Who knew that Dom Toretto would be the spokesman for "family values?"
Vin Diesel's character in the "Fast And Furious" franchise may seem like a self-centered ex-criminal turned hero at times over the course of eight films. However, he is an ol' softy deep down inside. To his character, his definition of family is based on a famous line of his. Toretto stated that he does not have friends, but rather family.
The theme of family among the surrounding characters of the "Fast And Furious" film franchise is repeated across almost every installment of it. It centers on a diverse group of heroes – including an ex-undercover police officer who would befriend Toretto until the seventh film. That character was played by the late Paul Walker and his memory lives on among the other central actors in this film series.
Toretto's definition of family is not an uncommon one. Nor is it solely a contemporary one. It is relevant to car communities. This theme of the family unlike the one you were born into is one you will see in real time repeatedly when you see people coming together in a close-knit fashion over a common love of the automobile.
Recently, this concept of family by common ground struck me again. By "again," I mean that a recognition of certain people in my life who have emerged beyond just friends and acquaintances. Yet, it is also a very fragile alliance due to tangible, intellectual and emotional considerations.
To explore this, I must go back to my own lineage. Twenty-five years ago, my mother died. She was a stubborn person who refused to let a second stroke, Aphasia and the subsequent removal of a lower leg let her from living her life. As much as we did not get along at times, the love was there. In masses. Barbara Jean (Bloom) Stern gave my brother and I a lot to pass on. She allowed me my love of the automobile and of transportation to take flight years before I began pursuing this career.
Our family did not have much. We had challenges. But, in the end, we had love.
In contrast, my father's death was impactive at the time – thirty-one years ago, to be exact. Looking back, his departure from our family in 1972 was both devastating and divisive. Years later, I do not have fond memories of Sheldon Simon Stern. Perhaps this was the genesis of my exploration of a personal definition of family.
Yet, my ties to my blood family are better than ever. My brother Matthew and I are on fantastic terms, despite our physical distance from each other. We cheer each other on for everything we do. At our advanced ages, we absolutely have each other. On his side, he has a long-lasting marriage to my sister-in-law Elizabeth, and two wonderful adult children, Stephanie and Benjamin. Our family's legacy continues today – something I am indeed proud of.
Yet, by distance and without the presence of my parents, there is an emptiness that somehow persists. This is where Toretto's definition of “family” comes into play and why it is not a contemporary concept.
By being a gay man, the idea of a family would be flipped on its side. Way before I came out, an LGBT person would be ostracized by their blood family, as it was absolutely unacceptable to be a homo- or bisexual…or, let alone having gender identity issues…in general society. Having witnessed this many times over, my delayed coming out was a way to placate to the traditional idea of a family even through the AIDS Crisis of the 1980s.
For LGBT people to sustain a balanced life, the idea of the family changed from a DNA-based relationship to one of people coming together in a close-knit fashion. This is why you hear the word "family" used a lot in LGBT communities everywhere. It is a means of survival against the forces outside and within our own realm.
To survive, we have to have each other. I believe that was what Toretto had in mind for his concept of "family" among the "Fast And Furious" crew.
This leads to something that I have witnessed, experienced and are trying to comprehend around the car community. The idea of "family" of fellow enthusiasts is actually based not just around a common vehicle, but crafting a life beyond it.
In a couple of the local car clubs I associate with, this is very true. When you have a core of people who get along extremely well, they do other things outside of the vehicles that brought them together in the first place. They will also help you when you need it.
I witnessed this with one of those car clubs. At a recent track day, when one of its members had a mishap with his car, he called one of his close friends from the club to help him tow it home. This friend and other fellow club members drove four hours from being in the outdoors to fetch the broken car. A few other club members waited around for help to arrive. When they arrived from being up north, everyone that was around the broken car helped to get it on the trailer.
If that isn't "family," then what is?
If you have a question about a problem with a car, a fellow car club member will provide an answer. If you call out on social media and wondered if they are wanting to grab food, you will get a crowd of members to join you. If you need a place to stay overnight because you're far from home, one of your fellow members may have space for you.
Some may call this friendship and leave it at that. Others will call it "family." Your interpretation is open, but understand the definition and practice when people talk about "family" within their chosen communities.
Aside from my birth family, I have been doing some soul searching as to the current makeup of my "families." I no longer have much of an LGBTQ "family" these days. We have splintered, got married and went our own ways. My professional family might not be as present, as we sometimes get into our workspace and do our thing. As much as I want to collaborate, those opportunities are not present enough for me to do so.
What about a "car family?" A Toretto-inspired "family" where people come together for cars and more. It's hard to develop, really Perhaps it is because of my age, sexual orientation, time devoted to the career, that career's competitive nature, prior negative experiences with other groups and individuals and so forth…
Maybe I'm just giving excuses. Who knows?
The one thing I hear from the groups I attended to help get through the initial coming out process is that we often find our "chosen family." Perhaps you have done that through your car community. You chose the family you want to be with by sharing the experience of your enthusiasm for the automobile. You cultivate that family – at least your part of that family – to create cohesiveness, camaraderie and the spirit of joy. You laugh, cry, yell, get stuff off your chest, and celebrate each moment you are with your "car family." That is a great family to have.
Wiz Khalifa is right: "How can we not talk about family when family's all that we got?" I believe that is what Toretto had in mind for his “Fast And Furious” family. Maybe we should let that be our guide for our chosen families – including the ones we center around our automobiles.
All photos by Randy Stern