Cover image for Daughter mine
Daughter mine
Gold, Herbert, 1924-
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Thomas Dunne Books, 2000.
Physical Description:
292 pages ; 22 cm
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X Adult Fiction Open Shelf

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Dan Shaper, bachelor, translator for the San Francisco courts, is a man who has worn the same raincoat for fifteen years, eats the same breakfast in the same coffeeshop every morning, occasionally sees a few long-time men friends and vaguely regrets a handful of former women lovers. In the sixties and seventies, Shaper was where the action was, (San Francisco, where else?) and joined in the festivities, if moderately. But that was a long time ago.

There are those who have drug flashbacks, even years after they've been using. Shaper has escaped those, thanks to his moderation. But into his relatively Spartan life now comes a flashback of another kind - a nineteen-year-old daughter whose existence he never suspected. Her mother was an overnight acquaintance whom with some effort he manages, barely, to recall. The daughter's name is Amanda, and her phone call sends Shaper's drab-gray existence into dazzling Technicolor.

Amanda arrives trailing a motley band of associates: a con man who explains his activities on his gypsy heritage, except that he may not have one; his blatantly seductive daughter; Amanda's boyfriend, D'Wayne, a streetsmart and (usually) genial black giant. The con man owns what he has named The Yerba Buena Foundation, dedicated to helping businessmen relieve stress; his daughter - well, she runs the place, D'Wayne is the house's security man. Others turn up, segueing from various areas of Shaper's life. Amanda, part typical teenager, part young receptacle of ancient wisdom, is currently employed as a "therapist" at the Foundation.

Shaper plunges into this personal mosh pit like a repentant sinner at a river baptism, the shock of his plunge awakening him to the realization that there's more in life than was dreamt of in his philosophy.

Gold has been blessing readers with his contemplation of the human condition for many years. In this novel his lovely humor and deep understanding illuminates how a man walking a barren highway may react when fate suddenly shoves him onto an unpaved, rutted dirt road.

Author Notes

Herbert Gold is the author of numerous novels, non-fiction and short story collections for which he has received many awards including the Sherwood Anderson Award for Fiction and the Commonwealth Club Gold Medal. He lives in San Francisco.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

Freewheeling in scope and unafraid of pathos, this tale of love, moral compromise, parenthood and regret in San Francisco focuses on Dan Shaper, a middle-aged courtroom translator whose life as a sloppy bachelor is disrupted by a visit from a daughter he didn't know he had. Amanda Torres, 19, is the product of a tryst Shaper has long forgotten, with Margaret Torres, a former bohemian drifter who's also now living in San Francisco. Together, mother and daughter place a familial stronghold on Shaper. Amanda almost immediately makes financial demands on him, which he is in no position to satisfy. If Shaper doesn't support his daughter, then her boyfriend D'Wayne will let her work with him at the Yerba Buena Foundation, a bordello masquerading as a psychiatric counseling center through which stereotypical San Franciscan fetishists parade. Although Shaper does not fit snugly into the role of "father" after so many years of freedom from family responsibility, he understands his role well enough to disapprove of D'Wayne and the foundation. Shaper's dislike of his daughter's choice of mate is classic, and would be more humorous if Gold didn't push it to the point of semicomic violence. Shaper must chose between allowing Amanda to make her own decisions and taking matters into his own hands, which will lead nowhere. The narrative rolls along at a comfortable pace, allowing plenty of room for characters' inner vacillations, recollections and other digressions. This pace often becomes a little too relaxed, and the novel comes to an anticlimactic and inconclusive end. But Gold's wry observations on life in California, supported by a realist's sense of detail, hold his book together. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



