Most afternoons, I collect my seven-year-old daughter from school. Being able to do this is an extreme privilege that comes with being a freelance writer/journalist type.
When I arrive at the school gate, I take my place on the fringes of the sea of mothers, female relatives and (yes) female nannies. It's one of the few times in my life when I feel entirely male - or am made to feel entirely male. I stand there alone in my man-ness, hopelessly outnumbered, a freak show.
Soon after, I am usually joined by my sole comrade, the only other dad who picks his daughter up from school most days, too. Like me, he works full time (he's a furniture designer, with his own company) and like me, he's treated with the same degree of suspicion and curiosity, by the mum majority. They eye us the way people eye sightings of rare birds.
Until the Other dad Who Collects and I got to know each other and formed an unofficial support group for Dads Who Work Full Time Yet Also Pick Their Daughters Up From School (And Enjoy Doing So), we hovered awkwardly in isolation on the fringes, fiddling with our phones, pretending to read just-arrived emails that were actually several hours old (at least that's what I was doing, anyway). I'd stand there, face buried in inbox, paranoid that the mums were all gossiping, saying, "Do you think he's a manny and the parents are too busy working to ever collect? Do you think he's between jobs? Do you think he's the girl's Uncle? Do you think he's - god forbid - one of those house husbands we've heard about?"
Of course, no mother ever said any of these things to me, which means it was all in my head: these were things I was thinking of myself. It's true that there are days when I'm conflicted about being so involved in my daughter's life: it sometimes feels vaguely unmanly somehow, which I hate admitting to, because it makes me sound like a 1950's neanderthal with a Fred Flintstone loincloth and wooden club.
I suppose what I mean is that deep down I know full well I'm the kind of dad who is more maternal than paternal and that I take my parenting cues more from my mother, than my father. This is hardly surprising, given that when I was growing up in the seventies and eighties, my dad was always jetting off somewhere for work and my mum was always there, as a housewife and mother, raising my sister and me. In this family model, my mother was the primary parent. Our dad, on the other hand, made special guest appearances when he came off his work treadmill every weekend and my sister and I would mob him like he was a movie star, such was the novelty of him being around.
In reaction to the way I was raised, I have tried my best to be involved in every aspect of my daughter's life. It's been unchartered territory from the word go, whether that has meant my dad frowning at the sight of me changing nappies, my mother panicking - but you're a man! - when my wife frequently travelled for work leaving me to look after our daughter for a week at a time or every mother I've ever met in a playground saying as if it's universally scripted, So, do you, um, er, like, work?
Whether people argue otherwise or not, there is a stigma surrounding fathers who want to be involved. I don't understand why: it's 2012 and surely we're long past the model of one parent raising the kids and the other working being the only parenting model. In our family, my wife and I both work full time and we share every aspect of raising our daughter: we see our parenting model as being a modern, practical, post-feminist way to do things. Nobody has to sacrifice their career. Our daughter gets to see both parents, equally. We both make it to the school play and so on. Everybody wins, right?
The truth is, I love collecting my daughter from school. Yes, that's partly down to my father being so absent with work during my own childhood, but it's more than that: I want to hear about the break-time squabble at school as we head home on the bus, I want to be the one who makes my daughter toast with honey and a mug of milk when we get in the door, I want to be the one who helps with the Maths homework (even if I don't understand it either). I want to be in on all this, just as I want to be in on all the other magical moments: her growing out of another pair of shoes, learning to ride her bicycle, reading a book together at bedtime and everything else in between and beyond.
If wanting to be this involved in my daughter's upbringing is somehow wrong, somehow the sole turf and territory of mothers, then I'm happy to be that freak-show, a dad who is more a mum than a dad but still very much a dad.
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