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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Wednesday 27th August 2003

Baby Column


Since becoming a father I've turned into an avid reader of the health section of my daily paper. This isn't because I'm taking a sensible interest in my own wellbeing now that I'm responsible for the welfare of another individual for the next 18 years. Rather, it's because it's an excellent source of ammunition in my ongoing battle to win some sympathy from my wife. Needless to say, this has become a great deal harder since the baby arrived.

Last week, for instance, one paper revealed that the NHS is setting up a helpline for men suffering from postnatal depression. Incredible as it may sound, the South Essex Partnership NHS Trust will be distributing a pamphlet to all new fathers in Basildon called 'Fathers Matter, In Tune With Dads' that includes details of how to get in touch with the helpline.

Naturally, as soon as I read this I tried it out on Caroline.

"Darling, I'm feeling a little under the weather today. I think I must be suffering from postnatal depression."

"Don't be absurd," she snapped as she busied herself with changing the baby's nappy. "Next you'll be telling me you're having a period."

I debated whether to point out that my periods weren't due to resume until six weeks after the baby's birth, but thought better of it.

The following day there was a more promising story in the paper. According to Dr Tim Cantopher, the medical director of the Priory Clinic in Walton-on-Thames, men who try and combine helping out around the home with a successful career at work are in danger of suffering from "Atlas Syndrome", a new psychiatric condition named after the Greek god who supported the world on his shoulders. "This syndrome affects men who are too good," says Dr Cantopher. "They are too strong, capable and caring."

I liked the sound of that, so I ran it up the flagpole as Caroline was sterilising Sasha's bottle.

"I don't think that applies to freelance journalists," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "In your case, taking an active role in childcare would mean watching slightly less daytime TV."

I decided to soldier on.

"Listen to this," I said, reading from the paper. "'It used to be mainly women who suffered from this as they felt compelled to be the perfect employee while having all the pressures of running the home and caring for the family. But in the last few years men have added new responsibilities to their traditional role of being aggressive and successful at work.'"

I began to fantasise out loud about writing a bestselling book on the subject, the male equivalent of Shirley Conran's Superwoman. I'd call it Superdad.

"Great idea," she said, picking up the remote and switching off the cricket. "I think you should get started straight away. We could use the money."

In the past, when Caroline complained about how little work I did, I used to point out that all writers indulge in "displacement activity". While it might look as though I'm doing nothing, in fact my unconscious is hard at work, devising the plot of my soon-to-be written novel. Unfortunately, now that there's a third mouth to feed, if I so much as use the phrase "creative procrastination" a soiled nappy comes flying through the air at 60mph.

I'm beginning to see what Cyril Connolly meant when he said there was no greater enemy of promise than a pram in the hall. How can I possibly be expected to write a novel when I'm not allowed to lounge around the house all day doing absolutely nothing? Regrettably, it looks as though I may have to get a proper job.

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