Reluctant parents: why Cowell’s honesty is welcome

Simon Cowell in December 2011

First, an admission: I have no children. I have never experienced the joys, the torment, the rapture, the trauma or any of the other multiple emotions associated with fatherhood. My chest has never swollen with pride; my heart has never sunk in sadness. I’ve never known the vicarious thrill or despair associated with a child’s success or failure. So I may be the least qualified person to write on fatherhood – which is what I am going to do. Or I may be eminently well qualified. Make up your mind in a few moments.

Simon Cowell is, like me a mature man who has made up his mind not to have children. At 53, he has expressly told reporters that he values his independence and the freedom of movement it affords him. So the prospect of becoming a father must give him pause for reflection. In the unlikely event that you’re not aware of recent developments, Lauren Silverman, a married woman with whom he had a relationship, claims she is expecting his child. Her husband has filed for divorce, though, it seems, the Silvermans’ marriage was effectively over by the time the affair began.

Cowell has been dismissive: he brushes off the scandal by denying he reads the newspapers or takes notice of gossip. He won’t comment on Mrs. Silverman’s contention that he is the father of her baby. We imagine he isn’t especially delighted. After all, he once responded to the question about whether he ever intended to start a family. “God, no, I couldn’t have children,” he is reported to have said, “If I had them they’d be drawing on the walls, and I’d go nuts. With kids you’ve got a routine you can’t escape from.”

I suspect Cowell is not a well-loved figure. But he is popular all the same. This is not a contradiction: people follow Cowell and are as fascinated by his idiosyncrasies, like his weekly Botox jabs, his colonic irrigations, and his intravenous vitamin transfusions, as they are by his caustic evaluations on The X Factor. I suspect people will turn against him for refusing immediately to acknowledge that the child might be his. I’m not among them.

OK, the child could be his, in which case he will take responsibility. At least, I think he will. But will he change his mind and say that he wants to embrace fatherhood? I doubt it. For all his faults, he is, in this respect, honest. He will maintain that he does not crave a child and, indeed, lives the kind of life that does not permit him the kind of active role a father should take. I prefer people to risk public condemnation by saying they don’t want children than to pretend. Magdalena Luczak and Mariusz Krezolek pretended they were loving parents, but they were anything but. They starved, tortured and eventually killed Magdalena’s son Daniel. The couple, who travelled to Coventry from their native Poland in 2006, were convicted of murder and imprisoned for thirty years last week.

Prior to his death Daniel endured six months of abuse, having been starved, force-fed salt, held under water in a bath until unconscious, beaten regularly and confined to a box bedroom with no door handle. He was often so hungry that he would steal food from schoolmates and was seen by teachers scavenging around in bins for scraps or leftovers. When the boy died, the pair failed to call for an ambulance for thirty-three hours, during which time they looked on the Internet for medical advice, as he lay unconscious in his room. A post-mortem found twenty-three injuries on Daniel’s emaciated body.

The case highlighted the failure to act by Daniel’s school and social services in Coventry. A Serious Case Review has been launched to try to discover how the visibly malnourished boy was allowed to remain in the care of his mother. Police, school staff and health workers made dozens of visits to the family home. Daniel’s is the latest of a number of serious cases of extreme child abuse. The best known are those of Victoria Climbié, who died in 2000, Khyra Ishaq, in 2010, and Baby Peter, in 2007; but there are several others. We seem unwilling to countenance that some parents just don’t want children, or, if they do, want them only as objects to mistreat.

Common to all four cases is the arrival of a new male partner into the household. The influence of a man with, it appears, no interest in fatherhood was a factor. Critics of single motherhood should consider how preferable a one-parent family is to a reconstituted version in which one partner has no love at all for children.

It’s only a couple of weeks ago that the world was celebrating the arrival of the child of Kate and William. But we have to contend with the grim truth that the royal couple offered just one image of parenthood. Luczak offers a horrifying contrast. Should it be proven that Cowell is indeed the father of Lauren Silverman’s child, he won’t conform to either image. He will, we presume, be an absentee dad, who supports his child with several million dollars per year and, we expect, take no active involvement in the nurture of his offspring.

Cowell will be attacked for this, of course. But it strikes me as an honest approach. If the man seriously feels no paternal tendencies or inclinations and thinks a child will interfere with the lifestyle he currently enjoys, why even contemplate trying to involve him in the life of his child? It sounds a perverse question; but surely the child will be better off with one loving parent than a mother who cares and a father who is, at best, indifferent.

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