Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Once Had a Daughter

For all I know, I’m a grandfather by now, but I’m unaware of changes in my daughter Brigitte’s life since my wife Claire (not her mother) noticed several years ago on line that she’d become a born-again Christian, and gotten married. Brigitte hasn’t spoken to me for 13 years this month. Friends and others have been assuring me since the first year of our estrangement that she’s sure to relent at any moment, and she did send me a long, icy email at the end of 2004, but at this point I’d only torture myself imagining that I’ll ever see her again. 

I honestly feel I loved my daughter as much as any parent has ever loved his child. I was absolutely mad about her pretty much from the moment her mother, L—, told me I’d finally gotten her pregnant. “More than anything I’ve ever done in life, I can do this,” I thought. “I can be a devoted, loving father.” After our marriage broke up, a couple of months short of Brigitte’s third birthday, I lived for the weekend, when I would get to see her again. I was absolutely mad about her. And I was indeed good — very far from perfect, but very, very good — at being her daddy. I have witnesses.

I was forever second best, though. When she reached adolescence, she would get into my car after school on Friday afternoon wearing an expression of the most profound revulsion, shattering my heart week after week, even while she seemed unable to get enough of L—, who, approaching 50, seemed to have devoted herself to displaying her facelift and boob job at groovy niteclubs down in San Francisco. The lust of younger men seemed to have become her oxygen. Brigitte would spend much of her weekends with me and Nancy, my longtime San Francisco zookeeper girlfriend Nancy. pining for L— ever more implacably. My inability to put a smile on her face felt like the cruelest repudiation of my lifetime. Not even the person you love most in the world wants you, pal.

When Nancy and I bought a house, it was in the wine country, near where L— had continued to live, to minimize disruption of Brigitte’s (extremely tenuous) social life, and Nancy now had to spend 200 minutes a day driving back and forth to the zoo. Far from appreciative, Brigitte was actually resentful, but had come to be even more resentful of L—’s new boyfriend. Their relationship became so fraught after Brigitte failed to persuade her mother to leave him that she agreed, with the utmost reluctance — indeed, with smoldering resentment — to move in with me and Nancy. 

Every day after school she would present herself at the little boutique where L— worked afternoons and renew her campaign to talk her into leaving Boyfriend. Every day L— would decline, and Brigitte would come home in emotional disarray, commonly in tears. Every day Claire and I would do our damnedest to console her. When I found out that she was trying to budge her mom by telling her how very miserable she was living with us, though we were both doing everything in our power to make her happy, I was furious. I told Brigitte quite emphatically that I felt she’d betrayed my trust. I called her a spoiled little brat. I told her she’d very nearly accomplished what I would never have dreamed possible — hurt all the unconditional love from my heart. 

That was my crime. I am ashamed of my weakness. But in the past 13 years I’ve known women who’ve dads have abandoned them, or drunk, or gambled, or (much) worse. They’ve all found a way to forgive their fathers. My daughter, the born-again Christian, seems not to have received the memo about clemency. Sometimes I feel even worse about her having turned her back both on Nancy, who’d been a generous, devoted de facto stepmom to her for 11 years, on Claire, and even on my sister, her loving aunt.

She didn’t attend my and Claire’s marriage. She didn’t allow me to attend her graduation from high school, though I’d flown home to California from London for it. As noted, I found out about her having wed from Claire, who told me that the rich Swiss L— had married after me had walked her down the aisle. No words can convey how much that hurt. Years before, I hadn’t been very good about concealing how much I hated another man taking my place four of every seven days. 

I continue to pay the highest imaginable price for my weakness.


  1. So, so sorry. Christian forgiveness and honoring one's parents should apply, at the absolute minimum.

    1. Thank you very much for your response, and for your empathy.

  2. John - thank you for sharing. I have a similar fear. Now I must figure out how to bookmark you for further exercises in empathy.

    CLiFF3noronha@gmail. Com

  3. John, We're about the same age and I also grew up in Los Angeles, and I've been reading your writing since you started. I don't think you've ever written better than you have of late on this blog. I'm sorry that pain had to be impetus for this and many other posts, but there is beauty in them.

  4. What a very generous thing to say, Dave! I cherish it.

  5. I hadn't read Dave's comment, above, before now. I just happened to notice it as I was rereading your piece. I fully agree with him, however little solace that they provide. Thank you John.

  6. I hadn't read Dave's comment, above, before now. I just happened to notice it as I was rereading your piece. I fully agree with him, however little solace that they provide. Thank you John.

  7. I feel it. I fear I will never see my son Ethan again. He has no interest in hearing from me or seeing me. The pain is horrendous.

  8. Perhaps her faith has produced forgiveness though.

    Forgiveness is to say “I no longer hate him for who he was or what he might have done.”

    Trust is to say “I know that he wouldn’t hurt me again.”

    It’s worth consideration that maybe you have been forgiven, but that her forgiveness is separate from her trust. Trust is the necessary ingredient to make our hearts vulnerable again, to know that if she were to contact you, or if you were to contact her, that the message would be full of love, not scorn.

    Since you shame her publicly, you may have unknowingly created an endless stalemate, where-by she may have been ready years ago, but the process has been drawn out by these public blogs painting her as a venomous, ungrateful child, “an unspeakable little brat”, or a hypocritical unforgiving Christian.

    Obviously I don't know. Maybe you really were great, and maybe she really was or is cruel, or maybe it’s some combination were everyone needs to be more kind and emotionally trustworthy.