Here Comes Grand Dad Again (1, 2, 3)
This is essay on human behavior anecdotally describes the recurrence of specific behaviors across family generations. It includes the phenomenon of behaviors appearing to skip generations in a manner similar to that shown by physical traits as was demonstrated even in Darwin's and Mendel's time. Implications for self-management are noted for different transition points in our lives.(4)
Similarities in us are thought to be a function of genetics (with the illusory condition of "all other things being equal") as expressed in our physical structure, our automatic and possibly evolved routines for the business of growing, eating, winning, mating, earning, and trading, as well as in our mannerisms, preferences, and talents. The checkerboard of behavioral traits, perhaps a detailed, variable product of complex Adaptive Systems (Barkow, et al., 1992), should be most evident with all other things being equal. Even though that last condition rarely prevails, the similarities still appear despite all the environmental variance.
The following ideas are inconsistent with much of our Standard Social Sciences Model (Barkow, et al., 1992) of the last 50 years, a model that emphasized cognitive flexibility and environmental determinism.(5) Verification, acceptance, and understanding will depend upon a "classifier" who can identify units of behavior, the "sutures" that divide them, and the expression of such in generations of people, just as has been done already for generations of sea shells, fish, and birds.
Gregor Mendel observed that red and white flowers will have pink offspring; the next generation, however, are not pink but a mixture of the original reds and whites, like their grandparents, along with some pinks (Dawkins, 1995; Margulis, 1995).(6) Our genes are not blended from generation to generation although the physical characteristics that result from their mixing may seem blended (perhaps due to lack of careful observation) and they do not vanish with our death.
Our genes pass from each of us unchanged, like a baton, to our successors except that our genes drive us rather than being inert baggage; we are the carriers that they steer through time.(7) Thus, they have one expression in one generation and may reappear in the same form indefinitely so long as we, their carriers, their "survival machines," (Dawkins, 1989) reproduce ourselves. Dawkins (1989) and Margulis (1995) compare genes to cards that seldom change but which appear in different combinations in each generation to influence not only physical appearances but organized behavior as well. Genetic traits are a digital expression, present or absent, rather than present in varying degrees.
My Own Hand to Play.
Like Mendel's flowers, I have a mix but not a blend of my father's and my mother's physical traits. I have his forehead and his nose; her mouth, chin, and elongated neck. I carry both of the people with me physically. My knobby legs and hands are his, my thin neck and torso are hers. I am not a puree but a mosaic, a texture, a brickwork from different clays and kilns, or one more hand in a finite set of cards.(8)
I also carry both parents in thought and feeling. I have Mom's restless, attention-seeking nature. I love to give talks and to cause a sensation in other people; I also have her difficulty being alone and used to become visibly upset, like her, when people I loved were late or absent without explanation. My father, like my mother, was bright and sensitive to what others thought of him, so much so that he wore a frown from his years of seeking approval and not always getting it. Unlike her, he withdrew when under personal attack and brooded for long intervals. Most uncomfortably for me, he was often annoyed with people like her and like me, people who liked to show off, people who needed frequent applause, people who quickly doubted the last round of applause and who eagerly sought the next. As a mosaic of both of my parents, I share not only their appearances but also carry their arguments within me for acting like either of them and incurring criticism from the other.(9, 10)
Some Other People's Cards.
