Father's day

26th November 2004 at 00:00
Michael Cook wonders if he's valued more for his height than his gender

It's always good to feel wanted. When I'm first told how nice it is to have a dad helping in school, I am filled with masculine pride. Clearly the staff appreciate me, the lone gender warrior, unencumbered by convention and tradition, presenting a positive role model of 21st-century fatherhood, enabling the children to explore subconsciously their own social roles as the liberated men and women of tomorrow.

Later, I guess I have exaggerated my impact. I'm wobbling precariously on a wonky stepladder, tentatively carving great chunks of dusty polystyrene and the occasional staple out of the ceiling tiles. (The ceiling appears to be held together with staples. Take too many out and there might not be much school left.) I suspect the reason it's nice to have dads in school is that dads are taller than mums. They've got a longer reach. I bet the staff would be just as grateful for a 6ft grandma, or an auntie with arms like a chimpanzee. It gets me thinking. Yes, infant school is a feminised space. Yes, you'd see more men in the soft furnishings department of John Lewis on cup final day.

But does that mean it needs male role models? Or simply longer stepladders?

Things may be different for the male infant teacher. He has the professional authority to produce a more masculine environment. He can insist on a compulsory staffroom fantasy football league, or make sure the song in assembly is not "Pitter Patter Raindrops" but something by The Ramones.

And I mustn't underestimate the existing male presence. The caretaker is unmistakably a bloke, striding purposefully along doing manly things with the boiler and a tool belt. We often share meaningful macho nods and grunts as we pass each other in the corridor, although I bet he wouldn't be smiling if he knew the mess I'd made of his ceiling tiles.

But what kind of a role model am I? I turn up once a week to do something fun with the kids. I have no responsibilities, and never face the fall-out of my own ineptitude. Everything I do must be given the OK by the woman in charge. Luckily, I've developed a sense of achievement every time I unscrew a gummed-up glue pot. You have to take your pleasures where you can.

Michael Cook is a freelance copywriter and a parent helper at Ernehale infants school, Arnold, Nottingham, which his children, Alfie and Poppy, attend

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