OPINION: Prime Minister John Key got it exactly right when he chose to support his son playing for a Kiwi team at a United States baseball tournament rather than attend a commemorative service for two soldiers killed in Afghanistan.
Those who portray the decision as an insult to the significance of their sacrifice are skipping too lightly over the fact he visited the families personally, at least in part to explain why.
As Mr Key tells it, he had to let someone down; his son makes huge sacrifices for him and his job; and this seemed the right thing to do.
It didn't just seem so. It was the right thing to do. Even politically.
The fact is that it would have rankled, perhaps quietly, with a large tract of mainstream New Zealand had the story emerged that he bailed on his son for ceremonial reasons.
It could easily have been portrayed as seizing a political opportunity at the expense of family values.
Back in 2005, we rather enjoyed writing an especially waspish rebuke to then High Commissioner to London, and former Speaker of the House, Jonathan Hunt, after he sat out an Anzac Day ceremony in his chauffeured car because a small shower had hit and he did not want to get wet before meeting the Queen.
To an extent this made Mr Hunt, already widely regarded as more than a tad pompous, an irresistible target.
So we reminded him, from afar, that in often frigid dawns, New Zealanders gathered in their hundreds of thousands to honour soldiers who fought and died, often in wretched weather themselves.
We even supposed that had he asked the Queen herself, she would have confirmed for him that he had nothing more important to do that day than stand up in the rain in honour of the national dead. Better bedraggled than offensively missing in action.
The service for Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone represented an important occasion, not only for its sorrowful resonance. There's an element of accountability too. The Government that sent them to a battle zone should front up, on a personal level, to see them individually honoured and to experience, in some small measure, part of the sense of loss.
In Mr Key's absence, Bill English appeared in the role of Acting Prime Minister.
Mr English won't have grizzled.
He knows a thing or two about the sort of heat a politician can cop when he actually tries to live up to, on a personal level, the family values that our elected representatives so often cite.
He took his family out of his electorate to live with him in Wellington, where he was spending most of his time.
As he knew it would, that really cost him locally.
It was interpreted as divorcing himself, on some level, from the heartland that had elected him as its representative.
On the other hand, it unassailably means he gets to see more of his wife and kids in his daily life. Good call.
There's a phrase Mr Key's supporters are taking up in this case: you can't delegate parenthood.
Just about any parent knows that there are times when other urgencies and emergencies, or even the cost of earning a living, means that they do wind up delegating more of the parental role than they're happy about. But when you can front up for your kids, you do. You just do.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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