Now is the time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. Photo: Getty
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I never wept with pride when I held my newborns. But I’m thrilled they still want to see me

That my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me.

An email from M--- at the Independent on Sunday. M--- used to be my editor on that paper until I got a phone call from the Actual Editor, John Mullin, telling me he had “gone over the figures” and decided that, after ten years of living high on the hog as its radio critic, I had driven the paper to the very edge of bankruptcy and only replacing me with the guy who brought round the sandwiches was going to restore its AAA credit rating. (Now that the paper is owned by a billionaire, I suppose these days the sandwiches are brought round on silver salvers by liveried flunkies, and that even the flunkies have flunkies to actually hand the sandwiches over. That’s what it’s like, right, when you’re owned by a billionaire?)

But I digress. I always liked M--- and never tainted him by association with the Mullin regime. What he wants is for me to do something for them for Father’s Day about my children. For many years I wrote a column for another paper called Slack Dad, in which I offered anti-parenting advice for its family pages, the idea being that there were quite enough writers offering idealised advice to be getting on with, and that there was surely room for the kind of person who did not, upon holding his newborn infant, burst into tears and declare this the proudest day of his life.

Note: I am being gender-specific here. Men who are proud of having done little more than ejaculated into someone nine months beforehand, and have had zero influence so far on the resulting baby, have a funny idea of what pride means. And for what it’s worth, my time in the delivery room during Mrs Lezard’s first labour was spent just out of reach of her nails – which had been beginning to dig into my thigh painfully – reading the cricket reports from Australia and wondering if I could get away with calling the child Darren if it was a boy. (Footnote for non-sporty people: there was a bowler in the England team called Darren Gough, who was one of the few players that supporters weren’t in some way ashamed of.)

Since then I have had time to see how the Slack Parenting approach has paid off. The experiment is nearing its close – or rather, the close of its first stage, when the children reach majority. They are evenly spaced in age – 13, 17 and 19 – which may give the impression that some kind of master plan was at work, but as far as I’m concerned, they are all acts of God.

As it is, the children have been featuring more, rather than less, in my life recently. One of the things about depression, or the low-level version of it that I have, which might as well be called “melancholy”, is that you don’t go out and see anyone any more. But you can’t, thank goodness, get out of seeing your children. So it turns out that they’re the people I’ve been seeing the most of ever since the B went off to Sweden.

The youngest didn’t want to go on a holiday with the others so elected to stay with me in the Hovel. It was great, and I learned that Star Trek II: the Wrath of Khan is an even better film than I remember it being. The middle one pops in every week after classes round the corner and gives me sage advice on the unwisdom of using this column to settle scores or nurse grudges. And the eldest just turns up when she feels like it, because at least she knows when she comes here she’ll have someone to sit up chatting with until 2am with a glass of wine or two to help the conversation. My, how tall the middle child is!

So, that my children actually want to see me, after years of my not even remotely bursting into tears of pride whenever I contemplated them, is one of the nicest surprises that this existence has granted to me. It also represents a salve to the bitterness of the past few years. There are many cruelties involved in divorce, or separation, or whatever you want to call it or define it as: and the cruellest is seeing your children only every two weeks.

It is a matter of deep grief and pain, to the point where I forcibly shrug the thought away the second it occurs to me, that the youngest is coming to an age when he will have been alive longer with me as a distant parent than as someone living in the same home as him.

Then again, it is maybe this lack of continual presence that has contrived to present me, to their minds, as a desirable occasional alternative to the official family home. Perhaps; but at what a price.

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 14 May 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Why empires fall

Photo: Getty
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Emmanuel Macron can win - but so can Marine Le Pen

Macron is the frontrunner, but he remains vulnerable to an upset. 

French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron is campaigning in the sixth largest French city aka London today. He’s feeling buoyed by polls showing not only that he is consolidating his second place but that the voters who have put him there are increasingly comfortable in their choice

But he’ll also be getting nervous that those same polls show Marine Le Pen increasing her second round performance a little against both him and François Fillon, the troubled centre-right candidate. Her slight increase, coming off the back of riots after the brutal arrest of a 22-year-old black man and Macron’s critical comments about the French empire in Algeria is a reminder of two things: firstly the potential for domestic crisis or terror attack to hand Le Pen a late and decisive advantage.  Secondly that Macron has not been doing politics all that long and the chance of a late implosion on his part cannot be ruled out either.

That many of his voters are former supporters of either Fillon or the Socialist Party “on holiday” means that he is vulnerable should Fillon discover a sense of shame – highly unlikely but not impossible either – and quit in favour of a centre-right candidate not mired in scandal. And if Benoît Hamon does a deal with Jean-Luc Mélenchon – slightly more likely that Fillon developing a sense of shame but still unlikely – then he could be shut out of the second round entirely.

What does that all mean? As far as Britain is concerned, a Macron or Fillon presidency means the same thing: a French government that will not be keen on an easy exit for the UK and one that is considerably less anti-Russian than François Hollande’s. But the real disruption may be in the PR battle as far as who gets the blame if Theresa May muffs Brexit is concerned.

As I’ve written before, the PM doesn’t like to feed the beast as far as the British news cycle and the press is concerned. She hasn’t cultivated many friends in the press and much of the traditional rightwing echo chamber, from the press to big business, is hostile to her. While Labour is led from its leftmost flank, that doesn’t much matter. But if in the blame game for Brexit, May is facing against an attractive, international centrist who shares much of the prejudices of May’s British critics, the hope that the blame for a bad deal will be placed solely on the shoulders of the EU27 may turn out to be a thin hope indeed.

Implausible? Don’t forget that people already think that Germany is led by a tough operator who gets what she wants, and think less of David Cameron for being regularly outmanoeuvered by her – at least, that’s how they see it. Don’t rule out difficulties for May if she is seen to be victim to the same thing from a resurgent France.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.