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Four Fathers

Four Fathers

By Ray French, James Nash, Tom Palmer and John Siddique

Route pound;8.99. www.route-online.com

My car's newly washed and polished, and it's just been raining, so the edges of the road are wet. "Keep out of t'puddles, Gerald!" my dad says, irritably. I smile and twitch the wheel a little. The fact that Fred's been dead for 16 years doesn't stop him from giving me advice - more and more of it, in fact, as time goes by. There's nothing supernatural going on, just a replaying of old records in the head.

Four Fathers consists of eight stories from four writers. Each tells first a tale of his father, and then, in the second part, one that looks in the other direction, at the experience of fatherhood. The first part is the more powerful, the fathers wonderfully brought to life. There's Ray French's Irish ex-stoker dad pouring scorn on innocent television presenters: "Would you look at that fella (Reginald Bosanquet), he's a head on him like a bleddy turnip." And we meet the much-decorated former soldier, father of James Nash, awkwardly raising the impossible issue of his son's homosexuality, not to criticise but out of concern that he's being blackmailed. "He looked at me. And I understood how he had been able to lead men. I had thought it must have been entirely by fear. But he had also possessed this terrifyingly human understanding."

Then there's Tom Palmer's father, "a man driven by his hobbies", and the real owner of his son's train set. So many contrasts, and yet so much to recognise. Most moving, perhaps, are the contributions of John Siddique, trying to reach out both to his father, Mohammed, somewhere in Pakistan, and to Simon, his ex-girlfriend's son, who unexpectedly sends a card that ends, "I didn't forget you. You helped me a lot and gave me good advice and were a good 'mum's boyfriend'." There are quite a few good "mum's boyfriends" about these days. Will they get cards on Father's Day this Sunday? I hope so.

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