Normally when you see another dad out and about you share a sense of fellowship. You're on the same team, fighting the tiredness and the tantrums together. Nappy after nappy, spillage after spillage, grazed knee after grazed knee.
But there is a scenario where the rules no longer apply. It provides a situation that heralds competition rather than teamwork. Never is there a time you are pitted against your paternal peers than the school run.
The infant school is a hostile and fragmented environment for a dad by himself. It's like a scene from a wildlife documentary. All the Mums are gathered in intricate little circles chatting away about all sorts of mum paraphernalia. Some circles are bigger than others and they are ingeniously positioned to stop any outside influences. You can see weaker Mums struggling to make an impact as they are left on the outskirts of acceptance. I can picture it now with David Attenborough narrating.
"This young female wants to be accepted by the group, but is having some problems infiltrating the circle. She is far too inexperienced at the crucial skill of gossiping and it looks like it could cost her. If she cannot make an impact by impressing the older females she will have no choice but to wait on the swings, alone"
Then you have us, the dads. We are scattered around the general area, trying to make our way through the minefield of Mums in order to pick up our little children. More often than not we look out of place, and the struggle to fit in is glaringly obvious, for all except one. I've spent some time documenting the different species of dad over the past school year and here are my findings.
•The "Business" Dad - This dad rocks up in his suit and mobile phone glued to his ear. He looks constantly in a rush and checks his watch every five minutes. He is usually having some sort of high octane business conversation, and will continue this as their child leaves school, walking in front as the child lags behind.
•The "Forces" Dad - These dads are very rare. They demand respect and look across proceedings with an air of dominance. They are almost always in uniform and generally have large vivacious beards. No one messes with a forces dad, but they are a rare and solitary entity. His kids naturally adore him.
•The "Geezer" Dad - Normally in shorts whatever the weather this dad also sports some sort of lower leg tattoo. He struts around looking like he owns the place as his bulky gold bracelets clang together.
•The "Sleazy" Dad - One of the worst types of dad. This guy wanders around trying to get involved in one of the mum conversations, but purely for the purpose of acceptance. He wants the mums to like him, and comes across as needy and slightly weird. Probably single.
•The "Loner" Dad - This Dad gets to the school gates before anyone else. He stands there waiting for his child, watching everyone come and go without interacting with anyone. He is moody and unsociable and shows little emotion, especially when seeing his kid after the school day.
•The "Couldn't care less" Dad - A very common specimen of dad here. He seems to be constantly having a go at his children, even if they are just trying to get his attention. He picks and chooses when he wants to talk to people and seems to show very little care about school life.
•The "Casual" Dad - This dad is not casual in attitude but in everything else. He dresses casually and talks casually. He is laid back and loving, showing great interest in his kids. His attitude towards fatherhood is an accepting one, and he has a great relationship with his children.
•The "Alpha" Dad - This dad is the pinnacle of playground parenting. He turns up and immediately strikes up conversation with whoever is there. He can hold the attention of an entire circle of mums. They hang off his every word as he makes them purr with his wit and charm. He knows all the other parents, the teachers and even the caretaker. He also knows every school procedure and where everything goes. You don't know the school lunch for Thursday week three? Then you are a fool because alpha dad knows it off by heart. Every other dad knows who he is, and they simultaneously hate him and aspire to his greatness. Any other dad that dares to challenge the alpha dad will get quick revocation, as there can only ever be one alpha dad.
Some of the aforementioned species of dad may not appear in all playgrounds, but I can absolutely guarantee that we all know an Alpha Dad. Go away Alpha Dad, and let me revel in the paradise of paternal inadequacy.
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