JEREMY Paxman has admitted that at times he felt “passionate hatred” for his father, who moved to Australia when his son was in his 20s. Thereafter the typewriter salesman showed no interest in the family he had abandoned. Paxman’s revelation and his lingering resentment come ahead of the publication of his memoir, A Life in Questions.

A bigger beast in the jungle of biography has also recently revealed the miserable relationship he had with his dad. Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming autobiography, Born to Run, tells how Douglas Springsteen viewed his son as a rival for his wife’s attention. “He spoke barely 1,000 words to me when I was growing up”, the singer recalled. When he was 19 his parents moved from New Jersey to California and he was left behind, living hand to mouth while he tried to scrape by as a musician.

For most parents the idea of their boy spending the night on park benches would be the stuff of nightmares. For very few sons is such a rift the grit in the oyster that later creates the pearl. It cannot be coincidence that two driven, competitive, talented men had what you could blandly call “issues” with their dads; nor that each has come close to or, in Springsteen’s case suffered badly from, depression.

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For years, The Boss tried to impress his factory-worker dad by building muscles a stevedore would envy. His story is reminiscent of American novelist John Irving who would appear on television in his wrestling gear in the hope that the man who he believed had turned his back on him as an infant would so admire his physique he would finally call.

Absent fathers is a poignant theme throughout his fiction. Then, one day, he learned that his mother had hidden the fact that her former partner had tried to stay in touch, but she would have nothing to do with him.

Unhappy though their experiences were, these men’s fathers shaped them as surely as if they were clay in their hands. As their undying anger or sorrow attests, there is something about the pater familias that makes children want to gain their respect or at least their attention, no matter how inadequate they have been at the job.

It’s a feeling that, even if we’ve had the best of fathers, lasts for as long as we do.

Given their time again, would Springsteen or Paxman have chosen different dads if they could? Probably. No matter how successful or famous you become, nothing can compensate for lack of affection or neglect when you are young. Yet, as Paxman says, after a certain age you cannot blame who you are on your upbringing. While I doubt his inner child would agree, I also do not doubt that he, and others like him, will have been determined not to revisit the mistakes of their childhood upon their own offspring.

On air, Paxman can be abrasive, dismissive and cold but I’d be astonished if he was like that with his kids.

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Last week the London Sperm Bank launched what it claims is the world’s first app for women seeking a sperm donor for IVF. Prospective mothers can scroll through donors on their phone, selecting by profession, personality and looks. They can even set alerts for when a man matching their requirements joins the bank. Inevitably, there have been cries of horror at the idea of someone opting for a fair-haired surgeon with blue eyes, or an IT consultant of middle-eastern descent with a good sense of humour.

What, you cannot help but wonder, will become of donations from men whose charms defy conventional measures of attractiveness and are only evident in person?

While this process sounds alarmingly superficial for such a big decision – more like picking a hotel on than their baby’s progenitor – I don’t really see the problem. Women have always chosen their mates on exactly these principles. Call it what you will, screening or vetting, preference or prejudice has determined the make-up of the population since mammoths roamed.

Physical attributes, IQ or personality traits, however, are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to being a father worthy of the name. As in conventional conception so in IVF: the source of the sperm is no more than a biological agent until he takes up the mantle of fatherhood. The responsibility of becoming a dad for some is like slinging a sack of wet cement onto their back.

For others, it is the best thing ever to happen to them. Nor do looks, brains or money come into it. This is one situation where character alone counts. Martin Amis was not paying his father Kingsley a compliment when he said his parenting skills were “amiably minimalist – in other words my mother did it all”.

Of course, I doubt there has ever been a perfect father. I’m not sure it is possible, or even desirable. Setting standards is one thing; being beyond reach quite another. Indeed, one of the most important lessons children can learn, once they’re old enough to understand, is that everybody makes mistakes.

Nobody is expected always to be cheerful or well behaved, clever or wise. What marks out a brilliant dad, however, is that he is always trying to be all those things, even when he doesn’t feel like it. And also that he can admit falling short. When I think of my father, I am struck by his natural, unfailing kindness. To the very end of his life, my siblings and I were made to feel we were always of interest, and that we were permanently and unconditionally deeply loved.

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Only as I’ve grown older have I realised what an extraordinary legacy that is. Nor can it be feigned. This is a role that has to come from the heart for it to matter.

Men in generations before my father’s were not encouraged to be hands-on with their brood. In most small Scottish towns a man seen pushing a pram knew there’d be sniggering.

Rather than being part of the domestic support team, as today, their role was to put bread on the table. Sometimes achieving that was no small feat, but beyond this, little more was expected. The man who never changed a nappy was not a slacker but the norm.

The sea-change in fathering is one of the marvels of recent times whose benefits are by no means for children alone.

You see it in the contented faces of young men with their baby strapped to their chest, or kicking a ball in the park with a toddler, or flushing with pride at a daughter’s graduation.

And as the years pass, a father begins to learn that it is a reciprocal process. The more time he devotes to being a parent, the more rewarding the bond he and his offspring have.

The child might well be father to the man, but the child is also the making of the father. That this wisdom escaped Paxman’s and Springsteen’s dads is the definition of tragic. In the end, though, their loss was even greater than that of their sons.