Fandango’s Provocative Question #43

Fandango’s question this week is nature versus nurture, a frequently asked but never entirely answered question. I was personally firmly in the “nurture” camp for many years. I simply didn’t see how our genetics could be responsible for so much of our behavior.

The question:

Over the years, I’ve done a lot of studying about this and it turns out that much more of “who we are” is based on our genetic makeup than on our “training.” Training is like a very thin shell. It tells us how to behave. How to act in a social situation.

This shell doesn’t tell us who we are. That thin exterior aspect of us is personality while inside,  the yolk and the white are mostly DNA and genes. We may “act like” one parent and “be” like another. Our “guts” so to speak are powered by a double helix which defines our intelligence, our bones, our muscles, our ability to focus, our tenacity, our ability to deal with pain. Our willingness to put up with disappointment and failure. Stubbornness. Flexibility. The speed at which our minds work. The shape of our heart and our immune system.

These aren’t things we define as “personality,” but they are the fundamentals that make us who we are. We can look like anyone in our family tree and BE nothing like them. We can BE just like them and look entirely different.

No, I didn’t want to believe it either, but study after study after study has shown the same thing: the “face” we show to the world is mostly nurturing, but what is inside us is almost entirely nurture. You don’t have to argue the point with me. All those studies are available online these days.

Talent tends to be inherited. Our willingness to fight for what we believe is handed down. It may not “look” the same, but functionally, is IS the same.

Too confusing?

I’m confused too, but over the years I have come to believe it. Even when I don’t like what it tells me is true. Even when the resemblance is to someone I don’t much like and who I would like to not be associated with.

As for elaboration, I got a lot of my mental tenacity from my father, who I loathed and I got absolutely none of my mother’s ability to enjoy sports. My mother was very physical, very active, very ‘just do it.’ I’m almost the exact opposite — except mentally, maybe.

I was nothing like my brother, except if you scratched the skin, we were very similar. Different manners, similar reasons for being who we were. My sister and I were nothing alike, but we had the identical voice and vocal patterns.

Our helix is very complicated and we carry strong inherited traits often from very long ago. Nothing is ever simple.

MIRRORED IMAGES – Marilyn Armstrong

DNA is a funny thing. It doesn’t kick in all at the same time. That’s why, as a toddler, you can be the spitting image of dad, but by the time you’re 30, you look like a clone of your maternal grandmother. When you are old, you look in the mirror and say … “Mom??” Because she died years ago, yet there she is. Alive. In you.

We carry the physical imprint of our ancestors. It’s obvious and visible.

Less evident are the emotional footprints left in our psyches. Positive and negative, our parents and many others change us, leave bits of themselves behind for us to absorb. Good and ill. Relationships and marriages we should have skipped. Friends who were there for us in our darkest hours and those who weren’t. The doctor who took our case when we had no money or insurance. The one who botched the surgery and left us hanging out to die. It’s all there, imprinted in the way we see the world and react to it.

We are such untidy packages, made up of bits and pieces. Funny and sad, honest and untruthful. Self-pitying and brave. Lazy, yet determined. No one is of a single piece. No one is all good, all bad, all anything except all human.

Me? Today’s me is much changed from the young, idealist who planned to fix the world. Now I know I won’t fix it. I try to make a few little tweaks here and there, but the big bad world needs to look at younger souls to get the job done. Assuming the job can be done and assuming anyone has the power and will to give it a go.

I sound shockingly like my mother. My opinions, my way of expressing them. I thought she was so cynical, so lacking in faith. She made me crazy and I loved her anyway … and now, I am her.

The plain-spoken way she had of saying what she meant without bothering to pretty it up or disguise it with polite protestations. And the tenacity. Like a dog with a bone, she never let go and neither do I. Whatever it is, I worry it to death. It gets me into trouble. With everyone.

Yet I wouldn’t change it. It is my most useful and least pleasant character trait. It’s abrasive and annoying, but it’s the thing I appreciate most in me and which has best served me professionally (less so personally).

SeidenFamily 1963
The whole famdamily. I’m the one with rolled up jeans.

My fuse is too short (dad), but usually under control (mom), except when it isn’t (dad). My humor rarely fails me (mom) and being able to see the funny side of disaster is a saving grace in a life fraught with crises. Arthritis makes it hard for me to do much (I think I have an entire family tree to thank for that piece of DNA). The cancer is plain scary (mom, brother, grandma, grandpa) and the heart disease (dad, you just never stop giving do you?) is an unpleasant surprise. I didn’t get a really healthy package to work with. I can’t seem to fix things as fast as they break down.

