David and Victoria Beckham could afford a string of nannies to care for their newborn daughter Harper Seven and her three brothers.
But unlike most millionaire dads, David, 36, will be spending this weekend changing nappies, getting up to do the midnight feed and taking his boisterous boys out to play basketball so their mum can get some rest.
It comes as no surprise that the soccer idol is considered a role model for fathers. He’s won a string of “top dad” awards, been praised by the Archbishop of Canterbury for his fathering skills… and is said to spark rows among 85% of parents because the bloke feels under pressure to be as perfect as Goldenballs.
David Beckham is, indisputably, THE DADDY. In interviews he has always been clear of his priorities in life. “In my career there’s many things I’ve won, and many things I’ve achieved,” he said. “But my greatest achievement is my family.
“What matters is being a good father and a good husband – just being connected to family as much as possible.
“Being a dad is more important than football, more important than anything.
“I adore children. I love the fact our children are part of both of us. It’s one of the most amazing things ever.”
While some may get a little irritated by the endless photos of the “perfect family”, few can argue with David’s total devotion to his 37-year-old wife, sons Brooklyn, 12, Romeo, eight, Cruz, six, and baby Harper.
The arrival of their longed-for daughter on Sunday has given the Beckhams everything they have dreamed of.
And it’s clear David hates being away from his wife and kids. In 2009 when he returned to America following a six month loan spell with AC Milan, he said it had been one of the hardest times of his life.
He said: “As a family, as a father, it was the toughest time since I have had my boys. They came out to see me every eight weeks for a week but I hate even being away from them for an hour let alone that amount of time.
“I got to speak to Victoria on the computer and the boys would run in and say hi before running back out to play again.
“The biggest thing is my family.We don’t like moving around, we don’t like unsettling the kids.
“When you have kids you do grow up. People always said that to me but I gradually realised that having children changes your world.
“I was selfish before, everyone is. But when you have kids they become your main priority... making sure they are OK, making sure they are healthy, happy.”
David also worries about the effects on his family of past stories suggesting his marriage was in trouble.
He said: “At the end of the day, I’m a nice person and loving husband and father. I’ve been called a bad father, I’ve been called a bad husband and my wife has been called a bad mother. Things always hurt that are said about my family. But I’m a strong person, I’m a strong family man, I’m a strong husband and father.”
And the values David is passing on to his sons and daughter come from his own happy childhood in Chingford, Essex. His grandparents and parents Ted and Sandra instilled the importance of hard work, determination, self respect and respect for others. And the close-knit family unit gave him the confidence to reach for his dreams, knowing they were always there to catch him if he fell.
In his autobiography, My Side, published in 2003 David revealed the depth of his relationship with his dad, Ted, and how important his love was to him.
He explained how, after being sent off in the 1998 World Cup, “I fell into Dad’s arms and started sobbing.” When he won the European Champions League, “Dad didn’t need to say a word. He hugged me. It felt like he was crying, or at least, trying not to.”
And again, when he scored the vital penalty against Argentina in the 2002 World Cup, “Mum was in tears – just what I needed to start me off.”
But David also described how the trauma of his parents’ divorce affected him. Ted and Sandra split in 2002 and for a while he had a difficult relationship with his dad. The pair were reconciled after Ted suffered a heart attack five years later. However the experience left David determined not to put his own children through such pain.
In one interview David admitted: “When my parents were going through a tough patch that meant I was going through a difficult time. Divorce is tough at any time. I’ve been able to control everything in my life and that’s the one thing I didn’t think I was able to control. I’ll never hold anything against my dad. He’s like me. I’ve got my stubbornness from my dad and my affection from my mum. He’s tough when he needs to be, but he’s got his soft side.
“What happened to me and my dad, I’d hate to see that happen to me and my sons. I’d never let it happen. It’s hard for everyone and it isn’t fair.”
David delights in talking about his children. “They are so different,” he said. “I mean you’ve got Brooklyn who is turning into a teenager. It takes him quite some time to do his hair in the morning. He’s starting to notice girls – typical teenager.
“Then we have Romeo who loves fashion. He likes to go out in a suit with a bowler hat. And Cruz just wants to break dance every opportunity he gets.
“We’ve had ‘the talk’ (about the facts of life) with Brooklyn. Actually it was more Victoria than me. I had to walk out because Brooklyn was sort of looking at me through the corner of his eye and laughing.
“I was thinking, ‘I need to get out of here because this is a serious talk.’ I was very uncomfortable.”
The Beckhams have lived in LA for almost five years. Last year David said the boys have American accents and take the mickey out of his London accent. He said: “It makes me laugh when we go home to England and see the parents and grandparents and they are like, ‘What’s happened to them?’
“I was putting Cruz to bed the other night and I said something to him and he turned round to me and said, ‘Daddy, you’re SO English’.
“We love America. We were made to feel at home the moment we arrived. People here are very positive in the way they live their lives and our kids are the same.”
Last year David was out of action for six months with an achilles tendon injury. But it allowed him to spend more time with his sons and try out some different sports for rehab. And when David eventually hangs up his boots he is looking forward to doing all the sports he’s been prevented from trying due to insurance issues.
He said: “My boys and my wife ski and that’s one thing I want to be able to do. I want to snowboard and ride horses and things like that.”
David has two sisters, Joanne, 29, and Lynne, 39.
But he admitted: “Growing up I always wanted a brother when I was little. In fact when my younger sister was born I was quite upset. But then I had my sons and I wanted a little girl.”
