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Blair's dilemma

By April Austin / March 29, 2000



Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair is going to be a daddy again. His wife, Cherie, wants him to take paternity leave after their fourth child is born in late May.

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By law, fathers in Britain are entitled to 13 weeks of unpaid leave, spread out over the first five years of a child's life.

Mr. Blair is in a pickle, because if he doesn't take time off, not only will his wife be disappointed, but thousands of women voters may change their opinion of him as a progressive kind of guy. If he does, political foes will attack him for placing his family's interests above those of the nation.

Five years ago, hardly any world leader would even have debated such a move.

The symbolism of Blair's decision is powerful. If the prime minister takes a leave, he signals to other fathers that their presence is important to family well-being. If Blair chooses to stay on the job, he conveys the message that work matters more than family.

The PM's difficulties mirror those of ordinary dads who must weigh work and family responsibilities (something women have done for decades). In many workplaces, men decline unpaid paternity leave because they'll lose money and appear less committed to their jobs. Still others keep working out of a sense of personal responsibility.

If Blair chooses to affirm his role as father - not just politician - he may help move attitudes about fatherhood into the 21st century.

And it would certainly earn major points with his wife.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society