I was sitting in my daughter’s Hornswood Primary School hall to watch her Year 1 performance. It was about midday and really, really hot. There were a number of classes doing items, so it was packed. Some were great, some… not so much.

A few questions popped in to my mind.  How freaken hot is this hall? How small are these seats? I feel like Andre The Giant. How, when every other child is dressed up as a Happy Happy Hippo, is there always one sorry-looking kid stuck in school uniform? How loud is a hall full of kids? How freaken hot is this hall?

Then, an elderly lady sitting two seats down from me, motioned for me to come closer. I leaned over the mother sitting next to me, who was a good friend of mine and put my head as close to the little grandmother as possible.

How are you today?” I asked with a smile.

Elderly lady – “Don’t you worry how I am. I have counted all the parents today,” she stated tersely.

Me – “Oh… really?” I didn’t know why she was telling me and had no idea why she was angry. Had I trodden on the handle of her handbag, accidentally stolen her seat or something.

Elderly lady – “Yes I have,” she snapped. ”There are eighty three parents. How many are fathers? You’re a father. You should have at least some idea.”

I didn’t know the answer, but she didn’t seem happy about the way the numbers stacked up at all.

Me – “Um… (I shrugged) Twenty?” If I’d known I was going to be assessed, I would have done a quick sample count of my own before I responded.

“Twenty?” She rolled her eyes in dismay. “Tell me that was a joke!” She started to point at my face. I snuck a quick look to my friend, who I was still uncomfortably leaning across. She chuckled subtly to me and dropped her gaze to hide it.

Elderly lady – “No it’s not twenty or twenty two or even twenty five! Even though you would no doubt like it to be. It’s fifteen my boy… not nearly enough I think even you’ll agree. OUT OF EIGHTY THREE!”

Me – “Oh.” I instantly felt guilty for my manhood.

Elderly lady – “Where are all the other dads my boy? Where?”

Me – “Um… work?” Wrong.

Elderly lady – “WORK? Probably fishing dammit! Or at the pub… like you all do.”

I thought, I should cleverly try to change the subject.

Me – “Which little Happy Happy Hippo is your grandchild?” I asked with a smile.

Elderly lady – “Don’t you try to distract me,” she snapped.

Later that night I couldn’t stop thinking about that lady and her school hall man-count. If I hadn’t been scared I would have respectfully pointed out a few things.

Firstly, she was getting up me. I was one of the fifteen who were actually there. Was I was meant to, “pass it on” to the rest of the fathers?

Secondly, I could almost guarantee that the missing dads were not fishing. I would also be very confident, as it was midday on a Wednesday, that none of them would have been at the pub either.

Thirdly, I do acknowledge there are obviously dads who may have been able to get to the Hornswood Primary recital, if they really wanted . They could have changed a few things around at work, left a meeting early or done something to make it work. It’s not like they happen each week. If there are dads who just couldn’t be bothered, then I agree with the terse grandmother getting up them (via me).

Finally, most of the dads would have given their back teeth to be seeing their kid up on stage being a Happy Happy Hippo, I would suggest. They hate missing out on the essential pieces in the mosaic that is their child’s one and only childhood.

What’s better than the look of beaming pride from a son or daughter as they try to maintain one eye on the teacher conducting them, while watching mummy and daddy intently from the stage and Happy Happy Hippo’ing loud and proud. They can barely sing because they can’t stop smiling. That moment is never going to be repeated and they’re never going to be six again. Who would choose to miss that? Certainly not me and most blokes I know.

Hornswood is very “traditional”, where about 90% of the dads are in the workplace and many of the mums look after the house and kids. To do the best thing by their family most dads (and lots of mums of course) simply have no choice but to miss these premium life events, to keep heads above water in the post-GFC, interest rate affected, Greek debt threatened, Federal government mis-managed, modern-day Australian society and economy.

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