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Nazanin Afshin-Jam, left, with son Kian and Peter MacKay, pictured during a visit to Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 15, 2013, (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Nazanin Afshin-Jam, left, with son Kian and Peter MacKay, pictured during a visit to Rideau Hall in Ottawa on July 15, 2013, (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

An open letter to Peter MacKay’s wife Add to ...

Dear Nazanin,

How are you, my dear?

The last time we spoke – in an interview for your recently published book – you’d just married your husband, the Honourable Peter MacKay, then Minister of National Defence, now Minister of Justice and Attorney General, and in the words of this newspaper, Canada’s “Minister of Wrong Again.”

As you may have heard, your life partner and baby daddy has managed to get himself in a bit of hot water where the women of Canada are concerned. And as I read about the fallout – from both his ill-judged comments about women in the judiciary and those very strange leaked Mother and Father’s Day e-mails – I couldn’t help but think of you.

You were radiant during our chat nearly two years ago, I remember, your long dark hair swooshing across my Skype monitor, talking about your passion for human rights activism and your book, The Tale of Two Nazanins, which tells the story of your passionate quest to save Nazanin Fatehi, a 17-year-old Iranian who was sentenced to hang for stabbing one of three men who’d attempted to rape her (you succeeded but then lost contact with the family, which you were understandably distraught about).

I remember you telling me how you met your husband in the most sober of circumstances: a briefing following your speech to a subcommittee on international human rights in the House of Commons. This was after you’d been commended for your work at the United Nations and served as director of the Board of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation after being appointed by the Prime Minister.

I was impressed. You were a bombshell former Miss World Canada and frankly not-the-most-amazing pop singer, but you were also clearly a heck of a lot more than that – smart, opinionated and ambitious. I respected you for that. I still do.

Which brings us to the subject of motherhood. Congratulations, by the way. I also had a baby since we last spoke and I think you’ll know what I mean when I say, “Whoa – does that change the dynamic of a marriage or what?” I mean, one day you’re just bumbling along, him with his career and you with yours, and suddenly BAM – one of you is a glorified lactation device while the other just sort of … puts on a suit and goes off to work. Like everything is normal! Except it isn’t normal, is it? There’s nothing like motherhood to make an ardent feminist start questioning herself.

Perhaps you found yourself wondering, as I did during those long, lonely postpartum months, if biology isn’t destiny after all? Maybe, you think, I was “meant” to stay home and care for babies, in the same way he is “meant” to march out into the world and earn a living? It’s a strange thought – especially for any woman who has serious ambitions outside the home – as you certainly did when we spoke.

I guess you saw the Mother and Father’s Day e-mails, hmm? The ones that came on the heels of his (very incorrect) comments about how not enough women were applying to be judges. I could be totally off the mark here, but reading between the lines it seems pretty clear whose job it is in your house to change diapers, make lunches, take care of aging parents and think about dinner. Luckily you can leave all the “guiding, teaching” and “moulding” of your son to your husband – which must be a relief, because who feels like building character after a long day baking cookies?

Judging by your silence since the Hello Magazine cover interview (in which your husband called you a “natural mother”) and your under-construction website (on which you make the point that you are “not part of any political group”) it appears that you’re taking some time out of the work force to be a full-time mother. Like Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton never stop saying, it’s the toughest job in the world. But can I give you a piece of unsolicited advice from one mom to another?

No matter how overwhelming it feels now, while your son is small and dependent, remember that one day it will change. The former you – the activist and author and tireless campaigner who never had spit up in her hair or a soother in her handbag – is still there, lurking at the back of your neglected shoe closet. She might have receded for the moment, but she will emerge again. And in the meantime, here’s a tip: Don’t be afraid to ask your husband to do more. I know he’s busy.

Many good dads are. But that doesn’t excuse them from getting in there, rolling up their sleeves, taking paternity leaves, changing diapers, mashing bananas and doing the night shift. If they don’t do it “naturally” it’s our job to ask them – not just so we can have a much-needed break but so our kids can experience what it’s like to be cared for, in a hands-on way, by their busy and important fathers.

As I recall you have an excellent mind. Now it’s your turn to guide, teach and mould your husband’s. It’s a woman’s work, my dear, but someone’s got to do it.

Yours sincerely,

Leah

Editor's note

A previous version of this article incorrectly identified Peter MacKay as Justice Minister in 2012. He was the Minister of National Defence at that time.

 

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