In the past two days, two stories of respectable, loving fathers accused of impropriety around their own children have crystallised something pernicious in our culture.
Namely, the poisonous atmosphere of fear and mistrust that exists around ordinary fathers, and perhaps all men.
First, we have the tawdry tale of Craig Darwell, a widower accused by hotel staff of being a paedophile because he booked a hotel room with Millie, his 13-year-old daughter.
Darwell, 46, who was treating Millie to a trip to Thorpe Park, discovered police were already on their way after a Travelodge manager confronted him and demanded he prove he was her father.
“He said it was company policy and I had to go onto Facebook to show messages I’ve sent to her,” says Darwell, from Leeds.
“It was bizarre and really offensive. It took them about two seconds to realise he had got the wrong end of the stick, but it ruined the weekend for me”.
Faced with a PR disaster, Travelodge has launched an investigation, extolling how concerned it is with protecting children – but, clearly, not their fathers.
The next day, it emerged that dad-of-three Matt O’Connor, 50, had been told by a waiter it was “inappropriate” to hug his son during a family meal.
“We were having a cuddle,” O’Connor told me. “I’m a very tactile person. Then a waiter came over and said it was ‘inappropriate’ and could make other diners uncomfortable.
“I thought he was winding me up. But he was deadly serious. I left sharpish. I was fuming.”
O’Connor, who also runs the Fathers 4 Justice pressure group, said: “Once, dads were respected and loved. Now they are demonised. It is a reverse of 100 years ago, where maladjusted dads couldn’t show affection. Now, if we do show affection, we’re judged for it.”
I know how O’Connor and Darwell and feel. Shortly after my boy, Sonny, started school, while trying to get a glimpse of him through the school fence, a snarling man confronted me and told me to, “F***ing do one”.
The experience shook me to the core, and I’m still angry about it now.
What’s more troubling is that these stories are becoming totemic of our time.
Since the Jimmy Savile scandal and Operation Yewtree, we’ve all been encouraged to be self-appointed watchmen for “kiddy fiddlers” (with the exception, it seems, of the authorities in Rotherham, who seemingly turned a blind eye to the abduction, rape, torture and trafficking of up to 1,400 children between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani men).
Fuelled by a toxic cocktail of impotent rage and impending social media glory, this army of lookouts has become increasingly trigger-happy.
Are innocent fathers like O’Connor and Darwell being made to pay for genuine paedophiles who escaped justice?
In the bad old days, a toxic strain of feminism told us “all men were rapists”. Now, it appears, we’ve doubled down, and upped the stakes to “all men are potential paedophiles”.
But where does this poison stem from?
For this sentiment – that all men are capable of acts of unspeakable evil –
to take root, it needs drip-feeding over years.
Obviously, the media plays its part. Paedophilia – and the fear of it – is big news.
And child molesters are always thought of portrayed as men, even though women make up 20% of cases. The Guardian noted that there are as many as 64,000 female child sex offenders in the UK – and police say the number of women abusing children is rising.
Furthermore, many of today’s policy-makers and media talking heads were schooled in universities steeped in social sciences that lambast the traditional family unit and conjure cod-theories such as “toxic masculinity”.
Liberal academics laughably paint a Britain of female subjugation on the same campuses where men are now a minority, perform worse academically and go on to earn less in their early careers.
Now this miasma of fear and mistrust permeates every single corner of the man-child interface. Who’d be a Scout leader or a children’s entertainer these days?
But the most crushing manifestation is in our primary schools, where men now make up just 20% of teachers (at nursery level the figure is 1%).
Why is this? Research by Nottingham Trent and Bedfordshire universities found the teaching workforce was still skewed dramatically towards women not only because of deeply ingrained gender stereotypes – but as a result of well-founded by men that they will be falsely labelled as paedophiles.
This damages children, and especially boys, who are now education’s worst performers at every level.
Endless reports tell us these very same boys would benefit from strong male role models and the firmer discipline male teachers practise in the classroom. Yet these men are staying away through fear and a systemic brainwashing they are capable of wrong.
It’s a bitter finale that the curtain-twitchers and rabble rousers never saw coming. It isn’t the presence of evil men that damages our children most. It’s the absence of good men.