Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Today's Dads Will Know What Milburn Means

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Today's Dads Will Know What Milburn Means

Article excerpt


UNTIL yesterday a senior male politician announcing he was stepping down to spend more time with his family meant only one thing: that he was jumping ship before he was pushed.

Agreement, though, seems universal that his now former health secretary was the last cabinet member the prime minister planned on dumping in the drink. Alan Milburn's competence had not been questioned and no one has found a skeleton rattling in his closet yet.

Milburn, of course, would be no sort of politician if he hadn't calculated all the angles - maybe there will prove to be substance to the theory that he is taking a timely breather and will return to arm-wrestle his old foe Gordon Brown when Tony Blair tires of wearing the leadership crown. Until then, though, we are confronted with the novel spectacle of a devoted RoboBlairite apparently being sincere.

This is extraordinary enough. But what makes the fallout from Milburn's decision still more striking - and so revealing of the temper of our times - is that in the absence of a clear ulterior motive no other reason for derision has been found. Not so long ago any man throttling back a high-powered career to make more time for junk modelling and bedroom football would have been widely ridiculed as a weirdo, a wimp or a henpecked fool.

This has not happened to Milburn. The Sun has applauded him and Andrew Marr has reported general admiration for his choosing a life path that was 'sensible, human and sane'.

Wherever will it end? "I have found it increasingly difficult to balance having a young family in the north-east with the demands of being a cabinet minister," Milburn's resignation letter said. "You get one shot in life with kids," he explained later. "You get one chance to see them grow up. I have not been there and I want to be there." We used to think only women struggled with Having It All. Not any more.

The evidence for this is now compelling. In January the Equal Opportunities Commission published a report - Working Fathers: Earning And Caring - which revealed the changing patterns of fatherhood today. Compiled by academics from the University of East Anglia it found that the time per day fathers spent with their children under five rose from 15 minutes in the mid 1970s to two hours by the late 1990s. Today, about a third of all childcare in Britain is done by dads. Many say they would do more if only their jobs allowed them to work shorter or more flexible hours.

INEXORABLY, fatherhood is changing. True, many fathers do not yet match actions to aspirations, whether through lack of confidence or a continuing deference to the belief that mother always knows best. But in an age of dual incomes and greater social overlap between the, male parents are increasingly expecting and expected to know how to construct a Stuffed Animal Hospital from old shoe boxes, what sort of sausages Lily from down the road prefers when she comes for a sleepover and which Stain Devil to employ before hand-washing Babygros. …

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