So the couple were thrilled when they found out Victoria was expecting a daughter.
He said: “When you’ve had three boys you just kind of assume that you’re going to have another one.
“When we went to have the three month scan they said, ‘Oh, it looks like a boy’, and we thought, ‘OK, great – we’ve almost got a five aside team’. Then we went back and they said, ‘Actually, it’s a girl’. The emotion hit us. It was amazing.”
David wept with joy as their daughter arrived last Sunday morning before announcing her arrival to the world. He wrote on his Facebook page: “I am so proud and excited to announce the birth of our daughter Harper Seven Beckham.
“She weighed a healthy 7lb 10oz and arrived at 7.55 this morning, here in LA. Victoria is doing really well and her brothers are delighted to have a baby sister.”
This is another of the articles I wrote for the Goteborgs-Posten which was translated into Swedish and published in March this year.
It hasn’t been a good year for sporting heroes. Lance Armstrong finally admitted what just about everybody already knew, though with barely an apology to the people who devotedly followed him and his organisation, partly because he was such a winner and partly because he was such a winner in spite or because of having suffered and overcome testicular cancer. In South Africa there was the spectacle of a bail hearing for Oscar Pistorius, another sporting hero who has succeeded with great disability. He admitted shooting and killing his girlfriend but claims it was accidental, and that he mistook her for a burglar who had locked themselves in the lavatory.
What I want to think about is the matter of ‘role models’, an idea society holds very dear. We expect ‘role models’ to influence young lives, and particularly young lives at risk of falling into crime, despair or apathy. There was a recent advertisement on British television, in which sporting heroes and gold medal Olympians reminisce about their happy and memorable ‘active childhoods’. It ends with David Beckham assuring all us couch potatoes watching him, ‘You never forget an active childhood. At Sainsbury’s we believe every child should have one.’ As far as I know there are no plans by any supermarket chain to advertise the pleasures of reading, painting, writing poetry and playing let’s pretend. ‘You never forget a daydreaming childhood. Every child should have one.’
The first question is whether the whole idea of a role model is a good one. Somewhere in the twentieth century psychology went pop and the analytic notion of familial role models exploded outwards, so that we want children to look outwards towards the notable, rather than look around at the variety of ways of being a human being. Yet do we really want children to confuse fandom with their own search and coming to terms with what kind of life or learning or doing they want for themselves? Don’t spend too much time figuring out who you are and what kind of person you might want to be, just look at David Beckham or Jessica Ennis and wish with all your might that you could do what they do so well that everyone looks up to you, and you get on television, gets loads of sponsors and are always seen smiling, except when the paparazzi get in your face.
So the next question is, if we must have them, why have we decided that sportspeople are the best role models? As far as I know the single important goal of people who take sport seriously is to win, to beat other individuals or teams, to be the best. The best athletes focus absolutely on this one thing that they are good at and for which they happen to have been born with the right body shape or strength, and work day in and day out throughout their youth make their body pitch perfect for a year or two of peak performance. You can see why politicians and others worrying about the youth think this might be a useful trait. It keeps them off the streets, stops them being bored and they don’t ask too many awkward political and economic questions. Of course, the same is true of much gaming in front of the TV, but that has been deemed a bad thing to focus on because it is believed to make people fat and aggressive. Movement plus dedication plus purity of spirit is what is to be valued. But then you discover that Lance Armstrong has not only been doping with exquisite scientific concentration for years, but that he has also bullied and frightened all his team members into doing the same, because they have to support him in order for him to win. It obviously isn’t just Lance Armstrong. Drugs that enhance the body and its performance are used in most sports and probably much more routinely than anyone dares to say. Actually, why wouldn’t you take drugs if they are going to help you win, if winning is the major thing on your mind, and if you know that others are taking drugs for the same reason?
Being competitive and at your physical peak is the whole point of sports. Commentators praise athletes for their determination to win, their dedication to training, and for their supremely competitive spirit. That use of the word ‘spirit’ after ‘competitive’ makes it seem something innate. There’s a whiff of a twisted social Darwinism about it. Fitness it suggests is not just having a more than healthy body, it’s also about possessing an inner will to survive that is greater and can overcome others. Competition, including cooperative team competition, requires that someone else goes down, loses, fails to survive. Apparently it comes naturally, and is honed to a trigger-fine point by the determined athlete. Oscar Pistorius’s father, Henke, gave an interview to The Sunday Telegraph newspaper, at the beginning of his son’s bail hearing. He claimed, as does his son, that Pistorius thought a burglar had broken in, shut himself in the tiny lavatory, and Pistorius had shot him four times through the locked door. It turned out that it was Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend, who may have gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night. Henke Pistorius explained, ‘When you are a sportsman, you act even more on instinct. It’s instinct – things happen and that’s what you do.’ Supposing this was true, even a burglar should not receive a summary death sentence without his or her voice being heard, if only through the bathroom door. If the sportsman’s’ fine-tuned instinct is offered as an excuse for a fatal, wrongful shooting, we really ought to rethink what it is we would like children to admire. And if role models are the best way to encourage them, whether we wouldn’t prefer them to be mimicking people who consciously think about what they are doing, and who, at their best (rather than their bestselling), work to produce well or better over and over again without racing for prominence. Of course, if we ever did want that to be the case, we would probably have to think very hard about whether the world of the arts and sciences were not also mimicking sports in the emphasis on prizes and sales once again to produce winners and losers. That rethink would do us no harm at all.