First published in The Telegraph
So, Mr Nasty has gone nice. Simon Cowell has been nominated for his parenting skills, just months after his girlfriend Lauren Silverman gave birth to Eric.
The music mogul will face stiff competition to land the Marvel Celebrity Dad of the Year prize, previously held by red-top and tax-man darling Gary Barlow. Also in the running are current holder Mo Farah, fellow Olympian Bradley Wiggins and chef Jamie Oliver.
Apparently the shortlist was arrived at by a public vote, and the winner will be chosen via a Facebook poll in time for Father’s Day. But, from the little we know about his parenting skills, it’s hard to see how anyone hss decided that Cowell is a man most who represents modern fatherhood. After all, this is the man who tempered his “I’m a changed man” statement with a flat refusal to change a nappy: “I talk to him and play with him, but I don’t think dads do changing nappies,” Cowell was reported to have said recently. “I’ll leave that up to the nanny.”
On that basis, if this Dad of the Year competition was based on an X-Factor style audition, Cowell would be one of the many swivel-eyed oddballs pushed onto the stage for light relief.
To be fair to him, supporters rallied to his defence as soon as the nominations were announced. “Look, he posts pictures of his baby online,” they said, “and he’s been papped while feeding him with a bottle”.
Cowell didn’t nominate himself, of course – so it’s not as if he’s desperate to be seen as a paragon of good parenting (although I’m sure he wouldn’t veto the idea). And, to give him his due, none of us really know if he is a brilliant father or not; he’s likely to be incredibly attentive and loving, like most dads – but all we the voting public have to go on are a few snaps and a joke-or-not admission that he doesn’t want to get involved in the messy stuff.
It’s the latter, in particular, which strikes a blow against the concept of modern fatherhood. Just as it appears that stay-at-home fathers are gaining ground, with 229,000 men now registered as main carers (up from 111,000 in 1993), the traditional do-nothing dad is not only back in the spotlight, but up for an award.
The other nominees also deserve closer inspection. Mo Farah seems like a lovely chap, and the sight of him celebrating his Olympic triumph in 2012 with his wife and step-daughter will live long in the memory, but with a fierce training programme and Mo-bots to perform in various continents, you do wonder how much dad-time is left. Farah spent three months preparing for this year’s London marathon in Kenya’s Rift Valley, away from his family (including year-old twins). When a journalist asked if they would be visiting him in Africa, Farah shook his head: “If I was with them it would probably be harder for me because want to play with them,” he said. “I wouldn’t rest as much.”
Perhaps the Marvel competition should also look harder at the time frame. Is a year a sufficient time-frame to measure how good a dad you are? Surely the proof is in the pudding. Maybe in 20 years time when Eric Cowell tells us what a wonderful father his old man was and how all that nappy-changing nonsense was just to play up to his bad-guy image, we can give Mr X-Factor his trophy.
Until then Marvel has to try harder to find its supermen.