Sat | Aug 19, 2017

Daniel Thwaites | Jackets in Gordon House

Published:Sunday | July 23, 2017 | 7:00 AM

I'm hoping the Government buckles down and passes legislation mandating the registration of fathers on children's birth certificates. Were that to happen, I imagine DNA testing would suddenly get a lot more popular, and the suit-making industry in our little island, reputed to be thriving and growing well beyond 5-in-4, will get a little more exposure.

As we all know, this is an inexhaustible subject in our society, where both polyandry and polygyny are practised with equal vigour.

If you think about it, from one rather prominent angle, a jacket is a kind of privilege. Someone thought you - sorry, miserable, and dilapidated as you likely are - worthy of assignment to the task of fatherhood. There's something to that being a sign of respect. Of course, it's a lot more complicated than that, but sometimes we have to cut through the complications, at least to find consolation.

You are living a pinched and miserable existence if you've never been 'assigned' a child. In my case, I've been gifted with the blessing on a few occasions, each time without any personal involvement in the actual child-making, at least not so far as I (or anyone else) can remember. But memory is fallible, so I have accepted it meekly. Plus, ultimately, none can struggle successfully against Fate.

Again, in terms of consolation, we must consider the plight of Joseph, betrothed to Mary, the mother of Our Lord and Saviour. That's some news he had to accept. It may have been Good News for us, but I'm imagining it may have felt different to him at the time. I think it fair to say that that was the mother (father?) of all jackets. And in a manner of speaking, it turned out well.

But then again, we needn't look so far afield. Popular selector Tony Matterhorn recently revealed that he had been stitched into a jacket, but that he would continue to 'mind' his three-year-old 'daughter'. With mature philosophical resignation, he delivered this reflection to THE STAR:

"A nuff man out deh a mind weh a nuh fi him, me a nuh di first and won't be the last."

Amen, Brother Tony. Amen.

It was with these thoughts in mind that a Gleaner article caught my attention this week: 'Constitutional issues to be resolved before mandatory placing of fathers' names on birth certificates - Holness'.

 


Invasion of privacy

 

It explained that Mr Holness harbours concerns about "human rights" being infringed by a requirement that the fathers of children be identified. And it is true that some fringe groups consider requiring the names of a newborn's two parents an inexcusable invasion of privacy.

Just to show the fathomless clownishness, another article, I believe on the same day, explained that 'Prosecutors want law making wilful transmission of sexual disease a crime'.

So whereas the STI is a public matter, the most notorious and popular sexually transmitted condition - an actual human life - is a matter of deep privacy. Yes, sir! We would lower the legal hammer for gonorrhoea, but not for a child.

It is little wonder that since so many trivial complaints are crowded under the term "human rights", it is in real danger of becoming a meaningless shibboleth.

 

Heart in the right place

 

Anyway, on the matter of paternal identification, I have the sense that Mr Holness' heart is in the right place, but that he's overthinking it. And he is being encouraged to do that by the insinuation that this is a difficult issue. It is not. There are zero "human rights" infringed by the society annotating the father of a child. In the extreme and liminal circumstances where secrecy might have a rational basis, it would be relatively easy to carve out exceptions.

It's time to have an honest - or at least somewhat more honest, because too much honesty might cause the country to collapse - conversation about these matters. It could start with the people's representatives. Perhaps they could declare all their children as a test of bona fides in guiding the country on this difficult issue.

That would be an interesting and unforgettable start. Pickneys would be found littering the country and the wider world, for, if the anecdotes are to be believed, we have leadership that stays robust and fecund well past ordinary retirement age.

Anyway, that a simple piece of legislation like this could be stuck from when then Prime Minister Bruce Golding gave instructions to draft should tell us that something more is going on. And there's no doubt that such a provision might be a bit of a culture shock.

That's the danger. It would provide an impediment to some of our most cherished traditions. For instance, 'raffling de belly', whereby steps are taken so that multiple persons will feel paternally connected, will become a more difficult strategy. For years it has been a self-help mechanism designed to increase paternal support by optimally tapping into multiple incomes. If only Hillary Clinton would have visited us to learn before she settled down to write her book saying, "It takes a village." That is nothing new to we.

The raffling is to be distinguished from giving or getting 'a jacket', although a successful raffle can lead to multiple jackets being tailored. But that's not the only source of jackets, and in a country where sizeable numbers of children are misattributed, and we can't tidy up our acts, we can at least tidy up our terminology.

Then there's the issue of the village rams, whereby paternity for certain men may be so widespread that young people, upon reaching adolescence, are warned to inquire very carefully about prospective love interests to determine if they've inadvertently taken a shining to a half-brother or half-sister. Well, the rammy's activities might become a matter of public record, what with DNA testing and the like.

But, ultimately, so what if paternal registration somewhat lessens the chaotic joy of careless breeding? I mean, it takes us back to what Tony Matterhorn obviously understands: that this is about the child, not their rotten adults and their selfish escapades.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.