I have a warm and lasting memory of Daphné when she was only a child. It was before her maman and I got together, but after I’d fallen in love. I was eating my heart out, frankly, and used to follow Marie-Hélène around, almost like a lost puppy. All very ignominious.
Upon this particular occasion, I had driven down to Malestroit, the Breton town where Daphné was born, to visit her maman at the cottage grand-père had lived in since his retirement.
La Grée was Marie-Hélène’s favorite oasis of calm away from the stresses and strains of life in Paris. She went there for many of the French long weekends as well as for most of the school holidays. When Pierre, Daphné and Alban’s father, was not there, I visited her a couple of times. It was a way to achieve the closeness to her that I craved. There was no real possibility of advancing the relationship – the children, who were always with her served as chaperones – but being with her for a while here and there was more than enough. I was thrilled.
I don’t remember much about this particular visit. Pierre was not there, of course. I think that I slept in my little Ford RV in the Malestroit municipal “camping” on a flood plain by the river Oust. I’d see Marie-Hélène and the children when they ventured into town, or at the local swimming lake in Carentoir, and maybe a little at La Grée.
The surprise came when it was time to drive back. We were each going to drive separately and not try to convoy: in the old Ford RV, I could never keep up with Marie-Hélène, who loved driving in the French manner on “autoroutes:” fast!
Out of the blue, Daphné decided that she was going to accompany me on the drive back. She was five or six years old. Her maman looked a little shocked – it was a surprising initiative for a little girl – but after some hesitation gave her okay. Daphné was always central to her mother’s life. This little incident, with Daphné accepting me and obviously liking me, probably meant a lot to her.
We had a wonderful drive back, almost the whole way to Paris. My first thought when she asked to come with me was: “but what will we talk about?” She was so young, and we had only ever spent time together with her maman.
I needn’t have worried. She chatted on about this and that, at ease and happy alone on the back seat. Driving along and listening to her chat, I remember thinking what a precocious and adorable little girl she was.
I also remember feeling encouraged during our long drive about my prospects with her mother. If her little girl liked me enough to spend three plus hours alone with me in an old RV, that must say something about her mother’s feelings. Children channel their parents’ romantic feelings more than is realized.
The trip went very well, to the point where looking back I can barely remember anything in particular. She smiled a lot, chatting away, and before I knew it we had arrived. She always spoke very quickly, which was a challenge for my English-speaking ear – as a child, she did everything like a speedy Energizer bunny – but had a lot to say. This trip was clearly an adventure for her.
Her maman and I had arranged to meet up at the Chartres autoroute services, the last service area before Paris, so that Daphné could transfer to Marie-Hélène’s car for the balance of the ride to her home. I drove the last half hour to my home that evening with a light and happy feeling. From then on, I felt that Daphné was going to be my little friend.
Then there was her maman’s and my trip to London in March of 1994. This was our second date, our second weekend away together, one week after the first, and Daphné and Alban came too!
We took the Brittany Ferry across the channel, and of course the children loved their first trip on the big ship, with a built in movie theater, swimming pool, children’s play area and more. Arriving in Portsmouth early in the morning, we drove straight up to central London and explored Hyde Park together. It was the children’s first visit to the London their mother loved. Needless to say, we had a great time together.
Then Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban moved in with Nick, Tom and me in August 1994, and Daphné became and remained my only daughter. Inevitably, she has always maintained a special place in my heart.
But she was never as fond of me after Marie-Hélène left Pierre to move in with me. Parental separations are often brutal for the children, and the separation between Pierre and Marie-Hélène was just that.
At age 15 in 2002, Daphné wrote an essay for her high school about leaving France and her father. Reproduced here, it is very sad.
At the time, she appeared much less bitter or unhappy, but as you might guess from that essay, becoming an adolescent, and then a young woman, her reserve toward me became animosity, much of the time. I think that she was more antipathic toward me than if she had been my daughter, but that is hard to say. Teenagers uniformly fail to appreciate the wonderful beings who are their parents!
By the time Daphné was 15, Marie-Hélène had reached the time in our marriage when her own appreciation of me was on the decline. And this downturn went on for years, Daphné’s rebellion years. I’m not saying that her mother alienated Daphné from me: that is a conclusion that I do not have enough information to draw. But there was a powerful parallel between mother and daughter, deep and hidden similarities.
I felt terrible about it as Daphné’s and my relationship deteriorated, and tried to act as if her animosity wasn’t happening so as to discourage it.
That didn’t work! My continuing to support her in the broad sense of the word, for example buying her her first car despite constant animosity and put-downs, ended up giving her the feeling that whatever she did, her privileges were safe. She barely thanked me for the car, treating it as an entitlement more than a gift.
Of course, her feelings about me had almost no effect on Daphné!
She was the only girl in our blended family, outnumbered by the five boys. This did not phase her one bit. In fact, it helped her with her maman, who was eager to ensure that her daughter was not overwhelmed by so many brothers. There’s a certain common sense to that.
Her character also helped her not to be overwhelmed. She was always as strong-willed as photogenic, just like her maman.
Daphnè can just turn on that smile, almost at will, and that’s it. You’re won over. I was certainly won over, all the way back to our ride together back from Brittany when she was 5 or 6 years old.
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Here’s one of Daphné’s contributions when she helped me update this page in 2007: “She moved with her mother and Ian (a weird looking lawyer that some like to call her step-dad) to the US in June of 1997, and is now a fully fledged adolescent FRENCH American.” She was also sort of cute like that, as a teenager.
The other aspect of going through the teenage years was of course her turning away from the home to make her own life outside. She did so differently from the boys, staying closer in some way to her maman, but she did it.
First her social life was based on girls first, and chatting with her girlfriends took an inordinate amount of time, but after a while boys too entered the picture, very discretely as far as I was concerned. But I think she told her mother more, with the understanding that she was not to tell me. Each of the boys was pretty much a calamity at first as far as the parents were concerned, but even her mother let that go. It was all handled very discretely.
By the end of 2007, we could already feel that “She’s Leaving Home.” She was 20 years old, and had been the proud owner of her own car for years. Despite her distress at leaving France and her father, she never returned there, except for short vacations, and has in fact welcomed her US citizenship and its many benefits.
She moved to San Francisco in 2009, and Tahoe for the first time in 2010 and permanently in about 2012. She was there for the skiing, working at Applebee’s. After that, I don’t know. She stopped talking to me. Her last text to me on April 13, 2013 read “Don’t text me. Ever” So I don’t. In 2021, I’m no longer sure what her phone number is.
Bye bye Daphné. It was sad to see you go.