Wednesday, 4 June 2008

uncomfortable truths (1) - fathers

In 1996 I attended a course at St. George's House, Windsor and one particular lecture stuck in my mind. Professor Richard Whitfield presented a lecture entitled 'Our attachments as determinants of Performance' and one of the key conclusions of his research was that young males who had been deprived of attachment to a male parent figure were significantly more likely to end up committing criminal offences. At the time I thought this an important but uncomfortable piece of research and wondered why I had heard so little about it in public debate.

Whitfield's lecture came to mind during the debate on the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill and particularly the clause in the bill removing the requirement for a fertility clinic to consider the child's need for a father before approving treatment. There was some discussion in the media but it tended to be polarised and over emotional with little reference to relevant research.

And then yesterday Michael White wrote the following in his blog for The Guardian:
Let me confine myself here to what strikes me as one of the liberal heresies of the age: the assertion that children don't really need two parents, preferably their birth parents and preferably one of each sex. The absence that matters is that of a father, the male authority figure.

I'm not being prescriptive, merely suggesting that in Britain, more than in most European countries, so the statistics indicate, we have carelessly connived in the creation of a vast army of single parents, struggling to raise kids alone.

Divorced, separated, never married, for many it is a fast-track to poverty as well as stress, misery and angry kids. Bad things happen to still-marrieds too, but the odds are better.

How do I know? Well, for the same reason as you do probably. I see it every day among friends and acquaintances, young people my children know, where trouble can all-too-often be traced to trouble at home. And when you read the newspapers, how wearily familiar are the details?

From the names of the victims and accused, where they live, what they do for a living (or don't), how old granny is, where dad is (or isn't), there is a distressing bias towards the underclass, though evidently nice kids, whose families have hitherto prevailed against adversity, have a habit of featuring among the victims: wrong place, wrong time.

I can't help feeling that as a society we continue to duck an uncomfortable truth and until we are prepared to have an open and honest debate on the subject then no amount of targeted money or legislation (both of which I support by the way) is going to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in.

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