One On a day like any other, which turned out to be like none other, a telephone call came his way. The caller was a young woman who spoke in the drawling layabout accent of late adolescence. In his office he heard mainly from lawyers, defendants' distraught families, and legal-aid volunteers; usually it was the Spanish-speakers who needed his help in court, translating for Your Esteemed Honor their optimistic explanations of how the lady's purse happened to jump into their hands as they ran down the street to get home in time to feed a sick child who would miss her papa even more if he were convicted on a third so-called offense. The addition of ALSO FRENCH AND ITALIAN TRANSLATION & INTERPRETING SERVICES looked good on his stationery and on the frosted-glass door, but these days there weren't many Parisians or Neapolitans picked up for shoplifting, assault, or drug-dealing; or if they were, they seemed to be adequately bilingual, not needing his services. "Mr. Shaper?" "Speaking." "Mr. Shaper?" "Yes. I hear you." "Mr. Shaper, this is your daughter. My name is Amanda." After he waited for the kook to just go away, after a pause for a crazy kid giggle and the click of hanging up, he said: "I don't have a daughter." Her patience was equal to his. Just as calmly she replied, "Yes you do. Margaret Torres is my mother." Margaret Torres? The screen continued blank. For a moment he knew nothing, then he recognized the name but still had no image of a person. Then, in sequence, he remembered a film shown at the Mexican Consulate nearly twenty years ago, during the days when certain adventures came more easily. Little bundles of toy food were passed around, wrapped in corn tortillas. The director of the film made a long-winded talk in what he fondly thought was English; he said he was inspired by the great auteurs, Godard, Kurasawa, and El Indio. Margaret Torres said she was a painter. She liked it when he said she had the right eyebrows, powerful like those of Frida Kahlo. Had she gone home with him? That part was still vague. No, he went to her loft off Capp Street in the Mission. He was lazy; it was one of those evenings in San Francisco; he spent the night but probably left before breakfast--didn't recall breakfast. He never saw her again--oh, right, one more time--but sent her a check when she telephoned to say she needed an abortion. A San Francisco kind of guy, all heart: didn't try to make sure he was the responsible party, sometimes called "the father." The young woman on the telephone was saying: "Let me make an appointment, okay? I'd just like a look at you. You think this is a crank call?" "That's right." And then, surprising himself, "Can you come right over?" And heard himself adding as a reassurance to them both: "This is my office. 1061 Market." "It's in the book," she said. He sat with his hands folded, chin resting on his hands, in a theatrical position of waiting. He left the door ajar. He did not straighten the papers scattered on his desk. It was mostly junk mail, but this stage setting meant to suggest he was busy, he had things to do, there were routines a person of his age liked to follow. He would decide what he needed to do when she appeared. After awhile he went to the sink, brushed his teeth, that was one of the routines, and took up his position again. He sat in an attitude of dramatized patience for an audience consisting, so far, of himself. He heard rapid footsteps down the hall and locked his hands together. She pushed the door wide and made her little prepared speech: "This had to be, it had to happen, I couldn't wait forever. You left the door open, so I thought it was okay. . . ." She was standing there. She had wanted to make a more impressive entrance. It was strong enough for him. "I left it open for you." He studied her, the mouth, the wide forehead, the shape of the head--the particular shape of the head--and stood up, steadying himself against the desk. "You're right. You are. You are my daughter." And they both stood there. This person who looked like a young woman, resembling Dan Shaper as a boy, did not throw herself into his arms. He did not reach out to take her shoulders and draw her to him. She said: "I suppose you don't want me to smoke." "Come in," he said. "I've given it up." She walked past the shelves with their legal texts and dictionaries in various languages, the metal filing cases, a print of Notre Dame on one wall, next to a print of the Prado, next to a tortoise with a man sitting on it from the Boboli Gardens, and asked, "What's that?" "Comes from Firenze, Florence. Please sit." This sort of thing, a daughter invited to settle into a chair just as if she belonged here, just as if she really was his daughter, could have consequences. Shaper was certain he ought to be suspicious. Doubts were called for. Amazing offers were frequently bogus. What if she were only a so-called daughter? Alarms were going off. There was a clanging in his ears. His tinnitus had gotten much worse. He was too old to be a new father. He could express certain doubts and act upon them with sensible demands for blood tests, DNA tracking, all the benefits of modern paternity-checking science. But instead, having looked at her, gazing upon this young woman whose eyes were trying to decide if he measured up, he was overwhelmed by awe. There could be no mistake about the shape of the head, the wide forehead, something in the mouth, even his cowlicked hairline, although her hair was dark and glossy, a young Latina's healthy