he was a free man in Paris. A little too free.
I was staring down at my newly born half-brother, Hugo. Predictably, I said "He's adorable," and everyone nodded. What baby isn't? I searched inside myself for some sort of familial tug. Nope. Nothing there.
"Do you like living in Paris?" I asked my father's girlfriend, whom I'd also just met for the first time. She is my age, and we looked at each other, quickly taking in clothes, hair, gestures. The air between us was brimming with questions, hiding behind all the good behavior that everyone was exhibiting.
"What was it like to have a baby in a foreign country?" I asked.
"Okay, I guess." Hugo started to struggle and I dutifully handed him back to my father.
Wind and rain were whipping around the windows of their sixth-floor flat. I glanced around, thinking about my father's previous houses in America, seemingly a million years ago. He'd split up very unamicably with my mother 16 years ago, each accusing the other of infidelity. Both stories had seeds of truth. His second wife was ten years his junior; not bad, considering all his lawyer colleagues were at this point trading in Wife #1 for something younger, flashier and less predictable.
But my father, never one to shy away from pushing the envelope, didn't stop there. When his second marriage dissolved, he traded in his big-time-attorney lifestyle for something "more real." He moved to Paris, found Dana, and announced his intention to live forevermore as a Hemingwayesque expatriate.
Yes, my father is cool. But most daughters don't want cool. They want regular, boring, predictable kinda fathers. Yes, even me. His Parisian flat, with its homemade curtains and hastily painted walls, seemed shabby. But he was living on love. Anyone could see that.
"When he's 18," my father was saying, "he'll have to decide whether he wants to be a French citizen or American."
I suppressed a groan. Eighteen! I'd be nearly 49. I imagined myself entertaining Hugo and his friends at my house in California, me with iron-grey hair, and him looking like Kurt Cobain. I'd be handing out tea, and his long-haired loutish friends would be rolling their eyes, asking for Ricard. Let's go see my half-sister in San Francisco, he'd have said, she's an old bag but maybe she's cool...
"I just can't imagine how your mother did it," my father was rattling on. "I think I went to work the same day you were born. And now I see that raising a baby takes two people, practically full time!" Dana nodded vigorously.
"I'll tell her you've seen the light," I said.
"You know, the health care is so much better here. I can't believe how Americans put up with that health care system," he said.
"I know, I know." I'd gotten this lecture all over Europe and I was tired of it. I turned to my father. "What arrondisement is this? Let's go on a walk. Show me your haunts."
In the cafe around the corner, I turned to my father. "What do Stephen Stills, Barry Bostwick, Tony Randall and you all have in common? Let me answer that. You've all just had babies with women who are young enough to be your daughters. Just what is the deal?" I stared into my glass of Beaujolais, as if the answer were to be found in there.
"Why is it that you can go out and find someone my age when you're 60?"
My father considered. "I'm 59, actually." I waited.
"And Dana is older than you," he said, reading my mind. "She's 39, almost 40."
"You're old enough to be her father."
He harumphed. "Will you stop saying that? I don't think age makes any difference at all. It's just a number, a chronological passing of time."
"Another item that I'll pass on to Mom."
I was irritated. Men everywhere could get away with this, all the time, while women my mother's age were forced to find those elusive males who perhaps weren't as interested in an unlined face and pert tits.
But then I thought, well, get away with what? Dana was clearly a strong, independent woman, who probably had her pick of any number of men, her age or younger. She'd chosen a man 20 years her senior, so who was I to begrudge her that? A People magazine photo flashed through my mind of Anna Nicole Smith, wheeling her 90-year-old husband to be down the wedding aisle. His crinkled, apple-doll face was smiling fiercely, and she looked happy and triumphant. Who was getting the raw deal here? She'd inherit millions, and meanwhile Hubby could spend his last days with a poppet with a 45-inch chest. Maybe not the ideal union, but certainly equitable.
My father is no billionaire, and Dana is no centerfold. I thought about my half-brother sleeping on my father's lap and the look of pleasure that had glowed from Dana and my father when I'd held Hugo, kissing his tiny button nose.
"Here's to a new millennium," I said. "I guess."
I raised my glass. I wanted to say something cynical or witty, but my father's silent look was practically begging me not to. So I smiled at him, wondering if the future father of my children was ten years old right now.
After all, it's just a number.