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Letter from Elsewhere: Not A Pretty Picture

Letter from Elsewhere with Anne Else

Not A Pretty Picture: The Strange Case Of The Disappearing Celebrity Dads

The front-page headline looked so innocent: ''Former Black Cap snares Peggy Bourne’s heart on eve of trial''.[*] And there were Simon Doull and Peggy Bourne, both smiling cheerfully at the camera, only in separate photos. The sub must have decided honey would snare readers better than vinegar, because what came next was a bit of a shock:

“Simon Doull’s broken-hearted wife was last night preparing to flee the country after she learned he was dating the glamorous widow of rally driver Possum Bourne…Karin Doull was hoping for a reconciliation with the former Black Caps star – who walked out on her when she was five months pregnant with their baby son, Hunter.”

That would have been about six months ago, because the baby is now five weeks old.

Time seems to be speeding up for celebrities. Over the last few years there’s been a spate of stories about high-profile dads walking out when the kids were still preschoolers. Now they’re not even waiting to see them born. And if these handsome, successful, nationally admired guys, getting very well paid for doing what they love best, are so publicly unable to deal with the ups and downs of commitment and fatherhood, or even prospective fatherhood, how are everyday run-of-the-mill ones supposed to cope?

Sometimes ordinary low-profile young chaps get hopelessly confused and go further still – witness the aspiring teenage rugby league player who ganged up with his mate to thrash his pregnant girlfriend so she would miscarry, because he didn’t want a kid to interfere with his sporting career. But that’s an extreme case. More often the woman just gets left holding the baby.

So it should be no surprise to read, a few pages over, that under-twos are the fastest growing sector of the childcare market, with a 50 percent rise over the last decade; or that a Hamilton community group wants to set up an ill-child-minding service, because in most parents’ experience, employers don’t take kindly to requests for time off to care for sick children (they’re not too keen on sick leave for employees, either).

No wonder more and more women are putting off having children so long that they then find they can’t. What on earth are they supposed to do? Every day there’s a sharp reminder that the chances of finding someone who’ll stick around for the next twenty years and take his fair share of loving, earning and giving, let alone all the messy unpaid stuff, don’t look much better than winning Lotto. And no one has yet invented a way of being in two places at once.

If your worst fears do come true, whatever you decide to do will be wrong. If you stay home and go on the benefit because he can’t or won’t pay, you’ll be called a lazy bludger. If you look for a job, you’ll have a hell of a time finding that mythical “family-friendly” workplace, as well as decent childcare that you can reach and afford. And if you find a new partner, it’s likely to be someone who’s just turned some other woman into a sole parent.

I expect a flood of annoyed responses about all the reliable, committed, caring and sharing dads out there who never get any credit or publicity, and who are fed up with hearing about the other kind. I’d love to hear from you. Especially if you’re a celebrity. But don’t just tell me, make sure the media gets the message too. Because the picture out there right now is not pretty.

* Sunday Star-Times, 10 October 2004

**********

- Anne Else is a Wellington writer and social commentator. Her occasional column will typically appear on a Monday. You can subscribe to receive Letter From Elsewhere by email when it appears via the Free My Scoop News-By-Email Service

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