Like father, like son. But less than you'd think (2): I've tried to break the pattern: The father

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The Independent Online
Richard Allen (junior) was born in 1952 in the same town in Derbyshire as his father. He married Elaine in 1972. They have two children. They moved to the South in 1978 for Richard's job in management training. In 1986 the family moved back north to Rotherham, where he is a freelance management consultant.

'MY EARLIEST memories of my dad are connected to a particular photograph, and his work. The picture is of my dad, my mum and my sister who died. It was (and still is) on the wall in my parents' house and I have a copy up at home.

When I was about three I asked who the girl in the picture was. My mum told me it was my sister and I asked where she was. I was told that she was so good, she had gone to be an angel. And I thought: 'What's the matter with me? Why aren't I good enough to be an angel?' That thought still comes back to me. Ten years later they had a daughter. I kept telling my mum that I wanted a sister - perhaps that was connected with Glenys, the sister I didn't have.

My dad worked shifts so I didn't see him much and when I did, he was often tired. He's always been really quiet, just like his dad. For a lot of my life I misunderstood his quietness and thought it had something to do with me. I wondered: 'What's the matter with me?'

My grandfather (on my mother's side) was very encouraging of my sports. He taught me snooker and tennis and encouraged my football. My dad rarely had time to play or watch football with me, whereas my grandad did both regularly.

I had scouts after me from different clubs. I could have joined Chesterfield Football Club but I couldn't have got there and we couldn't afford it. For a long time I blamed my dad for not encouraging me. My dream was to be a professional footballer and I could have made it.

My dad always wanted the best for us. But he'd had no encouragement himself, so how could he encourage us? Also, I guess, he was worn out by his job. But I couldn't see that at the time.

I remember a family picnic. My father and sister were discussing whether she would leave school or not. My dad asked her impatiently: 'What have you decided?' and she replied: 'I'm going out to work, I'm not going back to school'. He launched into her: 'I knew it, I knew you wouldn't go back'. I remember seeing red and I tore into him about the way he treated her.

The air was blue. In silence, we packed up and drove home. We stopped at a pub and while I got drinks, my dad came up to me and said: 'I'm really sorry. I want the best for her but I just can't handle it.' That was a crucial moment because it was the first time I had become angry with my dad and it was the first time he had admitted to me that he was unsure of himself. I suddenly saw he was fallible. He went up in my estimation by leaps and bounds.

I didn't attend my children's births because I was incredibly squeamish. Not many of my male friends did then, in the late Seventies, but it is a huge regret now. However, I was involved with the children from early on - when I was around.

In 1978 we moved down south and I started a new job. Antony was three and Louise was a few weeks old. For five months we lived separately until we found a house and for the next eight years I commuted into London.

I spent little time with Elaine or the children because I was so overwhelmed by the changes in my life. I hardly noticed at first - as I was trying to survive and do well - but the more it went on, the more I realised I wanted to spend time with them.

I gave out to others all week and then came home and was too tired to give to the family - and they complained about it.

I tried to improve things. We would have talking sessions where the four of us sat down and took turns to say what we liked about each other, what we had enjoyed doing recently and what was bothering us. At least one of us would end up in tears when someone talked about how much I was away.

I remember those times as special. The children often asked for a 'special talk'. Talking and crying about the upsets - and the positives - was important because it meant we got things off our chest.

In 1986 we moved back north and I went freelance. Elaine and I wanted to be nearer our parents. I had dreamt of working for myself and thought it would give me more time with Elaine and the children.

I had a very successful second year as an independent, after a difficult first year, but I continued working as hard as ever. It took persistence and support from Elaine and the children to start to break out of the pattern.

I worked at getting closer to my parents. I took my dad out to the pub and asked him about his war experiences. It was hard work to start him off, but once he got going I found out some things. I also took him to a men's workshop in 1989 (see box). I learnt a lot more about him there.

Now, when we talk on the phone, it's like talking to one of my mates. He's great and he's warm although I know he's never going to come effusively down the phone telling me all the wonderful things he's done that week. We hug and kiss.

I get on well with my children. In my relationship with Antony I am proudest of our closeness. I think it's more challenging staying close to a teenage son because of the peer pressure on young men to distance themselves from their parents.

What makes our relationship special is the contrast with other fathers and sons. I don't want it to sound too wonderful - we argue, we fight, he gets moody, I get angry - but whatever happens I am absolutely certain where I stand with him.'

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