I once found a cassette tape – remember them? – at the bottom of a drawer, left untouched over a few house moves, and curiosity about its contents led me to put it into the cassette recorder – remember them? – and press play. It turned out to be just a tape of pop music, pirate-assembled for a long-forgotten party, but somewhere along its length the tape had been distorted. A party-goer coming into the kitchen for a top-up must have pressed ʻrecordʼ (inadvertently, I imagine), and taped the voices of the other people present. And so it was, ten years after he died, I heard the voice of my father speaking to me again.
If he didnʼt say anything very profound during the few moments of the recording, at least I had his voice, and at least the party wasnʼt ʻlong-forgottenʼ after all; was, in fact, returned to me in crystalline detail, and because it was a very happy party (which involved a swim in a lake while lightning streaked the sky, I suddenly recalled), and was one of those rare evenings of visible, tangible love among friends and family, I was very grateful for the happy accident, and moved to hear my father speak again, after too many years of silence.
Iʼll come back to my own father later, but I want to discuss the role of fathers in general. The Editor of this magazine asked me to write about the ʻfeminisationʼ of British society, and the role this has had in a greater acceptance of (male?) homosexuality. I think, in as far as this is a thesis at all, that it is almost entirely wrong (I donʼt think tolerance of male homosexuality has anything to do with the role of heterosexual women in the workplace). Instead Iʼm going to take advantage of the spectator position which a gay man may adopt in the often baffling dialectic between heterosexual men and women, and offer some comments on the (in my opinion) grotesque and damaging denigration suffered by straight men in modern Britain, particularly in terms of their most important role, that of the fathers of their children. If it strikes you as ironic that a gay man should be an unalloyed champion of the virtues of straightforward masculine heterosexuality, I hope at least youʼll take the time to wonder why I feel the need to be so.
Generations of boys are being raised all around us with no access to fathers, either by explicit design (it is a shibboleth of the Left, now, that it is ʻhomophobicʼ to dislike the provision to lesbians and single women of anonymous sperm, via the NHS, with which to produce fatherless children. I must be homophobic, then), or by implicit cultural driver (either as a result of the blatantly anti-male stance taken by the family divorce courts or because we donʼt dare judge those people who produce multiple children with multiple partners without intending to provide a semblance of two-parent stability for any of them).
Even boys with fathers are raised in a wider culture which blatantly derides the masculine (every single advert ever made appears to revolve around the entirely fictional claim that men canʼt do anything). The limit of this nonsense was listening to Harriet Harmanʼs view that the financial crash would have been avoided were bankers mostly female; a New Labour update of the Seventies guff that all violence is male-ordered. (Try explaining that concept to the relatives of the gay man kicked to death in Trafalgar Square by a group containing an empowered, out-of-control female.)
What, itʼs fair to ask, are the consequences of this societal shift? Itʼs not just the crime statistics or the exam pass rates or the reams of evidence about what happens to children raised in fatherless households – a disgrace to any civilised society though all these are. The worst outcome is the swaggering, hopeless nihilism on the faces of the hooded gangs that haunt our estates. Donʼt tell me this has nothing to do with their lack of fathers. Donʼt even consider breathing life into such a ridiculous sentence.
Here are some of the lessons my own dad taught me. Donʼt rush to judge other people because they are different from yourself; and – to sublimate yourself into love for those close to you is a good thing; and I donʼt pass a day on the planet without thinking of him at some point. I look at those swaggering gangs of kids, whose single ʻachievementʼ is to frighten other people, who have almost certainly been denied access to that most basic of childrenʼs rights: the love of a mother and father, and I wonder, what would have happened to me without my fatherʼs love? Lots of me comes from both my parents, but the bits that make me a good man come from my dad. I doubt Iʼm unique.
Progress of women into positions of leadership in our institutions and workplaces is a good thing. Feminisation of society – the idea that masculine virtues are not required – is not. We have ended up in a situation where we actively reward and encourage people not to stay together in order to raise their children, which in turn means that children are being raised without access to their dads. The policy architects who delivered such an outcome, far from being praised for our increasingly feminised state, should hang their heads in shame, as first boys and then the rest of us suffer the consequences.
The next time youʼre sat next to a Polish builder on the bus, donʼt get sniffy about the can of beer in his hands. Look into his lined, exhausted face. Consider spending a day carrying out the backbreaking labour he takes for granted as his lot. Ask yourself: why is he working so hard? Iʼll bet you anything you like itʼs to make some money to give his children a better life. Fathers arenʼt optional, middle-class extras. Children need their fathers. Our society needs them too.