November 19, 1999
Tony Blair leads a country - Homer Simpson leads a life devoted to doughnuts. Tony Blair hob-nobs with heads of state - Homer hangs out in a dive bar. So when Mr Blair is a father again next year, who should he look to as a role model?
Yes, Homer Simpson!
At least that's according to Lancaster University psychology professor Charlie Lewis who reckons that cartoon character Homer is one of the best examples of modern fatherhood.
He says many fathers could learn from Homer's fondness for watching TV with his children, to whom he's utterly devoted.
He said : "In many households, like the Simpsons, the father is a rather benign figure who comes in from work late at night.
"The main place where fathers interact with their children is in front of the telly - much like Homer Simpson.
"Homer is a very good western cultural icon for fathers."
Apart from Bart, Homer is father to girls Maggie and Lisa and spends much of his time chauffeuring them about.
Homer does of course have a fondness for beer and food at his favourite haunt, The Frying Dutchman, which he almost put out of business when it held an "all you can eat" competition.
He also forgets birthdays and eats with his mouth open.
But Prof Lewis pointed out : "He has recently started going to parenting classes, so at least Homer is trying to be a good parent in his old age."
Mr Blair is already showing Homer-like parenting qualities, says Prof Lewis.
Wild horses - or even wife Marge - can't drag Homer away from the telly.
And one of Mr Blair's favourite pastimes is watching football with his kids.
He even let slip that he would rather have been watching the Scotland-England game than flying half way round the world to the heads of Commonwealth conference earlier this month.
According to Prof Lewis, this telly tendency is a good pointer to good parenting.
He said : "Sitting at home watching the football with his kids is what Homer is good at, but most men find they cannot do that because they are too busy - or emotionally unable to.
"This doesn't mean that all fathers should be slobs, but they should spend more time with their kids."
Prof Lewis said fathers in high-pressure jobs like Mr Blair's often could not spend as much time as they would like with their children.
Mr Blair even admitted as much at the Labour Party conference earlier this year.
"We're only flesh and blood in the end. Sometimes can't sleep. Worry about the job. Worry about the kids. Worry about growing old."
But Prof Lewis said that it was clear from these and other statements that Tony Blair and Homer were both triers.
He said : "I don't think Tony Blair is being cynical when he talks about how much his children mean to him."
A devoted husband, Homer leaves his wife Marge with few complaints - apart from those already mentioned.
But Adrienne Burgess, author of the book Fatherhood Reclaimed, said we should not rush to praise Homer as an icon of fatherhood.
While she admitted he was devoted to his kids, he was also a fool, reinforcing cultural stereotypes of fathers as buffoons.
She said : "He is deeply attached to his family, but he is seen as a fool.
"The family is central to his life, but his buffoonery seems to undermine that."
She said a better cartoon role model for Mr Blair would be the Rugrats' Chazz Finster, father of Chucky.
She said : "He is a lone father, but he does all the things like putting Chucky to bed.
"In fact, all the parents in Rugrats participate - they are always running around changing nappies - but they are portrayed as competent parents, not buffoons."