I’m my father’s daughter. At least that’s what my mother would remind me of when we’d get into spats during my teenage years. She’d say I was like members of his side of the family in fact. The last time I recall ever seeing my father, I was seven years old. It was Christmas and he was enjoying his new family when my half-sister decided to bring me along for a visit to his home. Before that, I hadn’t seen him in years and the only thing that stood out about that reunion was that he called me by my full name like a greeting in a Jane Austen novel. He died when I was about eleven years old and other than my half-sister, I have no connection with my father’s side of the family. Needless to say, with memories like these, you can imagine the self-evaluation that commenced when my mother would say I behaved like these people I didn’t really know. I supposed it could have been out of anger and bias. After all, she had no qualms about reminding of how “the fruit don’t fall too far from the tree” when she’d approve of my behavior. However, I couldn’t help but feel like there was truth to all of it.
In Psychology, it is argued that we are born with tabula rasa or a blank slate on which we develop our personalities out of experience. The other side of that argument is innatism, meaning people are born with personality traits inherited from the genes passed on by parents. The truth is that brain development is hard to predict and measure considering the evidence of both sides. I’ve certainly witnessed people who quite obviously take after their elders in every way while others could almost pass for being adopted. Even more complex examples would be those who take after ancestors but are altered by experience. So it bears the question: Where is the line drawn?
In my experience, like many fatherless daughters, I went looking for love in the all the wrong ways often finding myself in a vicious cycle of poor choices and abandonment. I found myself blaming his desertion for my lack of direction and self-esteem. I wondered if he suffered from a troubled past that led him to make his poor choices or if it was innate somehow. The questions I’d never get to ask him crippled me and, to add insult to injury, I later found out things about my parent’s love story that suggests I’m even more like my mother than I realized. To my surprise, my self-assured mother was also looking for love in all the wrong ways when she stumbled across my father. She was a daddy’s girl and my Papa, a good man but had his vices, struggled with alcohol which eventually led to my grandparent’s divorce and somewhat of an absence in my mother’s life. I imagine this had an effect on who she became. I sometimes hate to admit it, but I guess the fruit doesn’t fall too far from the tree.
From science, experience, and observation I have developed my own theory. I think there is an aspect of us that begins with a blank slate which is our innocence; our untainted sense of optimism and imagination. We will be influenced in the best ways and the worst. No one’s slate remains clean for we could not grow if it did. Naturally, with experience filtered by influence and a touch of ancestry, we will form a sense of Self and become who we are, an ever-changing state determined by choices. Because of choice, we continued to become. I do not think about the past as I once did and I did not envision my future as I do now. With this in mind, I am assured that while I share my parent’s proclivities and am a product of my environment, I am also whoever I choose to be. Namaste.