Two recent well-publicised events have highlighted the importance of family, of parenting, and the vital role of fathers. The first was the surprise announcement of the Victorian Premier, and the second involved a payout to a member of the so-called stolen generation.
When Victorian Premier Steve Bracks made the very sudden decision to quit politics altogether, he did so for the primary reason of being able to be more involved with his own family. There may have been various factors leading up to this, but the recent episode where his teenage son crashed the family car while drunk, almost losing his own life, would surely have been a huge wakeup call for Mr Bracks.
He rightly recognised that as important as it is to run an entire state, and run it well, it is really nothing compared to running one’s family well. The most important job in the world is being a good husband or wife, and being a good father or mother. Nothing else is as vital, and nothing else has such deep ramifications and lasting consequences.
Thus I certainly praised Mr Bracks for his decision, when asked by the media for my thoughts. I congratulated him for being willing to put a fancy career, a more-than-healthy wage, and all the trappings of office aside, to look after the most important task, being a good father. The power trips and ego trips associated with holding a high office are no longer his, but to have the praise and attention of his own wife and children is far superior.
Yet as one letter writer pointed out, just why is it that we regard Bracks to be a hero for putting family ahead of career, when we at the same time make heroes out of women who abandon their families to chase a career? Why is it seen as courageous and socially acceptable to dump our children into the care of strangers so that mum can get out in the paid workplace? Why is it great if men put families first, but great if women put careers first?
And as a related point, when the new Premier, John Brumby, was presented to the media, along with his new sidekick, Rob Hulls, both were featured with their smiling families. This raised a few questions for columnist Andrew Bolt. He rightly tried to connect the dots here:
“But the most curious thing about Labor pumping out all these family happy snaps is I’m no longer sure how the model working parent, torn between children and ambition, should react. Are we – oops, I mean they – supposed to conclude from all these pictures that Brumby will be a good premier or a bad dad? I ask this because the moralising about political parents has become awfully conflicted. Take just this past week. First Steve Bracks quit as premier because, it was widely agreed, he was a family man. Noted a typical report: ‘He said his son’s recent drink-driving incident was only one of several family-related reasons for the decision.’ The subtext, underlined by several politicians – not least Treasurer Peter Costello – who spoke feelingly on the subject, was plain: politics is a bastard on the family. Pity the children. But now, Brumby and Hulls claim they’ll make good leaders precisely because – check the photos, dear voter – they are family men.”
So which is it? Is a demanding career such as politics good or bad for families? It seems we can’t have it both ways. For years many of us have argued that a woman can have it all – but not necessarily at the same time. Managing two simultaneous full time careers (motherhood and paid work) is a big ask. But maybe we should ask the same of men: can you be successful in your career while also being a successful father? It is difficult, to say the least.
But it can be said that Bracks was quite right to recognise that the most important job in the world is being a good parent. Failing the state of Victoria is not good, but failing your own family is far worse.
The second story concerned an Aboriginal man who was awarded $525,000 compensation in a stolen generation case. Part of the reason for this decision was because he was deprived of, and never got to know, his biological parents.
This raises a question: will children brought into the world through various forms of assisted reproductive technologies, such as anonymous sperm donations, also be compensated for not knowing one or both of their biological parents?
Indeed, it could be argued that all children born in various alternative lifestyle arrangements are also part of a stolen generation. Kids deliberately brought into single parent homes, or same-sex relationships, are being deprived of one of the two most important people in their lives. I hope our concern for the well being of children, and the overwhelming importance of them being raised by their own mother and father, is not limited to just certain groups in Australia, such as Aboriginals.
Whether we should be giving financial compensation to Aboriginals is a moot point. But surely the principle behind it – the chief concern – should be applied across the board. Children have a basic human right to their own biological mother and father. Too often various minority groups are working to deny children this fundamental right. And too often the new biotechnologies are making biological parents redundant.
If a court can decide that it is bad news indeed to deprive an Aboriginal of his own mum and dad, then we should take this approach to all children deprived of their most important birthright.
Whether the inconsistencies and discrepancies that arise from these two cases manage to become clear to our political leaders and opinion makers remains to be seen. But it is hoped that some of these elites will be able to put the pieces together, and see that families do matter, that parenting is our greatest calling, and fatherhood is indispensable for the wellbeing of children.