Jack Underwood Says Becoming a Father Made Him More Selfish…

There are certainly things to disagree with and reject, in Mr Underwood’s[1] meditations. There’s an element of Dadsplaining (The new-parent version of mansplaining), something you’d expect from any writer who became a parent. For some reason, adults who have not (yet) had children have a visceral and indignant hatred of discussing the experience of parenthood[2]. Anyone who’s interested will have, by definition, already experienced it, so there’s a bit of “No Shit Sherlock!” about the reading. 

At other times I simply disagree with him. For example, on page 100 he states, “parenthood has made us more selfish, more insular, always directing our heart’s resources inwards … speaking as a parent, there is nothing about parenthood that extends the reach and breadth of your capability to love beyond the inner machine of the family, or endows you with special insight into the lives of others … What fresh understanding you have is only applicable within the confines of the family paddock. In that sense parenthood makes being a good person in a broader sense much harder.”

Notice the declarative, dadsplaining statements of universal truth, in the present simple tense: “parenthood makes being a good person in a broader sense much harder.” Period. Fact. Note, also, the universal “you” and the claim of superior knowledge of “Speaking as a parent…”, with its assumption that his readers do not share that experience and so cannot refute his claims.

In fact, my own experience of parenthood was markedly different. My empathy and understanding of the experience of other parents, including my own, expanded enormously: the dilemmas; the fear; the enduring guilt; the confusing moil of irritation and passionate care when they did something incredibly stupid and hurt themselves; the shame, irritation, disappointment and self-blame when they did something selfish and hurt others. Yes, most of all, the constant, mortifying self-blame.

I also suddenly acquired a fatherly concern for all small children. I loved seeing sweet little babies asleep on their mothers’ shoulders. I suddenly cared passionately about lost, abused, unhappy creatures I had never met. The unfolding story of Madelaine McCann’s disappearance nearly killed me because she was roughly the same age as my daughter. I burst into tears upon reading about children lined up for extermination in Auschwitz, a subject that had left me angry but dry-eyed on all previous encounters. I even started snivelling while teaching a class on Rudyard Kipling, when I had to mention the death of his beloved daughter Josephine. 

I sense Underwood dismisses the idea that parenthood makes you more loving as a lazy, sentimental cliché, but my experience, and the fact that it is a cliché, suggests that it is a common experience. After all, I’m a cold, selfish old bastard, with a pedestrian and unimaginative intellect, so if can feel this way…

[1] This is such a hobbit name! 

[2] Somebody ought to research why this is, and why it’s so universal. 

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