hair. He had never been able to imagine what a female version of himself might look like. Now, despite the inevitable static--chromosomes courtesy of Margaret Torres--he knew. She settled like a familiar client or like a daughter into a chair, her clumsy shoes with their stomper heels and soles extended, but then he had another idea. His tinnitus was screeching. "Is that comfortable?" he demanded. "No! Why don't we get some lunch?" "Mom told me you might turn out to have a keen mind," Amanda said in the easy, drawling, false style of her telephone conversation. "I can light up in the street and maybe that'll be my last one ever. Hey, might even throw the pack away." As a father, he had the right to advise against smoking, but as a cautious man, he had already committed his rash admission of the day and it was too soon to offer good counsel about health and hygiene. "Or maybe not," she said. She was a first-year student at San Francisco State who had almost finished the year, almost gotten her credits, when she decided she needed some time off right now, no more fooling around with nonessentials. Understand: there were issues. Finding her father was an issue, right? And that normal California issue: getting a life? After a screaming fight with Margaret Torres--odd how she repeated the entire name of this person who happened to keep house for her, didn't say Mother--Margaret Torres gave her the other name which she never meant to give her. She always said it wasn't important, a mere detail left over in the total embryo picture which happened to contribute a blotch of protoplasm material to Amanda's making. For sure Margaret Torres had done the real work; some daddy stuff had done the playing; but even as a child, Amanda always felt this wasn't the complete story. She moved out, rented a room. She moved out before she found the room; it was that kind of fight with Margaret Torres. Then, after a few months of considering things while waitressing at Ti-Couz, a crepe restaurant in the Mission (various other career options not to be put into the information pot just now), she decided to telephone the mere detail name that Margaret Torres had blurted out. It was an idea this D'Wayne (never mind about him) enthusiastically supported. Having decided, she took a little more time. And then, when it seemed to be exactly the right moment, she waited a little longer to make sure. And then one morning she woke up and said to this D'Wayne: "Now." But she needed another quiet period for drinking coffee and meditation. She kept her hands warm on the cup. Having grown up with the blotch-of-protoplasm concept, it took certain procedures to get used to a different idea. "And so I just did," she explained. "I knew eventually I was gonna find you. For a ton of years I used to say to myself I'm just gonna, like it was a new language, you know?" "The future past conditional subjunctive," said Shaper. "A grammatical shift." She puzzled over this and then suddenly grimaced, full of pep. "You got the joke. 'New language.' You tried to improve it, even if you couldn't." "I'm a language professional. I do the Romance languages. Four and a half of them." She didn't pick up the logic here. She'd only been his daughter on active pedantic bantering duty for an hour or so. She was prepared to laugh if necessary, if he was making another joke, because courtesy required appreciation of attempts at humor, no matter how stupid. "French, Spanish, Italian, and a little Portuguese." "That's only three and a half." "I was counting English." She sliced from the bar of Monterey Jack. She tasted. She crunched the ridiculous Saltines in takeout packets which were all he had. He realized it would have been a better idea not to walk around the corner to his flat, but the entire situation was new to him. She shrugged. "So already," she said, "the embarrassing silence. We just met and already nothing to say." "That's not the case and you know it." He wanted to add: Amanda, but speaking her name aloud seemed too forward. He took a deep breath. She did the same and they realized they were sighing in a similar way and they both shrugged in the same way and then they both laughed. "Maintenant que la glace est cassé," he said. "Huh?" "Just something I say sometimes." "Your mantra?" He would never use that term. Maybe her mother's Wicca friends--why not just say witch?--used their special vocabulary. But it was too soon to be critical of the daughter he had enjoyed, if that was the word, for such a short while. Sometime halfway down the bottle of wine they were sharing, this young woman who was a complete stranger to him except that she happened to be his daughter mentioned that Margaret Torres had also used the word "snot" to describe his part in her conception, and although her Wicca colleagues thought it was about right, by the time Amanda learned a more kindly word, "sperm," she decided that Margaret Torres wasn't telling her, and perhaps didn't know, the whole story. At a certain age a girl realizes that her mother doesn't know a fuckin' thing. The same revelation might come to pass concerning a father if the girl happens to have one. He stared at this unidentified flying object with clunky shoes who seemed to have travelled the astral plane from some outer space on the San Francisco peninsula and coasted to a landing in the middle of his life. He didn't know what to do with her. He didn't know what she might do with him. Any precedents applied only to others. He didn't know what they would