My novel Crossing the Bridge is about a man who returns to his hometown to face the scars of his past and get a second chance with the woman he never had the opportunity to love. A big portion of this novel is about families. The main character, Hugh Penders, always considered himself to be second best to his brother Chase. His parents always seemed more enamored of Chase, and Chase, though the younger sibling, always seemed to rule the household.
I find the nature of families fascinating. In fact, I find families so fascinating that I’m currently writing a series of family novels, the first of which, Leaves, was published last year. It’s nearly time to start focusing on the holidays again and it seems we all spend a little more time thinking about family this time of year. Sadly, many of these thoughts are not happy ones. For whatever reason, I see an increasing number of articles, blog posts, and television shows about dreading being with your family during the holidays. It’s entirely possible that these were always out there and that I just wasn’t paying attention to them until now. It’s also possible that the abundance of these is a sign of the amped-up anxiety and disquiet that seems pervasive in the culture right now.
My first reaction to all of this grumbling was to be thankful that I didn’t feel the same way. I actually look forward to getting together with my family. My older sister is one of the most generous spirits I’ve ever met and her children are accomplished and interesting. My cousin is a powerhouse who has overcome adversity and exudes possibility. At Christmas, twenty-three people gathered around our dinner table (well, technically, our dinner table and two folding tables laid end-to-end and cleverly decorated by my wife) and I wanted to spend time with every single one of them.
But then I realized that this gathering was the result of a process that began with the same sense of family-dread that the writers and producers had been talking about. Over the years, I had effectively weeded out the family I could no longer stand to be with. I hadn’t seen my brother or his two boorish sons in years. The cousin I adore is the only cousin with whom I have any contact. Of the twenty-three people at our family Christmas table, more than a third of them weren’t actually family at all. Instead, they were friends who had become family.
What is it about the intimacy of familial relationships that causes so many of them to fail, or, even worse, fester? Our families offer us the safest of harbors yet at the same time leave us with our deepest wounds. I find this endlessly interesting and I’m sure it will intrigue me forever.
Michael Baron is a nationally bestselling author. He is currently hard at work on the follow-up stories to his hit novel Leaves. You can learn more about Michael and his books at our website.