Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Daddy Lost His Head

Behold a children's book I borrowed for my kids at the library: 'Daddy Lost His Head' by Quentin Blake and Andre Bouchard.

I feel a bit strange about it, because to start with I really really enjoyed it, and laughed myself silly at the Daddy in the book, who'd left his brain at work because he needed it for a really big Ultrasupertopimportant project. The hijinks his family get up to when Daddy is effectively not there are, predictably enough with Quentin Blake's terriffic illustrations, quirky and very very funny.

But then after a few days, and a few re-reads, I began to feel uncomfortable in my skin when I thought of or read the book to my kids.

And now I think that there are some problems with it, and not small ones, either.

The Daddy in the book is behaves in a totally absent and preoccupied manner because he either brings work home with him, or cannot seperate his work and home lives. He is distracted and literally headless, so lacks presence completely when relating to his family.

The Mummy in the book firstly enjoys him not having a brain, as she can direct him to do anything she wants...the cooking, cleaning and other housework all feature. Then she gets Daddy to dance with her, which he does with a little too much zeal. So, Mummy also has an absent partner, who unthinkingly does things that should please her, but leave her essentially feeling unfulfilled. The children make a papier mache head for their Daddy to wear, and get up to all sorts of hijinks with him, including running up huge credit card debts in a toy department. Buying affection, anyone?

My discomfort stems from wondering why Daddy gets excused from looking to his relationships with his partner and children when something big at work is taking up his time, and why it is left up to women and children to look after the emotional terrain while the man is thus absent. Not to mention looking after his body while his head is absent, too! Cooking, cleaning and ironing notwithstanding.

Feminism is about more than how we divide the housework, money earning and childcare. How we split the emotional load-bearing is also an issue. If one parent's attention is elsewhere for some reason, then surely a balanced acknowledgement and discussion of all that this entails is in order? And possibly some commitment to creating time to spend with family members to redress the balance...

The fact that there is a book about this psychological absence normalises this for children, and conditions them to accept absent parents, fathers in particular. I find it particularly distressing that the mother in the book puts up with/makes do with an absent partner. I guess the scope of a children's book is too brief to go into whether this is an explicit agreement that they have or not; why do I get the feeling that this would definitely not be the case?

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