do together. "Oh man, do you look bugged," Amanda said. It was not a question. "Why should I be?" Shaper asked. "This happen to you a lot? You find a lot of your old kids popping up here and there?" Another joke together. But only Amanda was smiling. Shaper listened and decided not to contribute to the discussion just now. Amanda looked at him with eyes narrowed by red wine, previous late nights, current fatigue, and suspicion. Listening in silence seemed to be his best option at this time. The Monterey Jack was gone. There were a few white crumbs of salt and Saltine on the black plastic plate. The bottle was empty. It was a wine so fine that it didn't require a cork; a screw top sufficed. When she stood up, he said she shouldn't be driving after drinking half a bottle of wine and she looked at him as if he were truly ignorant and said she had a Fast Pass for the Muni, had he forgotten she had no automobile? and he offered to drive her someplace and she said: "You had more than half the bottle, you're wobbly, Dad, and I won't be responsible." Later he thought about it and decided she was being sarcastic or maybe just funny. But he guessed he really was a little wobbly. When she said that word Dad, a term in a language that had never been applied to him, a sudden heat broke through his belly, something like queasiness and dread and maybe something else, too. Pride? Was that supposed to come with paternity? Now that the ice was broken. The next time she came to his apartment, she began by asking, "I know mathematics isn't your strong suit, talk and blah blah blah seems to be, maybe that's why you found this little career of yours--" "Thanks," he said, thinking: Okay. Okay. He could explain that it was a useful job, providing simultaneous translation for Latin speakers--well, Spanish mostly--ensnared in the justice system; also it was his living. He stored up the explanation, a remark or two that she would not appreciate at this stage of her resentment. It would be no fun to be called pompous by a new daughter. He nourished himself with unspoken self-justifications and wondered if there was a normal stage for the father of a nineteen-year-old daughter. "--but I've been thinking?" "Yes." "You said you know three and a half languages and I've been counting on all my fingers and what I get is--" "Hey, Amanda. Knock it off." She fingered the pack of Winstons which her fingers wanted to open. Her fingers wanted to extract a cigaret. She said, "Right. It gets old real quick, doesn't it? Could we go someplace, do something? Maybe you'd like to buy me a present?" "What I thought," he said cautiously, "is I'd buy us a good meal, someplace nice." "Getting to know you," she intoned, trying to remember a song. As soon as they hit the street, she expertly flipped out the cigaret, glanced at her father (dare you), lit it. A panhandler asked for spare change and she took the cigaret from her mouth and gave it to him. Somehow, to Dan Shaper, this seemed unsanitary, even though it went from her to him and stopped. His daughter was confusing him. "Hey Dad, you got a girlfriend?" "At the moment?" "Any time you want to mention. We got to start someplace." "At the moment, nothing special." She took that in, gave him a brief respite, and then said: "What's her name? Tell me about Miss Nothing Special." "I don't think that's any of your business right now." "Uh-huh. Okay. So what is my business, Dad?" He didn't know. He knew less than anyone. One of the nice things about his long bachelorhood was that life could be anxious, boring, empty, a person slipped into hypochondria, anhedonia, all kinds of Latin diseases of the soul; but the person could still cling to a sense that everything was under his own control, the routines of his diminishing life, his own chaos. Now that the ice was broken, the old familiar way was shattered. It was the first of several meals shared by Amanda Torres and Dan Shaper. They were making progress, he thought, in a difficult courtship, one for which he had no model. It was not the usual seduction, in which the goal was defined by novels, movies, songs, and hormones. He took her to restaurants a step up from the ones where he ate alone or with his pals from the courthouse. Women appreciate waiters who are deferential, offer tasseled wine lists, recite the specials of the day with half-closed eyes--this was his opinion as a long-term bachelor. One evening, having made progress, he said: "Shouldn't I meet your mother?" "You have met her." "Come on, Amanda. We're in this together, but I told you, I barely remember, it was a long time ago. I don't know what she looks like, I sort of remember the sound of her voice--" Amanda winced at this; was she imagining the cry of pleasure or pain or a grunt of indifference at her conception? "I don't know anything. I only know what you tell me and . . ." He decided not to say that he didn't trust her grudges against her mother. "She's an artist, but what else?" "She wears," Amanda said slowly, "when she has to go out for some reason, a migraine headache. Sort of an artist." "When I knew her, she was ambitious, I think." "Fucked you? And she was ambitious?" Shaper raised his hand. Objection. Slow down, please. Amanda let her head waggle loosely on its neck hinge, not apologizing but recognizing she had gone too far. "She's changed," she said. "Single mother raising the obnoxious brat and stuff. Okay." Excerpted from Daughter of Mine by Herbert Gold All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.