Happy Holidays, everyone!!
It’s been a solitary year here.
I don’t say lonely, because with the possible exception of holidays built around families, I’m having a fine time – so many little hobbies to keep me busy – writing, trains, soccer, the Sierra Nevada, photos, memoirs. There is so much to explore that it’s sort of mindboggling. I had somehow expected life to be winding down by now, and it’s just the opposite: I find myself getting up in the middle of the night to find the time to attack a project which can’t be fitted in otherwise.
A lot of solitary, and then there are days like my birthday in December. Wow! How do days like that still happen?
It fell on a Saturday, and even though bloody Man United managed to lose at Old Trafford again, it was an otherwise perfect day. Whitney gave me a free haircut when she found out that my birthday was the next day, a drunk barmaid in a San Francisco club gave us free drinks after forgetting what we had ordered, brunch was a delight with Charlie and Alex in Paula’s, a surfer café by Pleasure Point where one of the tables is in a van parked out front, and friends from Santa Cruz invited me along for dinner when they found out that I had no plans for my birthday evening. We ended up numbering 18, evenly mixed between adults and children. Good things happening all around!
But the best thing happening was the children. Two were there in person, Charlie and Alex, and Nick and Tom called in from Paris. Let’s go with Nick and Tom first. A bottle of Lagavulin arrived a few days before the birthday. Bingo! Nick had sent me a well-chosen present, not cheap, and it arrived on time. I am not falling out of my chair, because he is very kind. But he’s also at times uncoordinated and at other times a bit short on the ready cash. This year, he got it all together.
Tom called twice on the day, the first time before he started working, playing guitar in a Paris bar, and the second time during a break between sets. He was very effusive during the second call, telling me that Nick was a genius, and then that I was a genius. Thanks Tom! Have another drink, why don’t you!
He explained why he was so happy with Nick. Tom is a creative lyricist and musician, very talented but a little reserved on the self-marketing front. Motivated by his frustration with his current start-up (yes, he even finds them in Paris!), Nick started looking for other places where he could use his commercial skills.
There was Tom! He talked the latter into accompanying him to a trendy bar to offer Tom’s services. Not only did Tom pass the audition with flying colors, but also the brothers somehow ended up helping run a new weekly open mike in that bar. You might say that their first collective attempt to get Tom exposure and work was a success.
Charlie too managed to find me a birthday present, a collection of English chocolate bars to complement Nick’s Scotch. My only two remaining vices are English chocolate and good single malt Scotch, and the boys covered them both! And then Alex and Charlie gave me thoughtful and funny birthday cards. It’s the thought that counts, especially with young people: merely arriving at that thought is often a challenge!
Charlie and Alex had their own special moment of cooperation, a week later. Preparations for the high school soccer season have started, and the Scotts Valley High Falcons have two boys wearing Stock on the back of their shirts. Dad is in heaven!!
The pre-season included several scrimmages. Alex was nursing a dodgy ankle for the first few, and he then he joined the team. On Friday 13th, Charlie grabs the ball a little on the left just outside the box, a position from which he scores regularly. Alex is running unmarked into the center, and Charlie glides him a perfectly weighted pass. Boom: great shot! Alex gets his first varsity goal, assisted by his big brother. Merry Christmas!
I loved watching that, not just the skill that they both displayed, but also that selfless fraternal gesture: what a big brother! Down the bleechers from the parents was a group of students including Brett Turner, a friend of Charlie’s who used to play on his team until he turned to American football. He’s a big fellow, and when he saw that play, he started howling and clapping and jumping up and down on the metallic bleechers, bringing the boys around him into action adding their noise to his own, a cacophony of banging and cheering sound.
And that was how I felt.
Only four of the children shared that wonderful birthday. The one time that I saw Daphné during the year was through my office window. She lives in Tahoe, and I never know when she is going to be in town. She was with her mother when I saw her, using the pay phone across the street from my office in NextSpace, where I almost couldn’t help but see them. Weird: she and Marie-Hélène both have cell phones. Perhaps her mother was showing me something. The last time I texted Daphné, after running into a couple of her high school classmates, she replied that I should not text her again. “Ever.”
Alban texted to wish me Happy Father’s Day, but that was about it for contact with him this year. I finally had him take over his cell phone bill himself, ten years to the day after giving him his first phone and starting to cover it, because that had become our only relationship. He thanked me for covering it for so long, but stayed away. The financial relationship remains, after a fashion. Marie-Hélène still occupies the house, on my dime of course, and Alban lives there most of the time.
I miss both Daphné and Alban terribly. As their absence shows, the continuing divorce remains on the sidelines of life. For some reason, it no longer weighs on me as it did the first couple of years, but it is still there.
Back to the children who remain in view.
Nick spent the entire year in France, except for the month of September, which he spent visiting California with Charlotte, his girlfriend. September was a good month in Santa Cruz! They drove down to San Diego, to visit his cousins, the Nashes, and spent a few days on Venice Beach. But most of the time they stayed with me in the condo. They’re 27 years old, and so I didn’t see too much of them even when they were here, but it felt warm and fuzzy to have them around. Charlotte does Nick a lot of good, and her family rent them for a steal the two-bedroom apartment they live in near Montmartre.
