Alfie Patten a father at 13 - God bless him.
Not because this young man is a father at 13, but because of the scorn, derision and negativity being heaped upon him. He may have committed a sin, even been guilty of vice, but he has committed no crime. Neither party in law could have granted consent, yet both manifestly did.
And in other countries and in other eras it would not even have been a sin.
It is Jewish tradition that boys at the age of 13 become Bar Mitzvah, and girls at 12 become Bat Mitzvah. That is, they reach the age of majority at which they are responsible for their actions. This coincides with puberty, and is utterly in accordance with nature. For the best part of 2000 years, this has been considered the age at which the boy has become a man, after which he bears his own responsibility for keeping tradition, law, and ethics (Num 6:2). According to Jewish law, in addition to being able to read from the Torah and participate in Minyan, this is the age at which he may own property and legally marry and beget children.
Yes, Alfie Patten is very young. And, yes, his premature fatherhood will deprive him of has ‘natural’ teen years and the ‘traditional’ experiences of youth. But it is a symptom of something far bigger than Alfie, and it is not simply ‘sex education’ or ‘broken Britain’. The Government's teenage pregnancy strategy - with its emphasis on sex and making contraception freely available to young children - is creating a climate in which children come to believe that it is normal to be sexually active. Indeed, they are inculcated with a sense that the practice is so pervasive, they are distinctly abnormal if they are not indulging. The crisis is in the understanding of relationship and the importance of the family in an age of irresponsibility - of which this young boy is just another victim.
And how is Alfie confronting the age of irresponsibility?
By being utterly – and naturally – responsible.
Alfie's son was not immediately aborted. He was not viewed as an 'it' - a cluster of expendable cells without significance. And neither was he farmed out to an adoption agency. Alfie chose to bring a new life into the world. And he is trying to be committed, and will love him as best he knows how. He has pledged to ‘stand by’ the mother – all 4ft of him – and, in this day and age, that is admirable. He has also pledged to ‘be a good dad’, even if he does not yet quite know how.
And Alfie’s wider family have pledged to support him in this adventure. They have not abandoned him, and neither did they persuade him to ‘get rid’. One cannot help concluding that Alfie’s parents must have done something right for this little guy to have chosen this route, for he could so easily have said ‘abort’ and returned to the emotional security of his playstation.
There could and should have been more intervention, discipline, rules, boundaries, and self-control in Alfie’s upbringing. But, with a loving and supportive family around him, Alfie Patten will cope. Mary would have been around 14 when she gave birth to Jesus, and let us not forget that even today, in other countries on other continents, ‘children’ are working 12-hour days from the age of 7, and they are wise to the cruelties of the world by the age of 10. It is not ideal; it may even be abuse. But it is necessary if they and their families are to avoid starvation. This is not a welfare world.
And Cranmer would rather his taxes helped to raise this little child than subsidise an abortion on the NHS.
Alfie Patten will try to be a good dad. He may not know what it means; he may not understand the implications. But he has a heart of gold, and the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.