Tom was born in Paris the same week as the Loma Prieta earthquake that shook up Santa Cruz County in 1989. Although his mother Sunshine was raised in Santa Cruz, where her father had been the County’s Public Defender, we were living in a small apartment in Paris when Tom arrived.
After he arrived, we upgraded to a larger apartment in Paris, to accommodate the growing family, and then back to a smaller one, a rental this time, when financial difficulties hit. At the same time, Sunshine and I were having a terrible time together. It’s a long story, that last one, which doesn’t belong here.
Suffice it to say that in an attempt to reconcile after years living apart, the four of us in Tom’s first family moved at the end of 1993 to Le Tahu in a village in the forest of Rambouillet in the Yvelines, to the southwest of Paris.
A few months later, his mother moved out, and another few months later Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban moved in. Transition upon transition. We were now six in a blended family. Tom was only five years old.
When the rest of this blended family moved to the USA, the blended country, in 1997, Tom and Nick remained in France and moved back to Paris to live with their mother. (See history) Earlier photos of Tom can be found here.
Tom finally moved back in with us in Santa Cruz in August 1999, and here he is stuck! Well, actually, here he was stuck, at least for a while. After graduating from High School in 2007, he spent a semester at Cabrillo, the local community college, and spent many happy evenings busking on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz with other budding musicians. He had already been playing guitar for three years. He found a job in the pizza place at the Catalyst, Santa Crux’s most famous concert venue, which was a perfect job for a budding musician.
Then, he took off to visit his mom in Paris after Christmas in 2007, and stayed there! And stayed there. He was still there when I moved out in April 2010. He comes to visit, and groups of us visit him, but that’s it. Nick moved out of the family home before Tom, but regularly returned and never spent more than six months abroad during the period covered by this album. Tom was the first child to abandon our blended family.
It took me completely by surprise. It was six months before I could bring myself to tidy up his room. I left it in its impossibly messy state after he left because I wanted him to clean it up when he came back from his vacation. That was the rule I tried to enforce: leave your room messy when you went away, clean it up when you got back. Then as time went by and he did not appear, I kept thinking that somehow he would come back, soon.
Finally, I grasped that he wasn’t coming back at all – I’m pretty sure that I was the last in the family to figure this out – and slowly, over a period of weeks, cleaned up his room. It was a terrible chore, feeling his presence in everything that I organized or put away or boxed up, feeling his presence everywhere but at home with us.
Tom was gone. As soon as he turned eighteen, as soon as he could determine for himself where he wanted to live, he left his family in Santa Cruz and moved back in with his mother in Paris. Something obviously went wrong for him here, which I feel very bad about.
I can’t help but look back to see what went wrong, why he felt so bad that he had to leave. Bear in mind that this was not a case of the teenager needing to leave his parents and live alone, needing to establish his independence. This was a case of Tom’s needing to leave us and live with his mom.
Several possible reasons occur to me, but I don’t want to get into this too deeply for now. One stands out, and it’s my fault.
Somehow, Tom didn’t get all the things that the other older children got. Nick, Daphné and Alban were all given PCs or Macs before Tom left, with Alban and Nick doing particularly well on that level.
Alban’s PCs broke regularly (which may have had something to do with the way that he kicked them when they wouldn’t do what he wanted!), and were always replaced. Nick was similarly problematic (if not equally, because he earned his own money from a relatively young age, and thus at times covered his own electronics costs). The only new PC that Tom ever received was given to him (and repaired when it broke) by his grandfather.
The same thing happened later with cars. Each of Nick, Daphné and Alban were given a car pretty soon after he or she was old enough. When Nick totaled his, the insurance proceeds bought him a replacement. By the time he left at the age of 18, Tom still had not been given a car! There was good reason, in fact. All of the children were told to maintain a GPA of at least 3.0 in order to be given a car, and Tom bloody-mindedly refused to improve his grades.
But still, how did I manage to treat him so unfavorably relative to his siblings? Believing strongly that equal treatment is key for children, how did I screw that principle up here? It’s not quite as bad as it sounds: Tom received three increasingly pricey guitars over the years, for example, and an iPaq as well as iPods and the like.
But somehow I blew it. The disparity in treatment is too clear. He cites it. He doesn’t cite it as the reason that he left us, but he still pays very careful attention to anything that hints of disparate treatment. The mere possibility that it is occurring visibly hurts him. And having experienced such real disparity, the possibility of its recurrence must never be very far away.
Children have no idea how much time their parents spend second guessing themselves!
Fortunately, Tom does not constantly compare himself to the world, worrying that somehow or somewhere he’s not being treated exactly right, analyzing exactly what everyone gets.
No, Tom is a tough cookie. That’s the first thing that you notice about him, in fact. Very solid, both in build and demeanor.
Unlike the rest of us guys in our blended family, who are all wiry, as they say in England, he has the Greek Adonis build of his mother’s side of the family. He played rugby in Paris when he was only seven or eight years old, and is the only one of our boys who has actually played American football. They won’t let boys of seven or eight even play rugby in our little corner of the US: it’s considered too rough here. Tom was disappointed: he really liked his rugby. So he jumped into Pop Warner football.
It is his music that has come to define his life. We saw that beginning to happen before he left Santa Cruz. He bugged us and bugged us for a guitar, and because his various enthusiasms had a tendency to wane shortly after the money was spent, with the more money involved being directly correlated with how fast his interest waned, his first guitar was a Costco Yamaha.
He played it and played it in his room, several days a week if not every day, singing and singing, experimenting with chords and with his voice. For months at a time. There was no waning here: more the opposite. He found sounds that he liked, and if I were to guess I’d say that they made him happy when not a lot else did. And he liked the feeling, and kept searching for those lovely sounds.
One song in particular stands out, looking back, a difficult but interesting song, lyrically and musically: the Libertines’ “A Time for Heroes,” written by Pete Doherty. Tom might play that wonderful song, rarely the same way, but a dozen times in a day, trying for an effect or a style. For him it was great. For us, we learned to dread the opening chords, at least for a while! Not more than a couple of years . . .
But then he played it for Alex, Charlie and me on the pier in Bournemouth during our summer vacation in 2010, and it brought a lump to my throat. Was he ever getting good!
Before you leave, you may want to check out a few photos of Tom when he was younger.
Here is Tom fooling around, as ever.