Behind 'A Family of Their Own': The Personal Beginnings of My First Fiction Novel
Author Malcolm O. Varner explains the motivations behind his first novel, "A Family of Their Own."
Growing up without a mother and having a father who was mostly absent throughout my adolescence gave way to parenthood and family being touchy subjects for much of my adulthood. I can recall my twelve-year-old self asking what my mother was like, how she looked, what she did for a living, and why she had abandoned her own two kids. There's one day I keenly remember when my younger sister and I discussed our plans to write Oprah in hopes of reuniting with this woman we only knew from our dreams, but I ultimately never wrote the letter out of fear. And for the father who had raised me throughout most of my school age years, a man that I referred to as "Duck," I only called him dad once before he died in 2011. Although he did his best as a single father, our relationship was significantly strained by his drug addiction and incarcerations during my middle and high school years, not to mention my own effeminate traits. If it wasn't for my grandmother stepping into the picture after one of his jail stints, my attitude towards family would've been indifferent at best. She provided me with a stable foundation in life that included home cooked meals, a peaceful and meticulously decorated home, and enough love to let me know that there was someone in this world who cared for me. She was someone in whose eyes I was special.
After writing A Family of Their Own, it's quite apparent how much my early understanding of family, particularly the dysfunctional type, informs the storyline and characters that I created. In many ways, the protagonist, Max Webber, represents my ideal alter ego. He's smart, hardworking, successful, cynical, and private; but most importantly, he has this urge to become an involved and concerned father, which he lacked for most of his childhood. Fortunately for Max and his siblings, their mother exemplifies strength, resilience, warmth, and acceptance. Max's husband Brian, however, was dealt a different hand in life, having grown up in a stable home with two parents. But even then, their support was far from ideal based on his sexuality. Despite their different upbringings, Max and Brian are united by their commitment to one another as well as their desire to be better fathers than the examples they had growing up. The challenges that they face aren't financial, marital discord or incompatibility, infidelity, nor related to drugs or alcohol, but based on the resistance they receive from family members who disagree with their adoption decision. These are the circumstances they must navigate after they start the adoption process and welcome Donté, a shy and inquisitive five-year-old, into their home.
Aside from Max and Brian's motives to become parents, it's this latter challenge that readers will likely find familiar. Many gay youth and adults still find themselves victims of religious intolerance and discrimination. In my book, I consider the Black church and much of its theology as an impediment to healthy relationships for gay men with their families. The more positive and healthy relationships LGBTQ parents have in their lives that are supportive of their parenting and households, the more supportive role models their children will have to look up to in life. Religious discrimination can prevent LGBTQ parents and their children from fully being engaged in all areas of their lives. This is especially true when you consider the broader context of marginalized groups, such as the significant role often held by the Black church in African American communities. Its effects, whether direct or indirect, can have serious implications on LGBTQ persons who are churchgoers or those closely affiliated with those who ascribe to fundamentalist beliefs.Ultimately, the alternative narrative offered in my book is the importance of creating one's own family through healthy friendships. Such intentionality, I believe, is yet another truism for many within the LGBTQ community. What we are not afforded in mainstream society, it's that for which we must diligently advocate and boldly create our own paradigms. In doing so, we are healed from the pain of rejection through self-acceptance and the families we fabricate for ourselves. And as a black cisgender gay man who has lived betwixt and between virtually my entire life, this is a topic that I have come to understand on a personal level.