by Sarah Torretta Klock
Andrew Solomon and his husband, John Habich, are part of a charmingly unconventional modern family: “four children, five parents, across three states,” as Solomon is fond of saying. He and Habich are fathers to 4-year-old George here in New York; Habich has two biological children who live with their mothers (a lesbian couple) in Minnesota; and Solomon’s daughter, whom he and a close friend from college chose to conceive together, lives with her mother in Texas. Theirs is a complicated and intentional act of family building, predicated on a kind of trust, respect, commitment, and love that pushes beyond the bounds of traditional forms of family. It’s a life that’s been hard won for Solomon, one that he literally wrote his way into while working on his monumental new book, Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity, for more than a decade.
That the born-and-bred New Yorker should find love and happiness through a book isn’t exactly surprising. A prolific and vociferous writer, Solomon worked as a journalist and writer for the New York Times Magazine for nearly ten years covering a wide scope of subjects: the art world in Soviet Russia, politics in Libya and Afghanistan, mental illness, gay rights, stepfamilies, and more. His book on depression, The Noonday Demon, won the National Book Award in 2001 and was a runner-up for the Pulitzer Prize. The author laughs as he recounts the family lore that little George’s first word was “book.” “Shouldn’t it have been ‘Daddy’?” a friend had queried, to which Solomon’s partner jokingly replied: “In our house, book is Daddy.”
As the homosexual child of straight parents for whom having a gay child was upsetting, Solomon began this book with the realization that he was in the company of a surprisingly large and diverse group of others who, like him, were born very different from their parents—deaf children born to hearing parents, for example, or dwarfs born to parents of average height. These people had needed to fight for acceptance in a world that wished them not contentment, but cure. On assignment for an article that he was writing for the New York Times in 2003, Solomon was first struck by the similarities between gay culture and deaf culture. Both deafness and being gay have been marginalized identities that, for reasons of surgical advancements or social prejudices, have been threatened with extinction. And yet, deafness and homosexuality have emerged into vibrant and valuable identities for many people. What other identities were similarly marginalized, he wondered? What does it mean when children are born wildly, and sometimes disturbingly, different from their parents? What can we learn from these experiences?
(To read the rest of the article, please visit the New York Family website.)