Alban was born in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a suburb of Paris not far from where his mother and father, Pierre Brun, lived in Paris’s 17th Arrondissement.
Arriving for the first time in the USA in June 1997, Alban took to Santa Cruz like a duck to water. He took to water the same way! He didn’t speak a word of English at first, but made friends in no time at Happy Valley School.
He has always had a gift for non-verbal communication. Whether that gift preceded his time unable to communicate verbally with his little friends at school or on the soccer team, or resulted from it is a chicken and egg question that I find difficult to answer looking back. Either way, it has stuck and is one of his biggest assets.
He is also very careful with what he says. He doesn’t want to hurt anybody, and has a habit of controlling his own emotions so that he runs no risk of doing so. That can create its own downside. A couple of times as he was growing up, I would find out from one of his siblings that this or that had happened to Alban, and these were not good this or thats, years after it actually happened. In each case, we parents might have been able to help if we had been informed at the time the thing happened, but years later I felt impotent, and was.
Why did he say nothing at the time? I think that he was afraid that in reacting to what had happened to him, we parents may have become upset with friends of his. That, he didn’t want. So he essentially sacrificed himself for his friends in each of these cases. There were only a couple that I heard about, but I would have much preferred to have had the opportunity to fix each when it happened. On the other hand, looking back I’m full of admiration for Alban’s being able to put his friends first even when he suffered adverse consequences of doing so.
As a parent, there are moments which stick in your memory, and you don’t really know why. Alban used to skateboard down the driveway, and one day doing so disturned a wasp’s nest that we didn’t even know was there. The wasps were buzzing all around him, and he was screaming for help. I got to him first, and told him that he would need to stay calm to avoid getting stung. He did it! I was amazed. He calmed right down as I brushed a few straggler wasps out of his then long curly hair. He was so calm and collected that he did not get stung once! I still think that calming himself down like that with dozens of wasps buzzing around his head was a most impressive display of courage, almost superhuman for a young boy.
Back to his arrival in the US during the summer of 1997. He quickly became a star at soccer on the Happy Valley School rec team. He had of course played in playgrounds in France before moving over here, but never in the trained and organized manner of youth soccer in Santa Cruz.
Although he and Santa Cruz Woody, his first coach, could not at first understand a word the other spoke, Alban put all his heart and effort into his game and won over coach and teammates alike.
The only problem is that he gave soccer a rest beginning in early 2004, and never picked it up again. Fall 2003 was his last season of youth soccer. That hurts.
I worry a lot about why he gave up soccer, which had given him so much pleasure and which he was so good at, and ultimately don’t really understand the decision. Parts of it are clear.
We parents felt that we had too many commitments with four children at home (Nick and Tom were in Paris from 1997 to 1999) to give up the extra time needed for Alban to play on a competitive level when that subject was first broached in 1998 or ’99.
Its coaches always insist that competitive youth soccer take up a lot more time both for the youth and for his parents, and it does. There are more practices, more games at a distance from home, and more tournaments further away from home. All add up to a significant parental commitment on top of the recreational soccer commitment.
With a newborn Alex on our hands, Charlie only occasionally at pre-school, and a very demanding job for me (at Wilson Sonsini during the internet bubble years), it all seemed a bit too much.
In retrospect, that was a mistake, a mistake which we may have compounded in later years when we did find the time to enroll both Charlie and Alex in competitive teams at an early age. In Santa Cruz County, competitive youth soccer basically started with an under-9’s developmental team, and each of Charlie and Alex played on such a team.
By 2003, Alban too had started playing comp. He was getting bored with rec. soccer and needed more of a challenge on the field. By then, we parents had settled into our new world in Santa Cruz and had figured out how to fit more into their schedules. Alex had started kindergarden and I was working in-house at a corporation rather than for a law firm. We each had more time.
But here Alban ran into a couple of the peculiarities of youth soccer, particularly in America. The US tends to confuse athleticism with bulk. It’s an equation which makes sense if a child wants to play American football or basketball. Both sports appear to have been designed with the strongest, biggest and tallest in mind. Very American!
But soccer is called the beautiful game in part because it is designed for everyone. Of course, it favors skills, like balance and speed, and talent. But the skills it favors can be developed at any size.
Many of the best soccer players in the world are not particularly big. To give just three examples which are topical in 2010, Lionel Messi is the best current player in the world. He is 5′ 7″ tall, and suffered in his youth from a growth hormone deficiency.
Messi plies his trade at FC Barcelona, I think the best team in the world at the moment. He plays alongside the likes of Andrés Iniesta Luján, popularly referred to Iniesta, who scored the winning goal in extra time in the FIFA 2010 World Cup final in South Africa. Iniesta too is 5′ 7” tall. He shares the Barcelona midfield with Xavier Hernández i Creus, popularly known as Xavi and universally thought of as one of the best midfielders in the world. Xavi too is 5′ 7” tall! The list goes on. Remember, these are the players winning every trophy on the highest levels of the game in the entire world.
Great soccer players come in all shapes and sizes.
Alban didn’t know that when he decided to move out of what had been for years his favorite sport. All he knew was that he was not as big as many. There is a period for a boy as a player, and I speak here from experience, when small size feels like an insurmountable problem. It feels as if every time you are on the ball, some lout legally barges you off it: shoulder to shoulder charges are perfectly within soccer rules, for example. It feels as if there is nothing that you can do about it, that your own body has let you down.
But that period only lasts for a while. Over time, puberty brings hormones which do not appreciate being knocked around, and which teach you how to defend yourself and even do your own knocking. Small size really is not a disadvantage when rugby or American football-style tackling is against the rules, and continuing to play on helps you learn how to use your size to your advantage. And natural athletes grow a kind of wiry strength however tall they are. More importantly, as you learn how to withstand bigger boys, and trick them because they can rarely weave and dodge as fast as you can, your confidence grows too.
In short, Alban stopped playing before he had the time to learn to surmount those obstacles, before his confidence had the time to renew itself. I still regret that I couldn’t keep him playing back then.
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On to other topics. Alban still spends a lot of time with the little guys. That is as true in 2010 as it has ever been. They adore him. Apart from a spell of several months sleeping on friends’ couches, he has constantly lived at home with them. Of all of the four older children, he is the one with the most natural inclination to help and spend time with the little guys.
And you don’t need to be told again that Alban is on a surf- and skateboard kick. He got his first real surfboard for his 11th birthday (and at that price we wanted it to last him through the next decade!). Christmas 2007 brought him yet another skateboard (for those of you who have not been introduced to this dangerous pastime, the boards break more frequently than their riders’ bones).
Alban spends a lot of time fooling around. And he particularly enjoys vacations, whether at La Grée, in Florida, or at Disneyland, as well as all of the fêtes. Of course, now he’d prefer Disneyland with his friends. Sigh!