motherhood we have inadvertently sent the message that women don’t “need” men to raise their children. Coupled with a culture that idolizes youth and promiscuity in favour of “boring” virtues like maturity and responsibility, it’s no wonder that couples are splitting quickly– in some cases before the child is even born.

    Fixing this problem requires a cultural change in attitude to family. It will never happen though because any kind of endorsement of the traditional family unit is somehow seen as an attack on non traditional family units. That’s why Cameron chose to attack father’s as the source of the problem: Single fathers don’t have a special interest group loud enough to cause problems.

  3. June 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    “In this context, it was a callous and contemptible generalising comment for Cameron to make on Father’s Day, a day during which so many men would be celebrating fatherhood, while many others would be suffering imposed separation from their children.”

    Here here. That’s the first thing I thought when reading Cameron’s remarks, too. In fact, wouldn’t a bigger contributor to Britain’s society being broken, be depression and suicide? Why contributing to that with scathing hostility instead of being proactive and moving in a positive, reformist direction, alludes me.

    I do agree with James above, though. The correlation is definitely there, (between broken homes and substance abuse). Cameron’s choice to attack the quietest minority group makes sense, but it’s still deplorable that he couldn’t offer a positive solution, only hostility. On Fathers day, no less.

  4. June 24, 2011 at 11:16 pm #

    Absolutely, Jason. Cameron’s comment is as much of a revelation about the state of Conservative policies as it is Cameron’s tenuous position as P.M. You just have to look at the man to see how he struggles to maintain his ‘moderniser’ image. Gone are the days when he would attend his lawn parties and fundraisers in the open necked shirt. Back are the rigid ties…

    I definitely agree with you James. There are also many studies which will reveal that the education of children (particularly of girls) suffers as a result of an absentee father. Some statistics are quite shocking:

    – A white teenage girl from an advantaged background is five times more likely to become a mother in her tennage years if she grows up in a single-mother household with an absentee father than if she is brought up in a two (biological) parent environment.

    – Many surveys have revealed that children are more likely to gain A grades when their fathers are involved in their education.

    One survey that I have come across also lends terrifying statistics:

    Out of 750 teenage girls,

    97% said that having parents they could talk to could help reduce teen pregnancy
    93% said having loving parents reduced the risk
    76% said that their fathers were influential on their decision to have sex

    A father’s place in the family is of great import, not least in the way in which it affects child development, especially since studies reveal that men give their infant children more freedom to explore, fostering a strong sense of independence. Moreover, a father’s active participation in a child’s activities will teach them more self-control and emotional intuition.

    From my own experience I will unashamedly acknowledge that I am me mostly because of the example and love of my father, who has always taken the time to listen to me and inform me, without ever making an important decision for me. He has created, clearly, a woman of very strong personal opinions and convictions. Fathers undoubtedly make such a difference that they hold nthe power to change the world of their children, partiularly daughters. Women with a positive relationships with their father are statistically shown to be high achievers (and also make suitable choices when choosing a life partner).

    From your comments, James, you have succinctly described the vicious circle that is in play due to the absentee figure of the father and it really is a desperate situation that modern society finds itself in.

    As for your very apt observation, Andrew, following from James: “Cameron’s choice to attack the quietest minority group makes sense, but it’s still deplorable that he couldn’t offer a positive solution, only hostility. On Fathers day, no less.” Adding negativity to the situation rarely presents a solution. But we can’t expect a politician and his rhetoric to come to terms with that…

    Still, the reason why Cameron’s comments incited me so much is that it really does not account for the man who has never wanted to be a father, yet is made one by the (deliberate) actions of a woman. I am not passing comments on accidental pregnancy, but on purposeful pregnancies which some women as a control mechanism over men… In a world where men are considered worse than drunk drivers if they relinquish the responsibility of fatherhood, where are their rights? Isn’t it worse to have a father who never chose the role and may resent it than an absent one?

  5. James Hill
    June 25, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    “In a world where men are considered worse than drunk drivers if they relinquish the responsibility of fatherhood, where are their rights? Isn’t it worse to have a father who never chose the role and may resent it than an absent one?”

    It is interesting to me that people can firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose while at the same time having a callous disregard for a man who finds himself with an unwanted pregnancy. Why is it perfectly acceptable for one gender to have to deal with the unintended consequences of sex, but not for another? In a consistent world, a man would be allowed to legally waive away the rights and obligations of fatherhood prior to the birth of the child in the same way a woman can elect to terminate the pregnancy.

    In a world where men have been jailed for failing to pay child support on children that aren’t theirs (http://shine.yahoo.com/channel/sex/man-forced-to-pay-child-support-for-another-mans-child-328364) that is unlikely to happen. Paternity fraud (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paternity_fraud) Is probably one of the few instances where a person can be caught in the act of defrauding another person and the state will actually compel the victim to keep paying.

  6. July 14, 2011 at 4:41 am #

    “In a consistent world, a man would be allowed to legally waive away the rights and obligations of fatherhood prior to the birth of the child in the same way a woman can elect to terminate the pregnancy.”
    Exactly. A consistent world within the context of gender has become an elusive notion in the post-feminist age, in which male rights have been cornered off and are deemed ‘anti-women’ when brought into the spotlight. It’s a woman’s world and, as a woman, I do not embrace it.

    • July 14, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

      You’re touching on a radical rethinking of male-female relations here, I like it! I’ve been reading a few books in this area, I think people are ready for the change, they’re just not sure what that change is yet because it’s unexplored territory. Honestly, I’m not sure myself, there’s a lot of ground to cover in the brave new world of gender equality and while I think we’ve committed ourselves to divorcing the past formula, we aren’t committed to any new ones either. I’d love to chat to you about this one day.

  7. July 14, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    I am not convinced that absolutism in terms of gender equality is a possibility, not least because of biological differences between the sexes. Although, while I revel in femininity and will be the first to draw attention to the biological distinctions, I will maintain that there has to be means and methods of implementing systematic thought that will allow for societal, legal, and economic standardisation which works on a less biased footing that seems to be in place today. It is another reason why I found your recent article on feminism so interesting – you have clearly grasped the problematics and intricacies of the movement and summarised them perfectly… in overstepping their original mission, the post-feminists have done society a great deal of harm and the feminist movement, in its current manifestation, seems now to be working contrary to all initial intentions and is instilling a sexism and prejudice against men, particularly within the family unit, which leaves me, as a woman, totally alienated from their project (as well as a self-professed anti-feminist). I am not anti-woman, as my friends may (jokingly) suggest on occasion, but I am ashamed of the feminist mindset which demeans and demoralises men in an attempt to elevate itself.

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