Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Karl du Fresne: The continuing mystery of the missing men

I bet I’m not the only one who heard Radio New Zealand’s news item about a homeless Napier woman with seven children and wondered why no man was mentioned.

I notice this time and time again in depressing news stories about solo mothers in desperate plights. Why is nothing ever said about the men who fathered the children?

Are they lurking somewhere in the background, too ashamed or embarrassed to come forward, or have they done a runner? My guess is that it’s the latter.

In the Napier case, the woman’s seven children are aged from 11 down to seven weeks. She spent her last money buying two flimsy tents which she erected in a park before a woman saw what was happening and took her in. She’s now in temporary accommodation, having apparently been given the run-around by the agencies that are supposed to help such people. (Which is another story in itself. Perhaps Kainga Ora could free up space by evicting some of its gang tenants who terrorise their neighbours. But of course that would be racist.)

The age of the baby indicates there was a man somewhere in the picture until relatively recently. Where is he? Why is he apparently not contributing to the welfare of the helpless infant whose conception he was party to? And what about the other six kids? Did they all have the same father, or were they sired by other men?

Reporters never ask these questions – or if they do, they don’t tell us the answers. There are three possible explanations for this.

The first is that it’s considered rude to inquire into intimate personal matters. The second is that it’s considered judgemental, and contemporary morality insists we must never make judgements about other people’s behaviour (although we do it all the time, and rightly so). The third is that it’s none of our business.

But it is our business, because one way or another these families depend on public support. Where individual responsibility fails, society has to step in, and often that societal support becomes long-term.

That makes it our business. Moreover, if our sympathy is being invited – as in this case – then we are entitled to be told the full story. We deserve to know what circumstances led to a woman and seven kids having to pitch cheap Warehouse tents in a park.

It’s possible she had fled an abusive relationship. If so, we should be told, because it’s information that helps us make a judgment about the situation. (Oh, I forgot – we’re not allowed to be judgmental.)

As in all such cases, our primary concern should be for the kids. Adults have some control over their lives; children have none. They are at the mercy of the people who bring them into the world, and they deserve better than to suffer because of feckless ratbags who root, shoot and leave.

In such instances, it seems to me there’s a good case for naming and shaming absentee fathers. There should be a penalty for their selfishness and indifference to the consequences of their actions.

But – and this is the hard part – the mothers cannot entirely escape responsibility. Yes, many do their best, in terrible circumstances, to give their kids a loving home. But we are entitled to wonder why, when contraception is subsidised and even free, some women continue to have unprotected sex with the wrong men.

Footnote: I’m not saying these factors apply in the Napier case, because we don’t know. That’s the problem – journalists don’t give us the relevant background information.

Karl du Fresne, a freelance journalist, is the former editor of The Dominion newspaper. He blogs at


Jigsaw said...

That's the point -we don't know. All such news items are one sided stories and make little if any sense without the remainder of the story. These stories are written using just a selected slice of the facts designed to elicit a certain response. I cannot think of much more dishonest writing than to do that-are these 'journalists ' actually 'trained' to do that or does it come naturally.

PeterB said...

Good for you Karl talking about moral responsibility which is never mentioned nowadays. We're too frightened to talk about it because we will be condemned as old fashioned. I blame the woman more than the man because nowadays they have control over their own fertility; as far as I can see this woman is criminally irresponsible and men have simply taken advantage of it. My grandmother had 7 children in 9 years, between 1911 - 1920 but in those days the working class knew nothing about contraception. Fast forward 100 years and the information is all out there, so I don't have an iota of sympathy for this single mother. My answer is that after 4 children single mothers in these circumstances should be forcibly sterilised. Why should we as the taxpayer have to foot the bill for the upkeep of families like this, because the expense is enormous spread over years? Charlotte Bellis was expelled from Dubai because it's a criminal offense for a single woman to have a child out of wedlock. We should take a leaf out of their book and not let the permissive society run riot.