Paternity leave? It's not natural

Paternity leave? It's not natural

Men prefer to see the job done by the acknowledged expert of the field. The mother. Photo: GETTY

How well I remember the time I invited my old university chum James to admire my three-month-old first born. And I’m sure James does, too, for the sights he saw that day would put him off breeding for nearly a decade.

As soon as James reached the front door, I said: “Sorry, mate. You’re coming for a walk.” And I shoved my vile, puce-faced, bawling, nerve-shredding infant into his push chair and began the first of many circuits round the block.

“Er, when do we stop?” asked James, after the 212th circuit.

“When he stops,” I said.

“Is this what it’s like, then?” asked James, clearly shocked.

“God, no. This is the nice bit. Wait till you’ve done a colicky night feed or changed a nappy. Then you’ll know the true meaning of horror.”

Now, I was exaggerating a bit, as new fathers do to non-fathers, to big up the machismo of it all. But not much, as James saw when I laid the briefly quiescent infant on his carry mat and began undoing his nappy. James had to leave the room, gagging, while I cleaned up the Augean mess. He returned, just in time to me catch me laying the child on to a fresh nappy – and seeing him spray me in the face (as infant boys are wont to do) with his small but perfectly formed hosepipe.

So no, I can’t say I’m remotely enthusiastic about Gordon Brown’s plans to make a full six months’ paid paternity leave available to fathers from April 2011. I think it’s a bad idea for economic reasons, burdening business with yet more red tape and higher costs in the midst of a global recession. I think it’s a bad idea for political reasons: whoever picks up the tab, it ain’t going to be Gordon Brown. But mainly I think it’s bad for sociological and temperamental reasons. If God had meant men to have paternity leave, He would have given us all wombs.

But He didn’t, did He? Not last time I checked, anyway. Nor yet did He bless us with many of those virtues that traditionally accompany wombs, such as: gentleness; competence; endurance; an extremely high boredom threshold in the presence of small creatures incapable of doing anything save poo, wee, burp, feed, cry and sleep; multitasking; radiant loveliness bordering on the saintly.

I put in that last quality to stop me getting my head bitten off, but I don’t think it’s going to work, chaps, do you? It’s something I’ve noticed on those rare occasions where I’ve dared say to the wife: “Why is it that women are always grumbling about having to do stuff that they’re designed to do and they’re really good at: like baby care and cleaning and household admin?” She never replies: “Gosh, you’re so right dear. We really are a bunch of termagants.” Rather, she starts ranting
à la Germaine Greer, as if the roles that have been allotted women are nothing to do with biology but the result of some terrible phallocentric conspiracy.

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