Call me self-indulgent. My heart went out to Allison Williams, the York tug-of-love mum trying to get her young son back from the USA, but it also went out to my daughter and me.

From the outset, I concede it is the natural order of things that a child should be with its mum, as long as mum is a fit parent. Men don't quite have the right physical or mental equipment to be the dominant parent.

Male kangaroos don't have a pouch to cosset young Joey for one thing; and while some human males might admit to a posing pouch, they certainly don't have the hips on which to balance and bounce a blubbering baby for hours on end.

What fascinating anthropological theory. David Attenborough would have a field day whispering observations from his infra-red hide in the kitchen cupboard.

But he would be the first to agree how incredibly adaptable the male of the species can be when up against it. Could it be that part of the male adult's evolutionary development called growing up?

What superhuman feats a man can perform when he has to, even cooking, cleaning, ironing and the dreaded supermarket shopping.

When tragedy struck our family, I was left a widower with a nine-year-old daughter. Sobering thought. From male chauvinist prig to mum/dad/wage-earner all rolled into one. It was like emerging from a public telephone box in cape and poncy tights wearing a 'Superdad' chest logo and slippers.

Suddenly the house that I thought cleaned itself; the meals that appeared by magic; the immaculate laundry, all became my job. I had to struggle with the intricacies of the washing machine programmer, learn the contours of an ironing board, co-ordinate the different ingredients of a cooked meal.

Sorting out the school week: dinner money and enough clean school uniform to last until Friday; planning meals without too much repetition and coping with a young girl's fickle appetite.

Shopping for clothes was the worst. We once fell out over a coat during Christmas late-night shopping in Coney Street and she - aged nine and a bit - stormed out of Bhs and into the crowds. We both panicked and hugged when we found each other again. Well, we were still healing.

On second thoughts, it was the supermarket that was the worst. Remembering to keep a list of what had run out and then remembering to actually take it shopping was a masterpiece of planning.

By the time I got to the supermarket after work, most of the best fruit and veg and been picked over; I struggled to choose the right quantities for one and a half people. And at the checkout I had to sift through the basket of items I had chosen and those which had been sneaked in by my minx of a little helper.

It was no use relying on friends. Some were couples who soon faded away, uninterested in continuing a friendship with a single parent.

That's when the lady next door stepped in and saved our lives. Previously she had been someone to nod to over the garden wall. Suddenly she was there to take my daughter home from school and look after her until I was home from work; she and her two daughters would have her to sleep if I was working late or very early; and if it started to rain on my washing while I was at the office, our guardian angel would take it in and fold it neatly.

Being totally and singly in charge of a child is a hell of a responsibility, not to be taken lightly.

It's also a chore, but if anyone had challenged my custody they would have had a right bloody battle. When a new partner came along, she had to be carefully vetted for signs of the Cinderella factor. The junior seal of approval was essential, too.

But at least that new partner found a modern man proficient - well, fairly - in cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing.

So fight for your right Mrs Williams. A child deserves every chance of happiness he or she can get.

Updated: 13:21 Wednesday, March 19, 2003