Yesterday I read an open letter in the 'Family' section of 'The Guardian' from a mother of three children to them and also to their father who committed suicide ten years ago. Reading it reinforced my view that single-parent families are the only model that can adequately prepare children for life in the UK in the 21st century. Though all the children who are now 21, 17 and 16 have had the usual run-ins with some self-harm and contact with drugs, they are all now prospering and pursuing a range of interests and careers, they have not become homeless junkies. I imagine the same would have been much the same if their father had stayed alive. He would have been in no better position to stop them doing bad things to themselves than the mother has been. In fact especially for the two boys, the 21 and 16 year olds, antagonism with their father may have driven them to behave more hostilely and destructively than their brief flirtations with things have done. I think this is a classic example of a riposte to the group 'Familes Need Fathers', proof is stacking up that they do not at all.
Being a father has nothing to do with caring, it is all about male virility and proving it. This stretches across the social classes of the UK from the shaven-headed, obese, sun-burnt unskilled man pushing his child in a pushchair through East London to the balding, bespectacled middle class father unloading his offspring from a 4x4 to the upper class father kissing his child before handing them over to the nanny or the boarding school. None of this is about being a parent it is about effectively flashing your penis at people, it is no different to how baboons behave. In a society in which most of us have no power or come back against the state children are the one accessory which allows us to be self-righteous and aggressive 'because of my kids'. You might as well simply hire some child actors to strut around your local supermarket with or to take along when you feel you need an excuse to buy yet another vast, petrol-guzzling car. The signs on cars saying 'child on board' brings this into the arena where most British men face off against others most often, whilst driving. It berates anyone who is infertile and those who choose not to have children despite us being in an over-crowded world.
In our consumerist society it is impossible to satisfy children. I have just had a magazine shoved through my letterbox which lists 'Ten great reasons to be a dad' and yet they are nothing of any truth or substance. In fact even this list shows up you will be left looking after the unwanted pets after the fad has passed. The reference to unconditional love is entirely false these days even if it was ever true. You are only as good as the last toy you bought, nothing more. If it was the wrong one or stops working then even that 'love' is cut off instantly. Girls in particular are groomed by advertisers to want, want, want. It destroys their independence and initiative. As I have commented before the 'princess obsession' leads them to believe they a) have to have everything they want at a moment's notice, b) that they have no power to get what they want themselves, it has to be supplied by first their parents and then by their 'prince' who has to keep going through challenges to prove himself, there is no equality. This extends into adult life and they turn themselves into coquettes in a belief that they can only get the man by their 'beauty' (how many fairytale princesses prove themselves by using their brains, 'Shrek the Third' (2007) was a refreshing exception) and that he will then supply everything they need notably numerous children who she can turn into mini replicas of herself. As I have noted the role for boys fed as the counterpoint to the princess and also through this constant assertion of virility is to be violent and drive aggressively and shout and so on. Since when did medieval behaviour patterns serve us well? The whole myth of chivalry in the middle ages themselves was supposed to counteract these dangerous trends. Anyway, as a father, and in the 2000s, thus perceived as the prime breadwinner once again, you are under constant assault from the mother and children to supply more and more and more. They whine if they do not get precisely what they want. So many women now are raised to be like girls that they cannot address issues in an adult way at all; single mothers are different because they have to face the breadline and that makes them and their children grow up properly.
Being a father is a thankless task. Even if you work at it there is a good chance your child will be stabbed to death at the age of 14 (on average each UK hospital now receives 32 people with stab wounds every day of the week) or lost to drugs by the time they are 18. To counteract that what do you have? Well the main way seems to search out the child's specific weaknesses and twist them to the full. You find their most beloved toy and take it away from them. What does this teach children? That seeking how to exploit people and effectively blackmail them, is the best way to behave. No wonder universities are complaining that students approach 'team work' in class as if it is an episode of 'The Apprentice' and rather than working together seek to exploit and then dump the others. What is the alternative? Smacking? Of course this is illegal in the UK now, you can be arrested for smacking a child in public which is why you hear so many whining children in supermarkets these days as they are denied everything that they want as they pass it and yet the parents have no way to punish the child for such an attitude. Violence of course does screw up lives. A lot of my problems stem from when my father kicked me across my bedroom and on another occasion tried to slit my ears off with a kitchen knife. So fathers, you are in a lose/lose situation. Your children feel they have a moral right to consume everything they want and you have no sanctions against them that do not involve blackmail or violence.
I am not advocating fathers walking away from their children, so many do this anyway. What I am saying is think twice before trying to create some. If you must show your virility do it in some other way. Having children around will simply sap your energy (just having a 6-year old in my house is incredibly sapping I dread to think what he must have been like as a baby). You can prove yourself in so many other ways on the football pitch, climbing, cycling or travelling the world, joining the Territorial Army/Special Constables/Volunteer Fireman or Lifeboatman. All of these things will get you lots of male credit without the constant burden and unavoidable failure of being a father. If you want to go around having unprotected sex because it makes you feel strong, then have a vasectomy. It might make you feel weaker, but in fact you will be able to sleep with many more women and force non-condom usage on them (which so many men seem to think is brilliant) if you are not going to get them pregnant and you know there is going to be no come back from someone seeking maintenance nine months down the road. Stay away from single mothers. Single-parent families are the only type of family that will create people who can survive in the 21st century, they do not need you coming in and buggering it all up. As a step-father you will always be in an even worse position than a biological father. You will still be exhausted by badly-behaved, demanding children without any love for you and constantly compared negatively to the father who is not there who will be idealised. Being a step-father is a fool's game.
There are more than enough men around who will go on creating children, most often inadvertently, but if you have sense and want to actually live life, then take all the steps you can to avoid becoming a father, you'll not regret it.
P.P. Often writing on fatherhood point to the 'wonderful' minor incidents of charming interaction between father and child. I encountered one of these in my role of pseudo-step-father to the six year old in my house. I was going for a blood test today and he asked me what colour my blood is and I said red. I added that all people's blood is the same colour and he said 'Yes, everyone is the same on the inside' and I thought how wonderful it was that in this country so riven by discrimination he still held to such a positive view as that. It heartened me a little about the next generation. However, a relationship cannot be built on such incidents and it would have had a similar impact on me if I had heard it from some child I encountered on the bus. I still cannot shake the sense by even partially playing a father role to that child I am utterly screwing up the robust single-parent family set-up he had with his mother and so he will be torn apart by the world when he gets out there. For his sake I need to be far more distant and not have such moments with him ever again.