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British dad must trumpet fathers' cause

Prime Minister Anthony Blair

10 Downing Street

London, England

April 11, 2000

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

How are things in England these days? Nice country you've got there, though one of these days, you really should get around to offering widespread dental care.

But that's not why I'm writing.

This is why I'm writing: Hearty congratulations on your upcoming blessed event!

And even heartier congratulations to your wife. Brave woman, entering both middle age and the nursery at the same time.

By the way, I, um, loved the so-called strong encouragement The Missus gave you to take parental leave. It only makes sense, considering how often you've endorsed this very practice for other British dads.

As I understand it, though, you're still only considering your wife's suggestion.

What's up with that?

Sure, yeah, OK - it's your fourth baby. Maybe there's not much of a novelty factor anymore.


C'mon, guy. Be a man.

Since this is your fourth, you of all people ought to know just how dreamily debilitating those first few weeks with a newborn are.

Is it day? Night? Never mind, not important. Just bring on the nourishment and prepare to change diapers.

As simple a system as a new human being is - just three speeds: eat, sleep, and poop - it's breathtaking how time-consuming care and feeding can be.

If you manage to get a shower in by dinner time, you're flourishing.

Any of this sound familiar? OK, well, maybe it doesn't.

This is a routine that mothers come to know intimately. Although not all men can claim equal familiarity with the rhythms of infancy, it's not only the spigot who's entitled. Trust me on this: Breastfeeding is not a requirement for participation in your offspring's early infancy.

Yeah, yeah, I know: You're a busy guy. A prime minister!

I imagine that must mean even more meetings than the average working stiff, right? You probably spent two whole weeks just coming to terms with the Euro. Plus, all that business about national security.

No doubt about it - you've probably got a coupla work-related things on your mind.

Which, if you'll pardon my saying so, makes it even more important that you take a few weeks off to help tend baby.

May I speak frankly? Sir, the issue of your paternity leave isn't personal, it's political. Whatever course of action you take in response to your wife's rather public plea for your postpartum help will be of undeniably symbolic value.

If you, Tony Blair, the prime minister of England, for crying out loud, can manage to get away from the office for a coupla weeks, there won't be a guy on the planet who can come up with any better excuse.

"Sorry, honey, but Junior is due to arrive right around the time I've got to get those quarterly reports in to headquarters. I'd like to stay home, but . . ."

"Now you see here, Harold, if the PM can see his way clear, I can't believe that you - a junior accountant at that - can't manage to get away for a little bit too!"

Figure it this way: You already work at home, where you've got household staff and all the child care help that you could possibly want.

Not much will change, really. You just won't have to get dressed for a few weeks.

Roberta de Boer's column appears Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Readers may contact her at 724-6086, or e-mail

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