A few fast-moving years ago, through an unplanned set of circumstances, I became a stay-at-home Dad with a four month old baby and a two year old - both boys. I was plunged into the all-consuming microcosm that is looking after small children full-time.
As you trudge the streets with the push chair as a lone dad, you will observe cheery groups of young mums gaggling together, laughing, arranging to visit each other or to meet up for coffee. There can seem to be a glass wall between you and them at times. After all, how comfortable would you be asking a woman you barely know if she wants to meet for a coffee - or worse, come round to your house for one?
Women will find it easier to develop a network among themselves to exchange information, help one another out in emergencies and provide company and conversation during the long days which might otherwise pass by in a blur of wet-wipes, tantrums and Mr Tumble without any other adult interaction. Men are less willing and able to seek this support. When I was at playgroups with my two pre-school sons, and one of us needed the toilet, all three of us would have to go because I simply didn't know anyone well enough ask them if they could keep an eye on them for five minutes. I don't think I ever saw a woman suffer this dilemma.
For men there are barriers that prevent us from joining such friendship groups. The paranoia, as I touched on earlier, that our approaches might be construed as inappropriate advances. Natural shyness will clearly play a part if you are that way inclined, and this is exacerbated by our feeling out of place, like we shouldn't really be here doing this anyway and that it is not our place. As a home-maker, I developed an injury that turned out to be "House Maid's Knee". By way of cosmic hints that you may be filling an unbefitting role, that one is pretty much on-the-nose.
The simple answer to this feeling of exclusion would simply be to flock together with our own kind, but the difficulty with finding any kind of fellowship as a stay-at-home-dad is that other dad's can be incredibly rare. In my early days at home with the boys, I was heartened to discover that a "Dads Group" was being run at a nearby coffee shop on Tuesday mornings by a lovely chap called Alan. The trouble was that Alan and I were the only attendees. I felt great sympathy when ultimately an anguished Alan came to my door to inform me that the "group" would be calling it a day...
Throughout all my time trawling the playgroups, I only ever came across maybe four other Dads. A couple were sullen, awkward-looking types like me, but a couple were incredibly socially successful and were surrounded by a coterie of adoring Mummies. What the successful guys had in common was that they were rather camp. One of the guys, an actor, seemed very aware of how expedient it can be to put one's masculinity on the back-burner every now and then in order to be complicit, almost conspiratorial, and entirely unthreatening among women. And the other guy was just completely, like WTF, outrageous.
While I don't think it necessary (nor should it be so) to adopt a different persona to get on socially as a full-time parent, I do think there's a lesson to be learnt from these guys. Let your guard down. Have the balls to express the genuine emotions of parenthood among other people. Don't assert yourself, however obliquely, as the alpha specimen in the group. Put yourself on a level and see what happens. After all, we are men stepping into a female stronghold. Some effort to assimilate must be made.
You can still be your usual competitive, sweary self, or your quiet introverted self, which ever the case may be - but in moderation. Self-awareness is key. I was crap at this, then I got better - so it is a skill that can acquired with effort. The trick is to put yourself out there at the playgroup, the park and the nursery gate, to develop the ability to step out of your comfort zone and get chatting with your fellow parents on an equal footing regardless of gender.