Saturday 24 August 2019

New baby for Jagger at age 73 proof that parenting is anything but equal

Mick Jagger has become a father again at the age of 73 Photo: PA
Mick Jagger has become a father again at the age of 73 Photo: PA
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

When I was born, back in the 1940s, friends and family took pity on my mother, who was 42. "Poor Ita! Imagine having another child at her age! A dreadful burden!"

My father, who was 67, received a very different reaction. "Hombre!" "Congratulations - you're a great man altogether!" The blessing of fathering a child in old age brought tears of joy to his eyes.

Nature doesn't change. Today, as Mick Jagger fathers his eighth child at the age of 73, congratulations flow towards the grandfather and great-grandfather as he cradles his latest sprog, Devereux Orlando Basil, recently born to the ballerina Melanie Hamrick, aged 30.

And why wouldn't the congratulations flow? Jagger is the alpha-male who has spawned a large family of sibs and half-sibs: all seem to get along harmoniously, the generations nicely intermingling.

He has the money and the energy, and very evidently, the fertility - no point, it seems, in advocating the common condom to Mick!

He says he loves kids and he certainly embraces the principle of dynasty - the "Basil" in the latest infant's name is to honour Mick's father.

Enter doubts about the fact that Mick has already broken up with little Devereux Orlando Basil's mother, and has been seen escorting a long-legged young Russian around town and you risk seeming somewhat reactionary.

Marriage or stable coupledom? Who needs it? Not the ultra-rich Rolling Stone, surely. And if the baby is loved, and the mother freely chose to give birth, then everything is fine.

I applaud that old Jewish motto that the child should always be welcome, but the birth of Mick's eighth child, at 73, to a woman with whom he is no longer in a conjugal relationship, is a vivid illustration of several inequalities in a world where we fetishise equality as the greatest good.

Firstly, it illuminates the inequality of wealth, class and social status. If Jagger were an impoverished Liverpudlian great-grandfather living on a state pension who had impregnated a young girlfriend, such an old fellow would be denounced as feckless and irresponsible. Another child on the welfare books! What about the population problem? What about 'safe sex' among the elderly?

Secondly, it illustrates the inequality bestowed by nature, and recognised by common experience: men and women are different. A man in his seventies who begets a child does so because nature has permitted at least some men to father children into old age. A woman in her seventies who becomes a mother may only do so through the intervention of embryological science, donated eggs or proxy parenting. Even a few decades younger, it was always recognised that it is harder on a woman to give birth in the mature years.

In our time, we have tried - with the best intentions - to erase differences of class, wealth, and nature. Indeed, we have tried to affirm that in 'parenting' there are no differences in nature. There is a kindly sign over certain seats on London Underground trains: "Please give up this seat to….persons who are pregnant". Some trouble is taken to avoid stating the biological fact that it is women who are pregnant, not gender-neutral "persons".

Led by the enlightened Swedes, there is a Europe-wide drive to equalise "paternity" and "maternity" leave for all parents. It took Leo Varadkar, medic, to point out this year that while it's a nice idea to give fathers equal parental leave, it remains a medical fact that giving birth places considerably more stress on a woman's body than on a man's. Even Mick flew to New York - in a private plane, of course - especially to be there to "bond" with his new son, but let us not pretend that this means he has to rest up for the next six weeks, the traditional period of maternal recovery recognised even in the Old Testament.

Cherie Blair, wife of the former British prime minister Tony, declared recently that we should abolish references to "mother" and "father" and replace it with "parent". It would be so much more "inclusive"!

But nature is quite emphatic that, when it comes to "parenting", mothers and fathers are entirely different.

Mick's "parenting" is an international emblem of differences in gender and class, and in one sense it is an homage to traditional values. He is the latter-day pasha, the top male who attracts the top females and gets to spread his genes. Wealth cushions most vicissitudes (the suicide of his former lover, L'Wren Scott, who, unusually, did not bear him a child, must have affected him as it would any human being. But he moved on.) Yet perhaps it is a sign of women's confidence and liberation that so many are pleased to have a Jagger baby.

There is no hiding of a famous man's offspring, as happened in the old Hollywood days (when the film star Loretta Young had to adopt her own child, so as to pretend she hadn't given birth out of wedlock): no forced resort to the abortion clinic on set, described by Ronald Reagan as Hollywood's remedy to any starlet's accidental pregnancy.

There will always be alpha-males like Mick who beget children into their seventies: there will never be women who "equalise" men in this particular endeavour.

But while motherhood and fatherhood aren't the same, each has its compensations. War historians observe that soldiers mortally wounded on a battlefield always cry out for their mothers. Not, be it noted, their gender-neutral "parent".

Irish Independent

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