The passing on of the DNA
|It’s hard to believe that I once spent several months living inside my mother’s abdomen.
If you saw me and my mom side by side, you would understand why. I’m a large person. Six-foot-five, about 220 pounds. My mother is, well, much, much smaller. I believe the word is “petite.” If she were to curl up, she could probably almost fit into my abdomen.
Nonetheless, the fact remains, I was in there. Of course, I myself was much, much smaller at the time. I didn’t have my beard or my glasses. For a period of time, I didn’t even have a spinal cord. In the beginning, my body was really nothing more than a tiny ball of cells, so small as to be virtually invisible.
I’ve come a long way since that time. My body is still basically a lump of cells, but there are a whole lot more of them these days, and they’ve specialized themselves to do all sorts of neat things. They’ve formed themselves into organs and muscles and nerves and limbs that allow me to move and breathe and think and interact with the world around me. They helped me get through high school and college and find a job and a mate.
And now...the process begins all over again.
Inside my wife’s abdomen, there is a person. It doesn’t have a beard yet, and it might never have one. But we’re told it has a little spinal cord and a tiny heart, and he or she (neither of which is really an accurate label at this point) is about the size of a blueberry.
Half of its DNA is the same as mine and half of its DNA is the same as my wife’s, which is a mind-boggling concept to consider. It means that, eventually, there is going to be a full-grown person walking around that looks, acts and thinks somewhat like me and my wife in certain ways, all because it shares our genes. And this person is going to call me Dad.
In a situation like this, you can’t help but wonder what your child will inherit from you.
Tallness runs pretty strongly in my family. I’m tall, my dad was tall, his dad was tall. I did some research into my family history a couple months ago. Back in the late 1700s, Nahum Aldrich was a Quaker peach farmer who owned a large area of land in the Maple Springs area of southwestern New York — where my dad grew up. If my genealogical sleuthing is accurate, Nahum is my distant ancestor. He was reportedly six-foot-four, practically a giant by the standards of the 1700s.
My wife’s uncle and grandfather are both about as tall as that old Quaker. Her brother and mine are both over six feet tall. She and her grandmother are both women of above-average stature.
What other conclusion could one reach? This is probably going to be a tall kid.
But what can we predict personality-wise? Will I pass on to my baby my inconvenient and bothersome levels of anxiety? My introversion? Any of my other myriad neuroses? I’m sorry to say, little embryo, it seems rather likely.
Fortunately, nurture serves as a partner and counterbalance to nature when it comes to influence on a burgeoning person. Although we are discovering more and more that genes play a bigger role in our lives than we ever thought, there is still some room for parental potency. As Homer Simpson said, “Kids are great. You can teach them to hate the things you hate.”
Or, to put it a more positively (generally a good policy), you can teach them to love the things you love. As a parent, you can finally say, “Here’s the way I see the world and here’s what I think is important in life and why,” and somebody will actually listen to you — for the first few years anyway.
Of course, we won’t be our child’s only influence; according to the research, peers hold much more sway than parents in this regard. But we play our part, too, so I think it’s advisable to have a few goals in mind, and I do.
If I have my way, my child will prefer books to television and favor a walk in the woods over a walk in the mall. She will be able to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and avoid the empty temptations, pervasive greed and chronic discontent of our consumer culture.
I want her to question authority — even my own — and if it doesn’t give her a good answer, I want her to be suspicious of it.
I want her to use her own mind to evaluate her experience of the world and the claims others make about it, and I will encourage her to refuse to follow anyone blindly.
I hope she will be a kind person. I hope she will feel good about herself. I hope she will love learning and animals and jazz.
And when she’s old enough to see me as a fellow human being and not just her dad, I hope she will recognize my flaws and learn from them.
I say “she” because I think, deep down, some part of me is rooting for a girl. But I’ve changed my mind too many times to be sure. Luckily, that’s one decision that’s out of my hands. As for all the others, I’m banking on a combination of love, honesty and common sense to get me through.
One fact that gives me confidence is this: Not a single one of my ancestors, all the way back through millions of years to the beginning of life on this planet, failed to successfully reproduce and pass on its genes to an offspring who also managed to successfully reproduce and pass on its genes. The mere fact of my existence proves that — in terms of child rearing — I come from a long, long, long line of winners.
The odds are in my favor.