Were it possible for societies to effect sharp intakes of breath, this one would certainly have achieved such a marvel last week when alerted that a man had gone to the High Court attempting to stop his girlfriend travelling to have their child aborted. Even halfway up the Alps I felt the shudder of Irish society reverberate beneath my feet.
And if it were possible for societies to emit sighs of relief, such a release would surely have followed the news that the matter had been resolved between the parties, albeit with matters continuing “as at present in relation to the pregnancy”.
The man was not Irish. Such has been the relentlessness of misandrist propaganda in this society that I’d have intuited this had it not been made clear. The idea of an Irishman intervening to protect his unborn child is so – as it were – inconceivable that this detail was entirely superfluous.
Indignation at male's concern
The man, it transpired, was not seeking to prevent his girlfriend having an abortion if that was her wish. His concern was that she was under duress from her parents, who objected to her relationship with him on account of his non-European ethnicity. These details seemed to rise up out of the story by way of affording some relief to the inevitable indignation of Irish society at the very idea of a man seeking to interfere in the fate of his own child. There was a sense of the culture being tiptoed around, as though in exaggerated anticipation of its shuddering. Thank the dead God the man was not seeking to deny the woman's "right to choose", eh?
The intimation of racial prejudice helped also: because this comes with a high PC taboo-ranking, the man also qualified for some element of victim-status, thus insulating him from the outright denunciation of the culture.
I found it especially interesting that, in contrast to recent sagas relating to abortion, there followed no wall-to-wall reflections on the emotions of the main player, as the scribes scrambled around for a code to colour in the story. Even in rather sketchy accounts of the court proceedings, space was found to mention that the legal costs would be covered by two pro-life groups from Northern Ireland, where the couple had been living. Ah!
But, unlike other recent abortion-related stories, there were no double-page spreads about the significance of the case (in fact, unprecedented in Irish law). Although I've repeatedly written about the position of the father in respect of abortion and otherwise, I remained untroubled by calls from Irish radio or television stations. The story, for all its overtones of human misery, brought rather randomly to mind a 1980s sketch by British comedian Ben Elton, in which he describes a scene on the London Underground involving a suspicious package. Everyone stares at it, but nobody wants to be the one to say what everyone's thinking. Elton gloriously describes the passengers' silent praying that the bomb will go off so they'll be spared having to speak.
Ireland is a disturbed culture for a father of any description, unless he chooses to linger in the background of the great Irish romance of mother and child. It's an especially dysfunctional place for the father of an unborn child over whom hangs the threat of abortion – a man deemed incapable of grief or love. During the recent debate on the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill, the only one I heard raising the spectre of father-feeling was the then Fine Gael TD Peter Mathews, and we know what's happened to him.
And yet, we are not without our expectations in relation to what we term the "duties" of fathers. The other morning, I listened with something approaching awe to the implicit line of reasoning in a radio interview with Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton. The topic was a proposal to render mandatory the naming of fathers on birth certs, which the (female) interviewer insisted on interpreting as an instrument for chasing what are called "absent" fathers who fail to pay "maintenance". Although the Minister was at pains to stress that the main point of the measure was to recognise the rights of the child and acknowledge the father's role, the interviewer persisted with her "deadbeat dads" theme. Irish society reserves its right to harrumph about the alleged fecklessness of fathers, even within moments of recoiling from the idea of their seeking to defend unborn children.
Process of abomination
It sometimes crosses my mind how odd it is that, at the moment of birth, a male or female child is equally loved by its mother and father, and yet, sometime later, the male child acquires a baffling capacity to become abominated by a culture comprising a multiplicity of adult males and females. I wonder: when is the precise moment at which the potential for withdrawing affection from our own sons begins to rise up silently in our selectively hardening hearts?