This government might do well to reconsider its leader. On Father’s day, a time to celebrate the men who give life to our children alongside mothers, David Cameron has launched one of the most bigoted attacks on dads that I have ever read, and he, supposedly the leader of the party that supports the family.
I was astonished to read the rhetoric. In an article for Father’s Day for the Sunday Telegraph Cameron said:
“It’s high time runaway dads were stigmatised, and the full force of shame was heaped upon them,” he said. “They should be looked at like drink-drivers, people who are beyond the pale. 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.”
Does this man work for the single parent campaign group Gingerbread, I wonder? If not, then they should snap him up quick. I have never read anything so ‘on message’ since the nineteen eighties. Given that Gingerbread have succeeded for nearly two decades in persuading us all that family separation is all about men running off, leaving women to cope single handedly, David Cameron should be made their ambassador. What an insult and utter shame that he has so little understanding of the real world of family separation that he falls back upon the stereotypes and the myths that have been created around such a painful experience.
Who are these ‘runaway fathers’ I wonder.
Perhaps its Garry from the North East, who, just like Cameron’s own father, rose at 6am every morning to work ten hour days to feed and clothe his four children, only to find one day when he got home that his wife had taken them and left him? Or maybe, Alan from Cambridge, who had to live in the garage for a year because he had nowhere else to go and he didn’t want to leave his children in the care of his mentally ill wife who repeatedly attacked him? Could it be Freddie, a dad who worked in the City and made a lot of money, whose wife took his two children and flew to the States, keeping them there against court orders for seven years.
Family separation affects the whole of our society and it cannot be stereotyped, categorised or understood in a few sentences. Each and every family separation is different and yes, there are fathers who walk away and don’t look back, but equally, there are mothers who run away, take the kids away and all hope of relationships between dad and kids away forever.
Working with separated families means that I see what people do to each other and I know how each of them is advantaged and disadvantaged by family policies and practices in the UK. I know that separated dads start from a doubly disadvantaged position, they are neither supported in their care for children nor encouraged in their efforts to stay close. Dads are pushed away and given every reason to walk away and then when they do, we berate them for doing so.
Cameron described in the article how he had learned his values from his own father, Ian Cameron, who died last year aged 77. “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,” he said.
What David Cameron doesn’t understand is that whether dads run away or mothers run away, it’s always dad who is blamed for the break down. Justifying the way that we treat separated fathers, means keeping the stereotype of the runaway dad alive. Keep your marriage intact Mr Cameron, you too could the next deadbeat dad if Samantha tires of you.
This message about fathers from a man who is supposed to be supporting ‘the family’ is shameful. It is lazy, it is spiteful and it is ill informed. Out there are some of the most heroic fathers it is possible to meet, separated dads who stick in for years, fighting to be with their children against all the odds. Dads who shape up, step up and pay up, often over the odds in order to make sure that their children do not suffer. This is an equalities issue and in any other field, Cameron would be hauled over the coals for such discriminatory remarks.
In the shadow of a gender equality duty that lacks balls, I sincerely hope that Superman, Spiderman and Batman are dusting off their outfits even as I write.