I was on the phone to Girl, thinking of something interesting to tell her. ‘Oh yeah,’ I said. ‘And this afternoon I’m taking Daisy to the vet to get her put down.’
‘Why?’ said Girl.
‘Oh, you know. She’s two years old now, so she’s had a pretty good innings. Plus her fur’s got really dirty and rather than clean her I thought it would be cheaper to get a new dog. You’re not upset, are you?’
‘Good, that’s what I was hoping. See, I read somewhere that the best time to kill your pet is when your kids are away at school. That way they don’t notice for ages and it’s much more caring, apparently.’
Afterwards, Girl told me that she’d been playing the conversation on speakerphone to her horrified friends. They all now think I’m a sadistic evil dog murderer.
Are there any other dads out there who are as puerile, embarrassing and irresponsible as I am? I do hope so because I believe it’s our primary purpose. Mum takes care of all the basic stuff: discipline, feeding, grooming, nurturing, washing, organising, moral guidance. Dad’s there for the vital finishing touches, such as ice training. Ice training is what we used to do in Dulwich Park when the ponds froze over and the officious sign appeared on the wooden bridge saying it was too slippery to walk on. So first I’d take the kids onto the bridge to defy the sign. Then I’d lead the kids out on to the ice to annoy the other park users. It was rarely long before some finger-wagging busybody would stop to lecture me on my appalling recklessness. At that point, my work was done.
It’s for similar reasons that my current greatest ambition is to take Girl foxhunting (which with luck we’ll do next season, when I’m researching my new book project Mister Delingpole’s Sporting Tour).
Sure I’m keen for her to experience the thrill and camaraderie of the chase, and to swoon at how gorgeous she looks in a ratcatcher (as all girls do). But the broader purpose of the exercise is to teach her a vital life lesson: that the world is full of censorious health-and-safety-obsessed puritanical types who want to force us to play by their rules — and what we say to them is ‘Two fingers!’
Does all this make me a bad parent? If you consulted an expert — say Joyce Thacker, former strategic director of Children and Young People’s Services at Rotherham council — I suspect they’d tell you it did. And I dare say it would be the same in Scotland where, as from next month, under the new Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, every child up to the age of 18 is now to be allocated a ‘named person’ whose job it will be to supervise their ‘well-being’ by ensuring that they are safe, healthy, achieving, nurtured, active, respected, responsible and included.
Though all those goals sound fine in principle, I rather fear that in practice a lot would depend on the ‘named person’s’ particular interpretation of them. This interpretation, I’m guessing, would be very much the Common Purpose position, in which all social worker types are fully indoctrinated, where great value is placed on nebulous concepts like fairness, equality, diversity, social justice, sustainability and so on, but not a great deal on freedom or contra mundum individualism. Indeed, as far as most agencies of the state would be concerned, parents like me are very much the enemy.
This is what I think H.G. Wells may have been getting at in his rambling 1906 paper which he read to the Fabian Society under the title ‘Socialism And The Middle Classes’. ‘Socialism, in fact, is the State family. The old family of the private individual must vanish before it, just as the old water works of private enterprise, or the old gas company. They are incompatible with it. Socialism assails the triumphant egotism of the family today just as Christianity did in its earlier and more vital centuries.’
For socialism see also fascism, communism, Islamism: it is in the nature of all totalitarian doctrines to want to detach children from their unhealthy familial bonds and indoctrinate them in the ways of communitarian righteousness. Hence the Young Pioneers, and the Hitler Youth and all those earnest young Red Guards enthusiastically shopping their capitalist running-dog lackey parents to the authorities. Hence, also, of course, Joyce Thacker’s refusal when she still had her job at Rotherham to allow that Ukip-voting couple to foster. An affiliation to a party that professes to reject the values of the socialistic state, clearly, is far more dangerous to a child than, say, exposing them to the risk of being groomed and raped by gangs of Pakistani/Kashmiri taxi drivers.
My own view is that parents almost invariably know better what’s good for their children than any outside agency does; and that however badly they may fuck them up, as Larkin would have it, their kids are still unlikely to end up anywhere near as screwed up as they would be if entrusted to the tender cares of the state.
When I study my offspring and survey the damage I have wrought on their fragile psyches — the sick, bleak sense of humour they have acquired, their seething contempt for authority, their addiction to provocation — I feel nothing but pride at my achievement. Yes, on occasion they may be monsters. But at least, thank God, they are my monsters.