Daphné was born in August 1987 in Malestroit, Brittany, during Marie-Hélène’s summer vacation at La Grée. Maman loved to get away from the hustle and bustle of Paris. La Grée is located near where the family of Daphné’s grandfather, Jacques Berhaut, originated. Grand-père himself was born and raised in Paris, but he and Mamie Régine, Daphné’s grandmother, bought a country cottage in Brittany and eventually grand-père retired there.
France offers expectant mothers an appropriate length of maternity leave, and Marie-Hélène spent a couple of months in the country that year, before and after the birth, with Régine and Jacques, her own maman et papa.
La Grée is in a small village, and the local maternity hospital was run by an order of nuns in Malestroit, the nearby town. Daphné was born in La Clinique des Augustines, in August 1987. Charles too was born in La Clinique eight years later.
Thank you, sisters!
La Clinique is an extraordinary place in a small town whose charm belies its character. More information is on the 1995 page.
Needless to say, I was not at La Grée on this occasion. I had met Marie-Hélène six months before when I started work for Kevorkian and Rawlings in Paris, the law firm where she was office manager: we barely knew each other at this point.
More surprisingly, Pierre Brun, Daphné’s dad, was rarely at La Gree that summer, and in fact did not return to her and her mother’s home in Paris for months afterwards. But that’s another story that doesn’t belong here.
Its significance for Daphné is hard to gauge. She has no memory of that early absence, of course. But her mother felt abandoned and alone and empty for the first months of her daughter’s life. All that must have had an effect on baby Daphné. She is a very sensitive person, and any baby would have been affected by her mother’s sadness at such a time.
Of course, I’m interpreting here, and to some degree throughout the early years of Daphné’s life. Marie-Hélène talked with me about those years, of course, but I did not live them with her. I can’t give as complete a picture of Daphné during her early years as I can of Nick and Tom, because I was not involved in raising her until she had just turned seven, in August 1994. I barely knew her at all until 1992, and even then only occasionally.
The incompleteness in the picture of her early years is inevitable: mistakes in my interpretation can be corrected: just let me know.
As suddenly and unexpectedly as he left, Pierre returned when Daphné was a few months old. After a while, life in the household returned to some semblance of normal.
Alban joined the family in September 1989, and Daphné and he lived with their parents in a bright and sunny apartment in the 17th arrondissement in Paris. Both of her parents worked full time, but they engaged child care people for when they weren’t there. And Mamie Régine, Daphné’s maternal grandmother, lived downstairs in the same building and doted on her grandchildren until she fell ill in 1991. Things deteriorated on other fronts during this period, but this is not the place to recount what was happening in the couple.
Suffice it to say that in 1994, her maman moved in with me in an old house called Le Tahu in a forest to the west of Paris. It wasn’t a decision taken lightly, and that 1994 move completed the process of parental separation between Pierre and Marie-Hélène. It was brutal for the children. There was no period of transition, no time when mother and children lived together and adjusted to the absence of the father. Boom: they moved out of their apartment with Pierre straight into a house with me.
Pierre felt wounded and enraged at the injustice that he felt that he had suffered. Marie-Hélène felt guilty because she was the one who had physically moved on. It was the feelings of each of her parents that invaded Daphné and stayed with her, just as they invaded Alban and stayed with him.
By the time we moved to the US in 1997, almost three years later, she was old enough to understand and remember what her parents were each going through. Her mother did not tell her much, at least not that I saw. But her father shared his pain, in particular at Daphné and Alban’s pending departure for the US. He was already in another relationship with a woman, Anna, but the happiness this must have brought him did not appear to have been shared in the same way. It was her father’s sadness which stayed with her.
She wrote an amazing essay, “Saying Good-Bye,” five years later in tenth grade about her mother’s move to the US. It was full of her feelings for her father at the time she moved away across the ocean. It’s a terribly sad essay.
Her childhood was not all sad, of course. 1994 also began the process of blending our two families, in French “recomposition,” a pretty accurate word in English too. A new family was composed, and our families were blended. It was an exciting time for all of us. The ages of the children were close: Daphné and Nick were a year apart, give or take a few days; and Alban and Tom only three weeks apart.
The blending went well among the children themselves. Daphné and Nick fought for some sort of precedence: each was the older in her and his respective prior family, and enjoyed that status. Each was able to retain that role in the blended family, at least with her or his biological parent!
Back to Daphné. Okay, if you’ve gotten this far, then you can see the regulation swim suit photo!! Only kidding.
Pictures of Daphné as she grows older can be found here.