Mark Latham – Father first


When a politician falls, few people win. But while the analysis draws itself out and a new Labor leader is appointed, there are two very important winners who will be all grins at Mark Latham’s decision to quit politics. And I’m not talking about Howard and Costello.

In his opening address in December 2003, Latham referred to fatherhood as a wonderful experience, and hoped his sons would look back at their father with pride.

But, stuff the pride. For young growing boys, a loving and available dad is far more important. And Isaac and Oliver are due for more time with their dad than they’ve had in what has been a long fourteen months.

What Mark Latham has found is that the wonderful experience of fatherhood and being the leader of a political party don’t match up very well. He is perhaps the best argument for young parents to avoid party leadership altogether.

Every year, politicians spend at least twenty four weeks in Canberra. Those with further responsibilities spend even more. Political leaders spend an inordinate amount of time away from home. There is little time for soccer in the backyard with the boys, except as media spin during an election campaign.

Mark Latham will be remembered as the shortest-serving Labor leader. He might also be remembered for his election loss, his illness and his lack of response to the Asian tsunami disaster.

He should be remembered as the politician who put his children first.

The memory of a leader who threw it in for his kids is a powerful one. It should help Latham create a wave of his own.

The truth is, thousands of dads are still out there with their noses to the grindstone, waiting for someone to give them permission to spend more time away from work and with their kids. It is too important to overlook Mark Latham’s acknowledgment that talking family values is one thing, but actually enacting family values is what matters.

It gives men permission to say, ‘Work isn’t everything’. Careers can be sidelined during the crucial early years when children are forming their basic understanding of the world. The work-family balance ceases to become human resource policy and starts to become a social attitude.

Dads of young boys need good constitutions. They need all the energy they can muster to help raise them. Good health is required for the long haul that is fathering. So, in citing two major illnesses over his seventeen years of politics, Latham is focussing directly on his two boys “ the people who, more than anyone, need him to be healthy.

We need more fathers like Latham who are going to let their ego ride, forego the adrenalin rush of power and let their public duty be to their family. It is only when more influential people put this view across that it will become socially acceptable.

So, I’ve decided it’s OK if young political leaders come and go, as long as they leave behind messages like Latham’s.

Latham is obviously a passionate man when it comes to his politics. Half-hearted people don’t become leader of the opposition. It is a worthy decision indeed for him to put fathering before the prime ministership. May more of us take his lead.

William Greider, One World, Ready or Not, Allen Lane, 1997; p. 23, 243

Joel Kurtzman, The Death of Money, Simon and Schuster, 1993

Will Hutton, The State We’re In, Vintage, London, 1995

Soros on Soros, Wiley, 1995

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.