Diary of a Primary School Mum: 'As the female/ male equilibrium became evident, my heart sank'

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The Independent Online

A week is a long time in primary school. Seven days ago, courtesy of a star guitar-singing turn in the classroom, the twins' daddy was top dog. It was daddy this, daddy that, you're the best daddy in the whole wide world. Suffering from a severe bout of daddy-fatigue, mummy went on strike. That was then.

Now it's all change, because, with a flick of a switch, daddy has gone from hero to zero. And what was his crime? Not turning up to their class assembly.

"Why aren't you coming, daddy?" asked Claire, the morning of show day. "I have to go to work," my husband explained. "I've got a very important meeting and lots of other daddies won't be there, either – you'll see." As if to make up for it, daddy suddenly morphed in to Steven Spielberg, offering a few last-minute stage directions. "Delivery is everything," he lectured. "Don't talk too softly or shout too loud."

When I was at school, assemblies were about singing hymns, followed by the "Lord's Prayer" and the occasional notice. In the twins' primary, however, it's very different. Their class production was weeks in the making, the sum total of a whole half-term's work. First, they came back with lines to learn (teaching a five-year-old to unicycle might have been easier). Next was costume design. Oliver's part, a pirate professor called Mr Smartypants (playing himself), required shirt and tie. Bear hunter Claire needed safari gear. All of which got done without the help of Daddy.

The twins' excitement was palpable. "Our assembly's going to be the best in the whole school," cried Oliver. "Oh, Mummy," squealed Claire, "I can't wait for Miss Perry to explain what it's all about to everyone."

On arrival, a quick reminder for them to project and it was time to head to the hall. One by one the mums filed in to their seats. One by one, so did the dads. As the female/male equilibrium became evident, my heart tumbled to my toes. "Oh my God," I whispered to the mummy next door, "all the kids' fathers are here." "No, they're not," she reassured, with a sympathetic pat on the arm.

But she was wrong. All the dads were absolutely present, bar one errant husband – the only one not to throw a sickie, not to cancel a meeting, not to dare to turn up late with some silly excuse.

That's how one dad came to miss his kids' flawless, confident deliveries. That's how one dad came to miss his offspring's Laurence Oliver performances, Claire brilliantly using a compass as a prop and Oliver treading the boards like he owned the joint. That's how one dad came to be well and truly in the doghouse.

After school, Claire had a play date and back at home she started waxing lyrical about her best friend's father. "He's a great daddy," she said, coming over all dreamy. "He played with us all afternoon and was so funny." My husband, about to read a bedtime story, put down the book. "What are you trying to say?" he asked. "Do you mean he's a better daddy than me?" Claire shifted nervously. "Well, is he?" repeated my husband. "Yes," whispered Claire.

My husband, it has to be said, is an excellent hands-on father, who more than makes up for it at the weekends. Crestfallen, desperate for reassurance, he asked, "Do you mean you'd rather have him as a daddy than me?"

Her reply was too fast. "Yes," she said. Stop press – mum's back on top, dad's now on strike.