None of us is an even mix of our parents. Sara (11) was a brief treasure ... a cute nurse with red hair who checked on me one evening in June 1989 after my coronary by-pass. She sat with unwitting charm (backed by many million years of selection pressures) on the foot of my bed and spoke gently as I asked about her family. (12) I met her grandmother that night. Granny died when Sara was 3 years old and for two decades Sara listened to her father's praise of his mother's poppy seed muffins, German potato salad, and fine needlework. Sara decided in her early 20s to master all three as a tribute both to Granny and to her father. We, of course, can dispute his reports that her cooking matched Granny's with these dishes. The needlework moved, however, into science because it endured and could be seen by many people and Sara's work was judged superb. I was glad to meet Sara's granny although I was too clumsy at the time to acknowledge her directly. Sara, of course, did not know that she carried granny along. Sara is not unique. (13)
Scott Jones' father is an irritable Harley rider who used to punch strangers at intersections if he didn't care for their expression. Scott's jittery mother spends a lot of energy buffering her husband and children from the rest of us. Scott, 9, however, is different from both of them and puts tremendous, deliberate, sustained energy into getting approval. He is tentative and low key unless his rules about "fairness" are breached at which time he cries and withdraws if in public but slams doors and yells at his parents when at home. On the other hand, Scott is a talented carpenter, even at 9 years old. He misses no cuts and always follows the drawing while his father can't read one. Scott's grandfather is said to have the same temperament and the same talent with wood. Thus, Bill may be raising a substantial replica of his own father just as Mendel's pink flowers produced red and white ones like those from which they were descended. Scott makes the same judgments of Bill that were perhaps made by Bill's father. As Bill tells his school escapades Scott does not smile or admire him but comments dryly, "That doesn't surprise me a bit." Poor Bill is meeting identical judgments about himself from two different generations and at opposite ends of his life. I suspect that Bill will have a final laugh, however, as Scott's kids may raise just as much hell as Bill did.
Knowing the Past. While I would cherish knowing my grandfathers(14) directly I feel that I know botr mouth, chin, and elongated neck. I carry both of the people with me physically. My knobby legs and hands are his, my thin neck and torso are hers. I am not a puree but a mosaic, a texture, a brickwork from different clays and kilns, or one more hand in a finite set of cards.(8)
I also carry both parents in thought and feeling. I have Mom's restless, attention-seeking nature. I love to give talks and to cause a sensation in other people; I also have her difficulty being alone and used to become visibly upset, like her, when people I loved were late or absent without explanation. My father, like my mother, was bright and sensitive to what others thought of him, so much so that he wore a frown from his year 1919 when caring for a neighbor who had typhoid fever. His devotion to the neighbor left my father an orphan at 1 year of age (thus is seen another Brody trait, shown by me and by my son, that of ignoring our immediate families while caretaking the world). The single, existing photo of Granddad shows him sitting sternly while his young bride of 19 stands at his side, her hand on his shoulder. He was 40 when they married (perhaps Granddad liked younger women much as I, or "knew" without Dawkins telling him that a younger bride would carry healthier children. Or, he waited until he was wealthy enough to support a wife and children "responsibly." And perhaps she was attracted by his relative wealth on the same instinctive level that managed him.(15)
Sue Williams is special ... she's 17, she's gifted, and she's the daughter of a prominent lawyer who died several years ago. Sue was despondent whenever she thought about college admission and not having her father's advice ... whether to pursue architecture or to go against her father's original wishes and seek a legal career. After a couple of sessions I sensed the anxious, impulsive, easily bored, argumentive pieces in her that are also in her mother. The kind, intense, logical, analytic, planning aspects are perhaps her father's contribution and Sue can act like either of her parents, but not an average of them. It was relatively easy to illustrate for her the traits many of us see in ourselves from earlier generations. It was a matter of barely a hint with this gifted student for her to sense that she "knows" on many intuitive levels her father's thoughts just as if he had lived. Indeed, if Dawkins (1989) is correct, Mr. Williams' DNA is still acting and influencing Sue's search. Sue seems happy knowing that in a real sense parts of her father are still with her in every sleeping and waking moment.(16)
Sassy the Duck
May 2, 1995, Sassy's back with me; this time she's gray. I found the defiant, always complaining, hunched small black female dead one fall morning 18 months ago, dried mud caked in her mouth. There were no other marks and I assumed the guilt of her leaving; I hadn't put out fresh water and she had choked. This morning I walked briefly with the flock, 12 of them that Millie hatched on the sly, and heard Sassy call. The same pitch, the same rapid, guttural squawk when I approached from the rear. I looked more closely. The walk is back and so is the body position ... hunkered much closer to the ground in the front than in the rear, while her head shifts right to left and right again with each step as she angles her beak 45 degrees above the horizon to quack. So is Sassy's reactive, alarmist disposition ... all of it this time in a pewter gray, not a black, body and one descended through Millie, Sassy's gray sister. I felt better because I felt forgiven.
Cont. in Part 2