Thursday, 17 June 2010

On Family

Before I get started, I want to check something. I had far too much time on my hands last night, and decided to rename some old posts. It wasn't necessary and I probably should have just let sleeping dogs lie, but I went steaming in anyway. I really hope that changing the posts didn't fire them all back into your feeds or reading lists - I did ask Google if it would first, but I didn't completely trust its answer [this once - normally Google's word is law] and have been fretting about it all day. I promise I won't do it again. Anyway...

I was reminded today of the phrase 'the whole is greater than the sum of its parts'. Oddly, my mental wandering was triggered by ripping the back of my jeans under my [brilliant] shoes. Of all the genetic traits I inherited from my father, you see, the one that's most often referred to is my short legs. It's something for which I'm most angry with him. It's almost impossible to find trousers that fit properly - and too often my [amazing] shoes are overshadowed by ruined jeans.

When I eventually arrived home, leaving shreds of denim in my wake, I found two of my mum's friends in the living room. This wasn't a problem in itself, they were invited and didn't break in, but it meant I had to prepare my stock response for what has now become a generic, predictable greeting:

"Oooh, don't you look like your mum."

Yes, yes I do. It's true, but that doesn't make it any less boring to hear. Please, ask me about my job, the weather, tell me you like my shoes - try and mix it up a bit for crying out loud. However, I can't deny the fact that they are 100% correct, I am definitely my mother's son.

My mum's father is Irish, and I've only met the Irish side of the family once - when I was a wee lad of seventeen. When I first met them, it was like falling into a room full of different versions of me; some male, some female, some old and some young. I've inherited from her (and them, I suppose) freckles, dark hair and pale skin. Further evidence of my mother's Irish genes is found in the 'McGinley flick' (pictured above) - an eyebrow flick that is impossible to correct or hide. The female clan-members pluck their eyebrows but I've decided to wear it with pride, despite the fact that it does make my eyebrow look rather unruly. Add to this the fact that it's only on one bloody eyebrow and it makes my whole face look asymmetrical.

Anyway, onwards to the point; these (non-)events have given me an odd feeling. These are two examples of things I've inherited from my parents - things that they, in all probability, inherited from one of their parents. I feel like the sum of many parts - as if different aspects of different people, passed down through generation after generation, can still be found in me. It's a comforting thought, I think. You could completely lose touch with your family but you'd never be able to cast them aside as they are, to an extent, part of you. What's gone before informs the present. Relatives and ancestors you will never have the chance to meet have given something to what you have become; a patchwork quilt of hundreds of annoying traits, physical features, likes and dislikes.

I know a lot of it depends on upbringing; that genealogy cannot account for everything about me - and I don't mean to imply that the person you become is dictated by your family or ancestry - you can of course change the person you are. But I do like the feeling that I'm linked to all those people who form part of my family tree; that I share something with them. Perhaps there was once a Victorian chimney sweep who was pleased to have short legs as they made him less likely to get stuck, or a suffragette too busy campaigning for the female vote to pluck her eyebrow flick. And then, hundreds of years later, some poor bastard combines the two and is left with ripped jeans and a wonky face.


  1. Brilliant:) Your philosophical thoughts are fun to read, and they make me think too:)

  2. My mother always tells me that I do certain things exactly like my father--like the looks I giver her or little sounds that I make when I'm bored. This is really creepy to me because my parents divorced when I was 3 and I've spent almost no time with my father over the 26 years I've been alive. That kind of thing makes me want to learn more about genetics.

    Also, even though I'm completely unrelated to you, I think I have a bit of that eyebrow thing going on.

  3. Haha! Ripped jeans and a wonky face. Like it. And actually, your funky eyebrow gives you character. Maybe that's a stock response, too? Joke.

    I do agree with you actually. I never used to think that way (i.e. that my looks etc. are derived from the physical traits of members of my ancestry) because I always thought it would be so diluted. But some very dominant traits do stick around.

    Having a trait from someone I've never met was a little bitter sweet for me. Neither of my parents have red hair and we think it comes from my dad's side. I do love my hair colour, infact I wish I was more red! Hence the sweet. But before my youngest brother 4 years my junior came along also having red hair, the bitter came in the form of my dad calling me 'ginge' (lovingly of course) and my mom telling me my real mother was a redheaded female on the cover of an LP (wish I could remember her name?!). They were nice parents really lol.

    I feel like I always tell you a big long-ass story in your comments. I'm sorry!

  4. So true! What we become as a person is not always dictated by our family. We are the captain of our own souls.

    I love your new header :D

  5. haha Why do people seem to think its a good idea to tell us how much we look like our parents?? Even if my mom was Heidi Klum I still wouldn't want to hear it...well, okay maybe I would.

  6. @ Alexandra - I do my best - still can't believe you make it to the end without nodding off though!

    @ Amber - Exactly! That's exactly what I was getting at. And I suppose the things you do like your father can't have been picked up through upbringing, so there must be loads of things we do that come from people we've never met. It's bizarre. And the eyebrow - maybe we should start a club to raise awareness?

    @ Gingerella - I like long comments. I like all comments. I'm a comment-slut. My parents were the same - me and my brother look nothing alike so my dad used to tell people I was the milkman's.

    @ Mish - I know, I love it too. I especially like the person reading on the Wheel. 'Captain of our own souls' - that's a good way of putting it!

    @ Kisekae - Okay...maybe if your mum was Heidi Klum...I bet she doesn't have a stupid eyebrow flick.

  7. T,

    This may be one of my favourite posts written by you.

    I relate to it so very much.

    I don't know if it's because I didn't really grow up anywhere near them, but I'm only very fond of my little family- my parents and my brother. No real connection to the past...and I'm OK with that. I have a slightly complicated dynamic with my extended family.

    I also don't know if it's because I live in a different country, but I feel especially connected to my family now- more so than when I used to live at home. Although, that was last when I was 17, so whatever.

    I have my mother's eyes and my mother's nose.. well, mine's a bit wonky from when I broke it, but still. I do think I have more of my father's spirit though, so that's pretty awesome.

    May I just say? That flick you're so concerned about? It's interesting. Shh.

    My family tree is full of self-important cows and a bunch of family secrets that everyone and their neighbourhood gossip knows, so not too fussed about being a bit disconnected from it all ;)

    xx r.

  8. Short legs, thick eyebrows, pale skin, and wonky face-- I think we're related. But my eyes are Asiany. We're probably like 56th-degree relatives. What do you think???

  9. I agree with Alexandra :)

    Well,I inherited bad hair genes.And I totally blame my dad's side o' the fam for that!

    Love your new header btw :)

  10. @ Risha - I'm glad you can relate. I do worry that I spiral off into nonsense so it's always nice to hear that people get it! It's interesting that you feel more connected now you're away. When I lived abroad I came back paranoid that everyone hated me.

    @ Gnetch - without doubt. There can be no other explanation. So...second cousins 50-times removed?

    @ Sweta - I love my new header too. It's my favourite thing at the moment. At least you can comb or cut your hair. My legs will be short forever. Woe.