If Tony Blair were a woman, Britain probably wouldn't be all afuss over whether its prime minister will or will not take off a few weeks when his baby is born.
His wife Cherie is due in May and, as a leading employment-rights lawyer, she's asked him to set an example by not running Her Majesty's government for a while to help care for their new child, like a modern father.
But as a work-comes-first man, Mr. Blair is befuddled at taking paternity leave, despite his record of helping to get more women into Parliament.
Perhaps he's unaware of what he'll miss by not being cribside, bonding with his newborn. Or maybe he doesn't know how to delegate authority or not think of himself as indispensible. (How does the government run when the Blairs go on holiday?)
Maybe he doesn't know how to keep in touch with his office via cellphone or Internet while changing diapers, or keep up with the news on the telly while warming up a milk bottle.
Perhaps he thinks the new Russian president won't respect him if he becomes an expert at burping babies. Maybe he worries that if he spends weeks taking care of a baby, he'll be exhausted when he returns to work.
"Been there, done that," working mums are telling him.
Poor Mr. Blair is on the spot. But it's probably nobody's business what the Blairs decide to do.
Equality of the sexes would be improved if he does take leave. But then, perhaps we shouldn't be meddling in a marital dispute, even one made so public by his wife.
Both Britain and the US require companies to grant unpaid paternity and maternity leave. And concepts of fatherhood are changing fast. Not only was this fourth Blair baby unexpected, but Mr. Blair probably didn't expect social trends and new laws to hit him so personally.
Set an example? No. The prime minister should do what he thinks is best for his wife - and the child.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society