So what did I bring into this extended Brady Bunch? Well, first, Nick, Tom and I. We were our own little family back in 1994, living in a forest southwest of Paris, when Marie-Hélène, Daphne and Alban, their own little family, moved in.
Okay, so we were a broken family, the three of us, just as they were a broken family, the three of them.
But nothing lasts forever, which is sad but true, and out of those two broken families, each of which had only lasted about eight years, we stitched together our joint blended family, adding Charlie and Alex for good measure, and our new full-sized family worked, pretty much and pretty well, for 16 years. It was full of good times and other times and a lot of them are here in this web site.
I appointed myself our family historian, in a photo album from day one and then in more detail as time went by. While the family was in progress, as it were, this was a simple matter of portraying who we were, the vacations we took, our hobbies and our homes, that sort of thing. I would sort through our photos and select the best or most meaningful to arrange in themed collages in our on-line photo album. Silly, but fun!
At the end of those 16 years, we were a broken family again, in some sense back to square one, and for a while this later breakup colored too many of our respective memories of what had come before. So as self-appointed historian, I decided to enlarge and elaborate this portrait of the 16 years, to make it more complete, for posterity as it were, and so that the many parts of those years that worked and enriched our lives together were not lost in the rancor of the divorce. That rancor can devour everything if you let it. So I don’t.
That’s another of my contributions, memories of our family available to everyone if she or he so desires. As and when she or he desires.
In my head, but only in my head for now, this web site is the fourth volume of my memoirs. The first, “If I Only Knew,” covers my first eighteen years and was (often not very well!) written in my spare time between late 2003 and 2008, after Marie-Hélène suggested that I finally tried out writing. It was a learning experience in more ways than one. I’ve started the second volume, intended to cover ages 18 – 30, but this portrait of our family has been more of a priority since I focused on it beginning in 2010, after moving out.
All to say that there is more than enough about me around already! I’ll limit this page to a few central qualities that played a substantial role in our family.
First, the basics. Born near Burnham in Buckinghamshire, west of London, during one of the last pea soup fogs that the city was famous for, I am a Brit with a chip on my shoulder.
An academic high achiever from pretty early on, English secondary education treated me very well for five of its six years, and not so well for one, 1966, which I spent boarding, homesick and utterly miserable at a minor public school. Enter one chip on an otherwise balanced shoulder!
All of these years were spent at single sex schools, the Empire’s way of assuring that nothing distracted from the goals of developing the future empire-builder’s body and mind, with the almost inevitable consequence that I was (1) less than at ease with members of the fairer sex, and (2) proud owner of an overly intellectual approach to the world.
This lead me, with the help of some perhaps accidentally great parenting, to the US, where at 17 I discovered that the fairer sex were more at ease than their English counterparts, and where being good at intellectualizing was not a plus.
The US was all about feeling, and feeling was the part of life which I craved and felt sorely lacking. I moved here to restart my studies in 1974, at the age of 21. In 1971 I had dropped out of Imperial College in London without completing a semester of electrical engineering. Now it was time for something completely different, a US liberal arts education.
Completing a BA in Human Ecology (I don’t know: you can define it yourself!) at UC Berkeley, where I had formally immigrated to the US, and a JD at Yale, California was my newly adopted home. But even though I planned on making my life here, I started work as a lawyer in New York in 1983 and moved to Paris at Sunshine’s urging in 1987. Sunshine is Nick and Tom’s mom, and our little family started with Nick’s birth in Manhattan in the summer of 1986.
I do like to move around. Each time you move to a new country is a rebirth, an awakening, like falling in love only more widespread. It’s the best learning experience that a person can have. And I’m starting to feel the urge to do it again!
Paris, however, was a difficult place to move to, especially not speaking the language. Parisians prefer that you do, and at times make life more difficult if you do not. There was a great deal of the English style of snobbery, especially in lawyers and the like, and the latin passion that I had expected was in many ways hard to find. People were often cold and intellectual in much the same way as they had been, in my eyes at least, in England.
Not a great move, and at first I consoled myself with our pending return to California: our deal was four years in France if Sunshine gave me two children. An odd deal, granted, but it seemed to take care of both of our needs. I ultimately wanted to live in California, and she wanted to spend time in Paris, where she had been unable to return to by herself after law school in California. Yep, lawyers in love!
Then in 1989, when she was expecting Tom, Sunshine announced that she would never leave Paris. I spent years trying to get back to our odd deal, but nothing worked. I had moved to Paris, bringing her with me and doing my part, and now she was reneging on her part. Needless to say, that didn’t help our marriage, and I moved out in October 1991. A broken family. It always feels so bad.
There you have it, a capsule summary. Paris improved as I learned to speak the language and got to know people better. I discovered Brittany, and in particular St Malo, still a favorite place. And of course, there was Marie-Hélène, and this wild bunch of happy puppies of a family, all born out of our love.
Wait a minute: not quite goodnight. An afterthought. Not every photo works, and some even definitely unwork! Here are a sample of those of me that unworked, two taken by Marie-Hélène. And just to keep a zen balance, there are a few equally flattering of her here.