Sunday 26 May 2019

'The school gates are where we show our true selves' - Meet the school gate dads

Sharon Horgan introduced us to the different tribes of mums who drop their kids off in her sitcom Motherland, but what about the fathers? Bill Linnane has them sussed

Prince George arriving with the Duke of Cambridge at Thomas's Battersea in London, as he starts his first day of school. Picture: Kensington Palace/PA Wire
Prince George arriving with the Duke of Cambridge at Thomas's Battersea in London, as he starts his first day of school. Picture: Kensington Palace/PA Wire
Prince of Dads? William takes Prince George to school on his first day
Bill Linnane

Bill Linnane

The arrival of autumn is a beautiful thing - leaves turning from green to gold, that bracing chill in the wind, and the warm glow that comes from knowing that our children are returning to their natural habitat: the classroom.

After three long months of being forced to put up with our offspring, day in day out, there are few moments that bring as much joy as dropping them off at the school gates and knowing they are someone else's problem for a few hours.

The school gates are where we show our true selves, from our dirty cars and aggressive beeping, to our disregard for double yellow lines and basic law and order. It is the perfect place for the anthropologist within to come out and study our various tribes - soccer mum, gym mum, mum on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

But there is a category that subdivides into several tribes - the school-run dads. With aspirational dads like Ben Affleck and Hugh Jackman frequently doing the school run, we can all embrace the task - after all, if Batman and Wolverine can do it with gusto, then so can we. But first it's important to find out which tribe you belong to…

Executive Dad

You will rarely see him at the school gates as he dropped his child off at 7am so he could catch a Brexit breakfast briefing. This is just as well as his Audi is larger than the school bus and would not make it through the drop-off zone logjam without grinding up against a people carrier or three. Executive Dad is also rarely seen in the evening, as he has meetings until 7pm, and then when he does pull up, his child isn't allowed into the car until after a Very Important Phonecall is conducted for 45 minutes. Executive Dad is going to be dead aged 57 and his kids will struggle to remember anything about him.


A graduate of the school of literally hard knocks, CBS Dad has an axe to grind with the entire education system in Ireland. After he was unable to get the department to build an Educate Together school in his back garden, he grudgingly sends his child to the local Catholic school, but will be keeping his eye on them every step of the way, questioning the teacher about their beliefs and holding impromptu lectures on the many benefits of atheism at the school gates, or the back of the church while his child makes their Communion. On the first day back after summer, he grills the teacher about what they did for their three months off, using the phrase 'three months off' seven times in five minutes, not realising the teacher spent the 'three months off' crying and drinking away the pain of classroom-induced PTSD.

Hands on: Hugh Jackman does the school run
Hands on: Hugh Jackman does the school run

Community Dad

Sits on the board of the parents' association, helps out at sports day, holds fund-raising raffles for the school and is generally a pain in the backside. Seems to think he is Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds simply because he attends cake sales and does litter picks around the school grounds on his days off. He is one of those people who thinks school days are the best days of your life, and is what most people would refer to as 'a pity'.

Flirty Dad

An umbrella category that contains both Struggling To Cope Single Dad and General Sleazebag Dad, Flirty Dad spends far too long at the school gates trying to chat up various gym-bound mums by telling them about his entire workout routine from start to finish. He tops this off by insisting on dropping the child into the classroom so he can give the entire class a crash course in sex-ed by asking a 23-year-old student teacher if she works out, or if she is on Facebook, or if she would like to go for a drink sometime. Everyone present wishes they could go back to the good old days of Catholic education when we were all ashamed of desire and didn't have to witness this sort of thing.

Worryingly Young/Old Dad

Is he the child's older brother? Surely he can't be a parent? Yes he is, and a surprisingly diligent one at that, even if he does roll his kid to school on the back of his skateboard. Young Dad has snuffed out much of his youth by becoming a parent in his teens, but has the definite edge on Old Dad, who everyone thinks is his child's grandfather.

Stay At Home Dad

Like communism, the notion of men as primary carers sounds great in theory, but in reality, it scares the bejaysus out of everyone. That is until you get chatting to Stay At Home Dad and get a vision of how your life could be - catching up on the weekend sport while you mill into six baskets of ironing, binge watching The Fast and the Furious films while you cook meals for the week, being the only bloke in the boxercise class in what feels like a re-enactment of the video for Eric Prydz's 'Call On Me'. Stay At Home Dad has it all, which is why you now cross the street to avoid the smug sod.

Night Shift Dad

He has one gruelling task to complete before the sweet release of sleep - drop the kids to school, which is literally the last task anyone wants after 12 hours staring at a screen in a plant control room. He is confused and disoriented and, much like Leonard Shelby, the amnesiac in Memento, he will not remember any of this in an hour. If you do happen to bump into him, he mumbles about time and space like Matthew McConaughey in True Detective, while his kids try to usher him safely across the road. An hour after the school run, he is still there in the set-down area, asleep in his car, having decided it was easier to just stay here than go home and come back out. Night Shift Dad doesn't even wake when his car is getting towed.

Stereotype Dad

He screeches up to the set-down and slows to 10kph so his kids can stop, drop and roll out of the vehicle, unwashed, and with school jumpers on back to front. Their lunch contains three apples, a can of non-alcoholic beer and a protein bar that was best before 2016, while most of their homework is still on the kitchen table where he was trying to shout them through the Tuiseal Ginideach over a breakfast of Mega Meanies.

Stereotype Dad is a disorganised mess, partly because he rarely does this, and partly because he thought it was going to be easy. Getting the kids out for school is like herding feral cats, which is why so many of those who do it need to go straight to the gym to do an hour of MMA training to get over the stress.

In truth, the 'school run' is a complete misnomer as much of it is spent stuck in traffic jams akin to those seen during the fall of Saigon, and anyone - male or female - who thinks they can do it without having a mental breakdown is welcome to it.

Irish Independent

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