Fatherhood is being downgraded again

Poor old Brian Aldridge. For those of you who are not addicted to Radio 4's The Archers as I am, all is not well down on the farm.

Poor old Brian Aldridge. For those of you who are not addicted to Radio 4's The Archers as I am, all is not well down on

the farm.

He is caught between the children from his marriage and his illegitimate son whose mother has just died. It's a messy story and there is no way of knowing what is going to happen. What is clear is the responsibility he feels towards Ruairi. He is right, for fatherhood is not just about receiving cards from your offspring. It is so much more.

My own father died just before my 21st birthday. He became ill just as I was entering my teens.

Our relationship had previously been pretty good, but it deteriorated with his poor health and the onset of those difficult years for me.

It was not his fault and all that is long in the past, but I do remember the fathers of my two best friends. Both of these wonderful men were important to me. I could see how they doted on their daughters - always thought the best of them, went to endless trouble for them.

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To my mind, this relationship is crucial for a young woman's development and self esteem. Where it works, daughters usually exhibit a confident assurance in their femininity. They know who they are and it shows.

For a young man the role of the father is to help him to cut the ties with his mother in order that he can relate to his maleness and grow in confidence as a man.

Where this does not happen, because his father is remote or absent, he will turn away from her into a void. One of the ways he may then seek to fill the emptiness is through relationship with his peers.

This can result in assuming the pseudo-masculine swaggerings that we see in so much of the culture surrounding young men.

Most people would agree that a child needs both parents. That is the way it works best. However, the government has other ideas.

Tucked away in the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill is a clause that removes the requirement for doctors to have regard for the need of any child they assist bringing into the world through IVF for a father.

They will still have to consider the welfare of that child, so how can they really do so and yet reject its need for a dad? As I said, fathers play a unique and guiding role in their children's development. It is different to that of a mother, but is complementary, and vital.

There is no doubt that when children are deprived of a father as they grow up they often experience psychological, social and community disadvantages which can be damaging. Indeed, we are seeing a whole generation of young people for whom that is a reality.

If this bill passes into law without the removal of that clause, it is yet another example of the way fatherhood is being down-graded.

Why do we keep allowing it to happen? I was listening to the Moral Maze last week, and one of the contributors on the debate about abortion was scandalised by the suggestion that men should have any say in the matter, intimating that this was purely a woman's issue.

For the women faced with an unplanned pregnancy it

is not. Most of them instinctively do not want to be single parents and will opt for abortion because they do not have the support of their partner or husband in continuing with their pregnancy.

I feel I missed out through my father's illness and it has taken me years to achieve a sense of completeness - that sense of being well-rounded as a person, those very qualities that I see in the two friends I mentioned.

It is fundamental to know that you are loved unconditionally, to know that that love is not based on your prettiness, cleverness, achievements or business sense.

Jesus knew that love, both from his earthly father and his heavenly one.

At his baptism that acceptance was spoken out over him. God said, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased." This was said before he had done anything. It gave him the basis from which everything else flowed. He never had to earn that love. It was a given.

That has been my experience too. It really does not matter to God what I achieve.

He is much more interested in having a close relationship with me. That knowledge has helped make up for the loss of my father during those developing teenage years and the truth is that however good they are, no parent can offer 100pc unconditional love.

Only God can do that. The amazing thing is that His love can make up the deficit - however big it is.