Merci les Gégouts!
He continued his part-time studies programming, at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers, or CNAM, and his part-time work for a start-up. The work isn’t easy in the sense that he has a group of young bosses, fresh out of school, who know less about programming than he does but still want to run it all themselves. Difficult to manage, that, but he is. The best part is that he has been calling here regularly, both for business guidance and for help handling these political complexities.
Tom lives across the Seine on the left bank, and he too is pursuing a University education, reading literature at the University of Paris. I like saying that as much as writing it! He works constantly on his music, developing his own voice is several senses of the phrase, and sends the occasional recording. I was listening to the recordings one after the other a couple of days ago, and they make up an eclectic group of songs demonstrating how much he is on his own musical track. Where does he get that from?
I know where he gets his urge to travel from! This year he took another trip around and across the Mediterranean, with a group of other musicians. Six of them fitted themselves, their sleeping bags, their luggage and their instruments in a Chrysler minivan, and drove it to where exactly, Croatia, Montenegro, I don’t know, sleeping rough or in the van, and playing for passers-by on the streets in towns that they visited. Then Tom took a ferry across to Crete with a couple of his friends, and visited his family there: his mother’s grandparents emigrated from there to the Central Valley, and she keeps in touch with the family left behind.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t manage to take Charlie and Alex to Europe this year, although I’m not sure that they cared! (I cared, because it meant that I didn’t see Tom once this year.) They spent most of the summer with me, while their mom was in France and Spain for eight weeks. In fact, Charlie stayed put after she returned until school started. All very rewarding for the three of us, I think. Male bonding: you have to be there! Plus I fixed the brakes and replaced the tires on Charlie’s Mustang, for which he was very grateful, and sent them both to a Nike soccer camp, which also seemed to meet with their approval.
We welcomed Théo, a French exchange student for a couple of weeks, and all went down to visit the Nashes in San Diego, shamelessly plonking ourselves in their house for the weekend. So we did make a fun summer of it. Plus, they are both still in that period when all that counts are their friends. I get it!
A word of thanks to the Nashes, Antony, Courtney and their three children. They have two demanding jobs, one each, and refer wryly to their lives juggling children, jobs and friends as “chaotic.” But they always seem to be able to fit their cousins into that chaos, and me too for that matter. I know that Nick and Charlotte had a great time at their place in September, and Alex, Charlie and I had a wonderful time during the summer. Their home is a sanctuary for all of us, and their children a source of particular fascination and glee for Charlie and Alex.
Alex is a sophomore at high school, and works his butt off. How to make a dad happy! He’s in the lucky situation of being a part of a group of friends who all enjoy their schoolwork. They just happen to play soccer together as well. Not a bad situation as 16 approaches, in January. He’s also had the good luck to have a very able soccer coach. As you can imagine, that is far from a sure thing in the US!
Victor, the coach, decided this year to move his charges up a couple of notches in terms of the league that they played in, to give them more of a challenge. The boys barely won a game in the first half of the season, and then pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and barely lost in the second. The hard work paid off, and the parents glowed on the sidelines.
Charlie is a High School Senior, which is a good place to be, one of the few times in your life when you’re securely at the top of a totem pole. It only lasts a year, of course, but it’s typically a pretty good year. He’s also a star at soccer. Soccer may not have the prestige here of the more American sports, but being a star athlete at High School always has its own cachet. He’s living the dream!
I sit downstairs in the condo, watching TV or on the PC, while he’s upstairs in his room with his friends. They’re playing video games, listening to their weird music, making noise in one way or another, and I’m so grateful. For a while there he and I were going through a bad patch. It’s over. One of his kind friends privately wished me happy birthday on Facebook, and called me an “awesome” dad. Oh yeah!
I learned something very valuable this year. I’d started to date again in the fall of 2012. Dating brought me back out of myself, a little tentatively, only occasionally, ready to flee at the slightest provocation, but at times I felt human again. Peeking out from under the shell where I’ve been hiding for years from a world of pain, I saw that good times could still happen.
That lesson led me to the good times in our blended family of six children, all of whom are currently suffering in one way or another through our divorce. Our best years were those after Marie-Hélène and I finally got together in 1994. First, our existing families were blending with each other, never a dull moment, and then Charlie and Alex came along and sealed the deal. Nothing could ever beat life raising six wild children. It’s the little things that you never forget, like watching them scamper backwards and forwards like puppies along the street, or playing hide and seek with each other running up and down the aisles in the supermarket.
So rather than mope around indefinitely, I am bringing those years back to life in a set of memoirs of our sixteen years together. The little things will have their day! I can’t show you them yet – it’s a work in progress – but we’re well on our way.
It is not easy for the children to retain the positive when their parents divorce. Well, by the time I’m done, these children will have a hard time escaping the positive: so there!
It’s a beautiful world, people, enjoy it to the max and even, if the spirit moves you, feel free to pretend that you’re 19 again! In small doses, at least, doing so can be rather fun.
Best wishes to all of you for 2014, which is really going to be something else!