“The ultimate experiment in nature versus nurture is the one who is engaged with in a constant battle between what he was an what he wanted to be.”
― Larissa Ione
In Part Nineteen, I shared my musings on labor as a means of exchange with the world. Part Twenty is a discussion of what I have learned about not only nature versus nurture, but more profoundly, how the two seemingly have a relationship that is both dynamic and beautifully symbiotic.
As an infant adoptee raised in a nuclear family and reacquainting with biological relatives as an adult, I believe I meet any and all reasonable qualifications necessary to weigh in on the topic of nature versus nurture. I have made huge strides in emotionally processing my identity from these two most powerful forces. This was, after all, the initial primer for beginning the One’s Origins journey. From these, might the classical thinker in me find solace in understanding more clearly my own composition? In so doing, I will be left with little debate. My genetic makeup predates any influence my environment could have had on me so I shall begin with nature.
Who am I by nature and how does my nature shape how I interact with the environment that has always provided me nurture? In Part Seventeen, I introduced my biological uncle and cousins during our union/reunion in July 2019. Here, I began to learn of a few genetic predispositions. To start, my father’s mother, Elvira (nee Taylor) was a beautiful writer who poured her pained heart out on paper. Her first husband, my father’s father, from what I have learned, gave her plenty about which to write. That’s her environment but I suspect her ability to emote came by her naturally. She also had a very curious mind and enjoyed learning new things. She learned braille for no other reason than to help the blind read. Physical fitness was very important to my father and he was smitten with strumming the six-string from what I have learned from my one remaining biological uncle Bruce. More beautifully for me to learn is that my paternal lineage is also rich in other artistic creativity. My cousins, through the struggles they faced together as children got through things in no small part thanks to music, more specifically, singing and dancing. Based on several stories I have heard; we are also a resilient lot. There are a few other genetic medical dispositions that, for privacy reasons, I will not discuss. I will only say that some lesser asked questions are finding their own answers as well.
I very recently came in contact with my father’s stepbrother George who shared this true story. “Buddy [my father’s nickname] was a free spirit and we were both living in Tahoe in the early 60’s. I remember him walking to work playing a flute with a half dozen big huskies and malamute dogs following him enjoying the music!”
I think it is fair to say that by and large, emotional expressiveness is a genetic trait. My nature mandates expression. My nature sees the world through the eyes of the romantic. As I reflect on my career in a world dominated by classical thinkers, I now understand the conflict that was always at least on simmer and occasionally eruptive like an active volcano. Let’s now see what nurture has to say about things.
Nurture has quite a bit to say about several things. This section on nurture is more content rich but that does not mean its contribution is any higher. I am merely able to provide more detail as I write from a life lived in my environment. Too start, when it comes to music, by my mom and dad’s own admission, any draw to musical instruments little, if any, credit goes to them. They did support my interest in music as I touched on in Part Four.
Very much like my biological grandmother, Elvira, my mom has always been drawn to journaling. In the years following her brain aneurysm, my mom would often write how she was feeling. Over the years, I would stumble over a few notebooks lying around and would thumb through them. The words I read were heart wrenching. Her prose and poetry would be short, rarely an entire page. The words left no doubt of her sometimes sense of both helplessness and hopelessness. I was aware that she battled challenges with depression in the aftermath of her aneurysm. Somehow and for some reason, which for both, I haven’t a clue, I compartmentalized what I read and never brought it up. I guess I figured that was then and this is now.
Because my mom and I were in sync on curiosity, we were often more candid in conversation than I was with my dad. I will get to that in a minute. My mom’s curiosity would sometimes be about the most mundane and trivial things, in my opinion, but I could always appreciate the heck out of it even while rolling my eyes.
My mom is also an extraordinarily compassionate human being. She is not vengeful in the least. I provide the background for this in the book version of One’s Origins but in 1974 an incident occurred to our family, specifically my brother (he was five), where awarded damages could have easily surpassed seven figures, but all we asked for was that the best of care and treatment be paid in full. Beyond that would be nothing more than revenge. More recently, her wallet was stolen while she was at an appointment. The thief was caught days later and arraigned. All my mom wanted were prayers for the person who stole her wallet. My mom was more saddened by the life one must live to have to resort to theft. She vehemently stood against going after the weaker and more disadvantaged among us. Is it any wonder that I never got beyond level one of office political games? I grew up learning that taking advantage of people who are less fortunate is simply wrong.
