Michael Barakiva On Fatherhood and Family History
One of the many delights of Michael Barakiva's One Man Guy is the inclusion of Armenian culture amidst the charming coming of age story. We wanted to learn more about Michael's decision to weave his own cultural history into the novel and how his own life influenced the novel. Here's what he had to say:
When you grow up Armenian, even half-Armenian like me, you grow up with certain obligations. First and foremost, you have to procreate. Ideally this would be with another Armenian, but I suspect anyone swarthy would do. When I told my mom I was gay, she told me I still had to provide her grandchildren — those of you who have read One Man Guy will appreciate the scene for which this exchange is lifted identically.
I’m not sure if this obligation to procreate existed before the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century, during which over one million Armenian citizens where systemically killed by the Ottoman Government. Turkey still denies these mass killings as genocide, although 26 countries do (including France, Russia and 43 U.S. States), adding insult to injury to what Armenians call Medz Yeghern (“The Great Crime”).
My husband and I have talked about having children a bunch, but I have no idea whether or not we’ll actually take the plunge. I believe if we were a hetero couple, we would’ve already abandoned birth control and be eagerly taking those at-home pregnancy tests, waiting with bated breath to see if the swab turned blue or if a plus signed appeared in the little window. But we’re too daunted by the administrative processes of adoption or artificial insemination. I guess it’s possible to say that if we really wanted to be parents we would overcome that intimidation, as many gay and straight couples have. And there’s truth to that, of course, but really, I can’t help but envy how much easier (and cheaper) it is for straight couples to have a kid. I’m not sure what kind of father I’d be, but I’ve seen the way Rafael lights up with his nieces and nephews and my god-daughter, and I get sad when I think that some lucky little bambino might not get that experience.
Looking back, I wonder if including all the passages about Armenian history and culture in One Man Guy is an apology to my mom and Armenians everywhere in case I choose not to procreate. When you come from a genocided people (or in my case, from two genocided people, since my father is a Jew who fought in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948), existence is an act of defiance. And since the Armenian genocide is still unacknowledged, the second obligation that all Armenians inherit is the need to tell the story. I grew up to be a theater director and a writer. I’ve been telling stories all my life.
I never met my great grandmother, who was one of the lucky Armenians who got out of Turkey alive. She almost never spoke of that journey. But one afternoon, she told my mother, then a little girl, about what it was like to have to leave your home, your possessions and your friends to save your life. About the weeks of traveling before they were finally able to settle in then-Palestine. About having to settle in a new world that didn’t want you, to start from scratch, with nothing. Afterwards, she made my mother promise that those stories lived on. My mother told us those stories growing up, and One Man Guy is, in some ways, the fulfillment of that promise.
I suppose tales of genocide aren’t the most natural fit in a gay summer rom-com. But once I started down the path, I was amazed at the similarities I found between being gay and being Armenian. The frustration that Armenians feel over the unacknowledged genocide mirrors the frustration that many gay men I know feel over not being seen in society. In addition, the AIDS crisis acts in gay history much the same way the genocide does for the Armenians: an atrocity of immeasurable proportion inexorably woven into the group’s history, making it impossible to discuss one without the other.
In both cases, I look forward to the day when enough time has passed, healing occurred and reparations made that both groups can continue the ever-evolving process of wrestling with their identity while the atrocities fade ever more into the background. But until then, I will continue telling stories, and wondering if I’ve got what it takes to be a dad.
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