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The benefits of breeding like a rabbit

Why I’m happy to have six children (and why I think the Pope’s on my side)

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

31 January 2015

9:00 AM

Let’s face it. Whatever Pope Francis actually means when his head is in the clouds during those in-flight press conferences of his, we Europeans need to breed like rabbits if we want to preserve Europe. That is not why I have bred like a rabbit, but it is the brutal truth.

I have five children aged 11 down to three — because until the age of 40 I thought I was infertile and did not think I could breed at all, let alone like a rabbit; and because though I am a devout agnostic, I am married to Carla, a devout Catholic, who is much younger than me and refuses to use contraception.

Indeed, I still do fear that I am infertile and that all these conceptions, if not immaculate, are at least miraculous. I am 56, after all. And guess what? Carla is pregnant again, with our sixth child. This terrifies me for all the usual reasons — partly financial but mainly existential. How dare I condemn an innocent child to live in this world which is so appalling and then consign them forever, after death, to the abyss known as nothing?

The only other people with so many children in my neck of the woods here on Dante’s Beach, near Ravenna, are the gypsies (or whatever we are allowed to call them these days). Not even the Muslims (can we call them that any more?), as far as I can tell, have five, let alone six. Italy — where it is still common to meet old men called ‘-Decimo’ (Tenth) — has for decades now had the lowest birthrate in the world, more or less, at just over one child per woman.

But the situation is little better elsewhere in Europe. No European country’s birthrate is much above two children per woman. Indeed, the birthrate is so low and the age of death so high that there is absolutely no way Europe — especially Italy — can afford to pay for the health care and the pensions of its old without massive immigration, and those costs are just the tip of the iceberg.

So while overpopulation might well be an issue in somewhere like Mumbai, and everyone talks about that ad nauseam, in Europe the issue is the opposite and yet no one talks about it. Let’s not bugger about the bush here: European society nowadays is geared — culturally, socially and economically — only to promote its suicide. The extended family which used to provide so much back-up is dead, and the state has not replaced it in any useful way except perhaps in France, where the bill gets ever more unsustainable.


I have just read in the newspaperof an unemployed British woman who has 11 children and a 12th on the way and gets £38,000 a year in benefit. Not bad — not bad at all — all things considered. But in Italy, where I am self-employed, I am not entitled to a single euro of state help, or so they tell me, though I do get the odd pathetic tax break. I am sorely tempted to return to Britain and never work again. The one thing that puts me off is that a packet of 20 cigarettes now costs £8.50 in Britain, compared with £3.90 in Italy, where wine costs less than water.

Here’s the funny thing. During his latest in-flight utterance, en route from Manila to Rome, what Pope Francis actually expressed was a concern at the lack of children in Europe, especially in Italy. He said:‘I think the number of three children per family that you mentioned — it makes me suffer — I think it is the number experts say is important to keep the population going. Three per couple. When this decreases, the other extreme happens, like what is happening in Italy. I have heard, I do not know if it is true, that in 2024 there will be no money to pay pensioners because of the fall in population.’

It was then that he mentioned a Filipina woman whom he had met, who was expecting her eighth child after seven Caesarians; and said: ‘But does she want to leave the seven as orphans? This is to tempt God.’

He went on to describe children as ‘a treasure’, but also said: ‘God gives you methods to be responsible. Some think that — excuse the word — in order to be good Catholics we have to be like rabbits. No. Responsible parenthood. This is clear and that is why in the Church there are marriage groups … and I know so many ways that are licit.’

Well, I wish I did! But anyway, in my case, it is now of course too late. The dire deed is done. I try to convince myself that all my children are a resource, or even in my wildest moments an investment, and regardless of the money side I cannot deny that they are a treasure. Anyway, here’s a small example of why I just might be right, although I cannot for the life of me work out how it might translate into an every-day money-spinner unless I become a 21st-century version of Fagin.

Last summer, I was on the terrace in front of our small seaside house when my second daughter Magdalena, aged seven, came up to me and whispered in my ear: ‘Papa, a man has just opened the door of la Land- Rover and taken your macchina fotografica, look there he is.’ Our seven-seater Land Rover Defender was parked right opposite the house — no more than 20 yards away.

Needless to say I had seen nothing. ‘Follow him, bella,’ I whispered. ‘And take Rita with you.’ I then shouted: ‘Francesco Winston!’ My eldest son (nine) arrived fairly pronto. ‘Go up on to the roof immediatamente and watch that man and where he goes.’ Incredibly, he agreed.

I then deployed my weapon of mass destruction: my wife, Carla. ‘Follow Magda and Rita, someone’s got my camera. They’re on his tail.’ Like a bat out of hell she shot off, while I remained seated on the terrace to direct operations with my glass of Sangiovese. ‘Francesco, where is he now?’ I shouted up. ‘He’s just turned right towards the piazza,’ Francesco shouted down for the benefit of my wife. And so on. Within five minutes my wife, Magdalena and Rita (aged six) were back with my camera. I did not have to deploy Caterina, 11, let alone Giovanni Maria (three).

My take on children is this: what are we on this planet for? When Caterina was born in August 2003, I wrote a column which began: ‘Dear Caterina, Nothing I have ever done in my life nor will ever do again in what remains of my life is as important to me as your birth.’ What else is there to say?

As for Europe, if Europeans do not start breeding like rabbits again, then that’s it, Europe is dog meat. It’s the economy, stupid. There exists only one alternative: mass immigration at levels that would cause a heart attack not just to Nigel Farage but to Europe as we know it.


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