Unfortunately, the closeness my mom and I share, has not always been a walk in the park, especially for her. My mom was as many times too often the receiver of the brunt of some of my flare-ups. Too often, it was my patience that would be too quickly exhausted, and if she was in the room, I did not hold back my frustrations. I am ashamed to admit that if nearly anyone else was present, I would have held back. What a crappy way for a grown man to treat anyone but for the love we all hold dear, certainly not his own mother who is in her 80s; who, with his dad, chose him as their first adopted child.
Allowing myself to be more conscious of how I feel I am becoming actively vigilant against such things happening ever again. I still often stumble, and sometimes hard. But this vigilance I must keep practicing.
What about a boy and his dad? That’s no less instructive, I assure you. My dad grew up with his own issues as we all have. Self-esteem was often a challenge for him due in large part to the environment in which he was raised. He was the youngest of five in a family that was often too busy operating the family dairy home delivery business to address his childhood emotional needs. On Father’s Day a few years ago, I called him in the morning to wish him a happy Father’s Day and apologized that other events that weekend precluded me from making the two-and-a-half-hour one-way trip to visit him. He was weeping, which is something I haven’t heard him do since our family dog died when I was five years old. I asked him what was wrong, and he shared with me that he had no recollection of hearing either of his parents tell him they loved him. For the first time in my life I heard my dad speak a word of anything he was missing from his childhood. It was beautiful and I was not prepared for it. Nor was I prepared for what happened next. He told me how much he loved me, my brother Andrew and my mom. It was the first time I recall hearing him utter the words, “I love you.” With all my might I was holding myself together long enough to tell him I know he loves me and that I love him too. We hung up and I just sat there and immediately began to cry.
My dad was born in 1930 the year after the world fell into The Great Depression. His most formative years that would cement his world view for his entire life were spent in a decade where everything material was scarce, very scarce. Conservationism was, for all intents and purposes, his religion. As a child, this conservationist mentality was difficult for me to understand because I did not witness it much in other families. As a child, I internalized this as a shortcoming for which I somehow felt ashamed. As I got older, I began feel ashamed for feeling ashamed. Somebody stop the shame train! I gotta get off this thing. There is nothing at all to be ashamed about. In fact, I am both proud and grateful for “inheriting” a conservationist mindset from my dad. He was never a man of many resources, but he was resourceful. To borrow from the oft told fable, my dad never had many fish at once, but he knew how to fish, and he knew how to get the most out of each fish he did catch. Much more importantly however, he was grounded in understanding which fish were necessary and which were not. The lesson I learned was a catch of 10 fish was just as respectable as a catch of 100 fish or even 1,000 fish, as long as you knew that 10 fish is all you needed to provide the necessities in life. To this day I find myself conserving resource so they last as long as possible. In Part Twenty-one I will explain further how this has been critical for One Origins. For now, let me just say, “Thanks Dad!”
My mom and I have always been able to chat about many things but my dad and I rarely, if ever, got below the surface of anything when I was younger. This journey has helped shepherd me to a place where I can stand with him and love him for the man he is and all he sacrificed for me and not stand against him as the man whose dream I felt obligated to fulfill.
My relationship with my parents is not the only one benefiting from this experience. My relationship with Andrew is growing richer, at least through my eyes. He and I drifted down along the river in the same boat together as children and young adults. He came into a home with three inhabitants. He was hit from three sides with environmental influences, not the least of which was me who, early on, predictably saw him as a competitor for my Mom and Dad’s attention and affection. I squandered some opportunities to step up and be the best big brother I could have been for him when I was living recklessly many years ago. This means nothing at all for the opportunities to be there for him in the years ahead.
My conclusion as to who I am by nature and who am I by nurture is less complex than I might have imagined. In my paternal bloodline is an affinity for creative expression. I am an emotional being. By nurture, I am also an emotional being but one who pursued paths where artistic expressiveness was not particularly valued. My nurture put me on my life’s path. I am product of my past experiences as much as I am a product of my genetics.
“In the real world there is no nature vs. nurture argument, only an infinitely complex and moment-by-moment interaction between genetic and environmental effects.”
― Gabor Maté
I have been winding down One’s Origins examining my relationships with the world at large, followed by my most immediate influences. In Part Twenty-One, I will conclude One’s Origins with a fresh examination of the relationship I now have with myself. It is this relationship alone that defines every other relationship I have with all other beings. See you there!