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And Dad came too

There's a gleam in the eye of the pupils at Pen Pych community primary school at pick-up time on a Tuesday.

Tuesday is Super Dads day. Up to 25 of the 200 pupils will be met by their fathers and spend the next two hours having a good time with them at the bright and spacious school.

The excitement, says the headteacher, Gareth Todd Jones, is not just because of their fathers' rarity value, but because "they know this chap is going to let them do things their mum won't."

So what do they do? First, they all sit down and eat together with the head and a few senior staff, then they move on to activities: it could be watching magnets float, making cars or robots, or cooking. They always take the cooking home to show off.

"I automatically thought they'd want to do something physical - kick a ball or something," says Mr Todd Jones. "But not at all. They wanted to make things - do something practical."

The fathers also enjoy taking their children for walks, turning up in droves for outings on a Sunday, and love going on an outdoor activities residential weekend every summer, where the combined lack of electricity, hot water and mothers just adds to the bonding possibilities.

The idea for Super Dads, which started in 2001, came to Mr Todd Jones after he had been discussing inclusion with officers from the authority. "I asked myself if we were reaching every element in what is a community school," he says. "And I thought, dash it, no - we're not reaching the fathers."

Where many families have only one parent at home, Dad is an elastic term.

It may be the pupil's biological father, a foster-father, the mother's partner or a granddad. But all, young or old, say the same thing: "I never had this contact with my father and I'm determined my child will have it."

Most of the men have jobs, but can attend on at least some Tuesdays because they work shifts. The club is growing into a fathers' support club. Unlike the informal alliances that naturally spring up between mothers, the fathers seem to have felt the need for a more formal structure. They have created a committee, complete with chairman and treasurer, which meets outside the school - and gives them the licence to sit down together and talk about their children.

"This is a very macho area," explains Mr Todd Jones. "Once men were miners, now they're not. They're displaced, and very confused about their role.

We're just giving them permission to be dads, that's all it is - to be what they want to be."

They understand all about the importance of fathers to children's psychological development, he says. So the club is not just good for children's education, family bonds and community health - it's part of adult education too.

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