Philippe Collard

5 years ago · 4 min. reading time · visibility 0 ·

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog or learning to listen to your child(ren).

Preamble: this summary is taken from the Web site Bookrags ( (I hope they will not mind…otherwise sue me!) [By the way, I do not receive any royalties from sales of the bookJ]

The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel by writer Muriel Barbery. In this novel, Renee Michel is a concierge who believes that every concierge is perceived as unintelligent by those for whom they work. For this reason, Renee goes to great lengths to hide the fact that she often spends her days reading Marx and Tolstoy. It is not until Renee meets new tenant, Kakuro Ozu, that she finally finds a person with whom she can truly be herself. At the same time, Paloma Josse is struggling with the same sort of identity crisis. She is a highly intelligent girl who feels she must hide her real thoughts from those who do not understand her. In befriending both Renee and Kakuro, Paloma finds a way to relate to the outer world and find pleasure in life. The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel of personal identity that will inspire the reader to face life head on, rather than hiding behind masks that are designed to deceive not only the outside world, but ourselves as well.

And now for my short story…

I meet with my wonderful beautiful daughter once a week, for lunch. She lives her life as she sees fit. I told her a while ago that the only things that really matters to me are that she is “safe and happy” or vice versa. It took a bit for me to admit and/or accept this very simple truth but I am perfectly at peace with this “state of affair”.

We discuss life, as (only) a man, who is almost 62, and a young woman, who is almost 25, can. There are gaps of course. And there are incredible “meetings of the water” (please check in out on is somewhere in the Amazon, a place I once visited). We have taken on advising each other on book reading. We both love books. We both love reading, amongst many other things, like horses, music, movies, the arts, and food.

We have active and passionate discussions about politics, human rights, the future she will see and that I will most definitely not live long enough to see. We avoid topics that would involve me telling her what to do about 1 – her career, 2 – her boyfriend and 3 – generally speaking what to do about her life. I have learned some time ago that there is nothing meaningful I can offer on those issues, in spite of how “wise” I believe my advices could be. Be silent, Philippe. Let her be. “Happy and safe”, “Safe and happy”.

[Note: as computer design would have it, on a standard keyboard, the “f” key is right next to the “g” key. If you type fast enough, instead of “happy and safe”, you may type “happy and sage”…sage…what a revealing lapsus since “sage” means “wise” in French. Amazing what we can read into our typing patterns, like an ancient oracle interpreting chicken guts]

Camille (my daughter) and I learned to ride horses together. We got tattooed together. As a matter of fact, this is one of our bonding rituals (every couple of years or so). Once, we even got tattooed the same pattern (angels wings)…and since that time I carry her in my skin. I have also come to look forward to her “book advisory list”. [By the way, we are both fully bilingual in French and English which makes for delightful discussions where both languages are mixed in some kind of dialect that the two of us only share].

“Papa, I think you should read this book”. I do not know a father who is happier than I am every time she says this, with her Mona Lisa eyes. That being said, it took me a while to learn how to listen to her. Really listen. Pay attention.

At one of our weekly lunch last year, she handed me several books, one of them being “The Elegance of the Hedgehog” by Muriel Barbery. She was particularly (and unusually) assertive about the fact I should read the book. It remained on a pile of books to read (there are always piles of books around me) for a few days, much longer than I thought it would, given her insistence. Then soon enough I opened it, read the first page, then the second page and could not stop. That book told me millions of things about my daughter, millions of things about myself, and millions of things about our relationship. Immensely profound things. I will not discuss the book here. You can go check it out on the Internet. You may or may not like it…though it would be hard to be immune to its bittersweet spell.

Let us move back in time 15 years or so.

The fast lane. The very fast lane. I was the CEO of an international company operating in the aerospace and defense market. Took it public. Flew all over the world. Met with many corporate and government VIPs. Was honored at various events. Gave a lot of speeches. Made a lot of money. Never stopped once to wonder what it all really meant. Until that day I realized my “little angel” was growing up fast, and I was not a part of that growth or barely was. Lots of time wasted and not easy to catch up...that’s when I started riding horses with her. At least we had found a shared passion…

Forward to my lunch and the Hedgehog.

“Papa, I think you should read this book”. As I read, the reason became clear. Crystal clear. I cannot say why in this short piece without spoiling the savour of the book for those who have not read it yet. Thus I will not. Suffice to say that Camille handed me a book that was both a reading recommendation and a message. I got both loud and clear. I feel fortunate, even lucky, I did.

Back in time 15 years…

Yes we shared a passion. Horses. And many precious moments together which meant a lot. Moments I wanted to make up for the time I had wasted in planes, trains and automobiles. We rode through the Connemara Mountains (Ireland) together for an entire week, 7 hours daily in the saddle. I groomed for her when she started competing at horse shows…making up time or trying to. Life went on…

The Hedgehog

You cannot make up for time lost. Ever. “Papa, I think you should read this book”. This was not a suggestion. In those hazel eyes was the assertion of the importance of reading the book…no questions asked. I did read the book.

Over another lunch, we discussed the Hedgehog of course. What I had learned (and what I believe she had wanted me to learn) never openly came up. It simply weaved its way into the relationship we had and have built for the past few years. “Happy and safe”. I truly believe that she has the same words for me. As a matter of fact, I know it. “Safe and happy”.

Listening requires a bit more that opening our ears and acknowledging spoken words. It is an active process, requiring alerting our mind to thoughts and emotions. “She wants me to read this book. She really does. OK. Not sure what I will find once I go through the book but there is something hidden there she wants me to find. Better get to it”…

“Papa, I think you should read this book”. I listened, really listened, to these few words. I brought me closer to my daughter. I wish the same enlightenment to all parents.

Happy and Safe :-)The Elegance of the Hedgehog or learning to listen to your child(ren).

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Javier 🐝 CR

3 years ago #5

I am learning daily !

Philippe Collard

5 years ago #4

Paul \ Fully understand that the act of fathering is slightly less involved than the act of child bearing :-) Which actually brings me to this: as men, there are sensations that we will never experience, like having another human being in our belly...and it has always been an immense curiosity of mine...what does it feel?

Philippe Collard

5 years ago #3

Thank you all for your kinds comments. If there is one thing I would do if I could walk back my life, it would be to have 5 daughters...but I only have one...and she is so so precious! Chidren are precious.

Mohammed Abdul Jawad

5 years ago #2

Aha...children are greater joys of caring parents. Without them, there's no better world, and with them there's a world of happiness.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #1

A most excellent post Phillipe. I have 3 adult children now and truly love what they can teach me.

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