Intellectual curiosity? Definitely mom. Passion for books? Mom again. Ability to tell a funny story? Okay dad, you get a point on that one. All those jokes you told over the years … gads, I’m still telling some of them. They were hoary 50 years ago, no less now. And dad, thanks for this great line. I still use it:

“It isn’t what you don’t know that’ll get you. It’s what you do know that’s wrong.” — Albert Friedman, terrible father, great salesman.

For everyone who gave me a piece of themselves to carry along this strange path called life, I give a hearty: “Thanks. I think.”

WHEN DO I LOOK LIKE ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Considering one thing and another, I have always been sure I could not possibly be related to the people who raised me. I suspect everyone, especially as a child, is sure they are a misplaced orphan. Sadly, there was always one problem from which I could never escape.

I look just like them. Both of them. They didn’t look alike, so how could this be?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Apparently, you change as you age. So you can look exactly like dad when you’re three, but exactly like mom when you’re sixty. Periodically, depending on how the genetic package rolls, you can resemble one or the other — or both  — at any given point in time.

I used to look like my father, but I got older. Now, look like my mother.

I wonder if I’ll ever look like me? Whatever that means.

I know nothing about what brought me into the world any more than I know what will take me out. Probably, that’s just as well. I think I lack curiosity about my fate which others apparently have a strong need to know. I never felt any serious desire to research my ancestry or get my DNA checked. When I did it, it was a fun birthday present for Garry and I.

What was, is. What will be, will occur. I’m not in charge and never was. I am okay enjoying as much of the now as I can while I’m still part of it.

Yet, every now and then, I wonder if it’s possible I was actually put here by a transiting starcraft. An intergalactic seed dropped from the sky that somehow, wound up in this world. In this peculiar place. A bit of pollen falling from a drifting craft on its way to somewhere in an infinite beyond.

It could be true.

FEELING A BIT WAN – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Thursday – WAN

After yesterday’s doctor visit, having to go to yet another doctor seems like charging up the same hill — and there’s a guy at the top with a machine gun. Nonetheless, gotta do it. I still don’t know where to put my head. I feel like I carry poisonous genes and have passed them down the line.

But, speaking of wan, I’m still in the process of trying to work my way out of anemia — the last of the repairable issues on my medical agenda. I’ve actually found an iron pill that seems to work and doesn’t make me ill. I’m not taking enough of it, I know, but it beats out the nothing I was taking before.

I’m beginning to really resent DNA.

Junco and I think a House Finch

Isn’t what you inherit supposed to be a sort of grab-bag? You get some of the stuff, but not ALL of it? Because I seem to have collected everything and be in the process of passing it along.

The good news? Yesterday’s doctor seemed to think that I didn’t look particularly anemic now. My gums have stopped being pale and that’s a good sign. Now all I have to do is worry whether or not I’ve managed to pass everything along to another generation. Or two.

So feeling wan? Literally and figuratively. At the same time!

Are We All Related?

We ALL came from Africa. No, really. Every human being on earth came from Africa. Even Republicans.


Each one of us shares a common ancestor in our family tree, and according to math, this person lived only around 3000 years ago. Even though we have no idea who that person is, we are basically related. WHAT’S UP, COUSINS?!


Video via – It’s Okay To Be Smart
Further Readings And References @ JSTOR, ASHG and Nature

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It was my anniversary present — from me to we. I am not searching for my ancestors  because I more or less know who they were. Interesting, not fascinating. Not the kind of things you write very long saga tales about. More, I was curious about the very ancient ancestors — the Neanderthals and other early humans and what, if anything, do they have to do with me and mine?

Turns out, I still don’t know. Because MyHeritage DNA doesn’t tell you any of that. Nothing. If you want that information, you have to go somewhere else and search, or pay a lot of money to MyHeritage for the opportunity to connect with people who are at most, very mildly interested in your existence. To be fair, I didn’t feel all that excited about it either. But I was curious, so I paid the money and got nothing much.

We sent them our DNA and discovered what we already knew. Garry is widely mixed with European and African ancestors and I am Jewish. Very Jewish. As far as MyHeritage is concerned, back to the dawn of time which is illogical because no one was anything to the dawn of time. Otherwise, there wasn’t a surprise in the package.

I am almost entirely Ashkenazi with a wee bit of Sephardi and a hint of Baltic — probably the guy no one talks about. I had been hoping for something more entertaining and certainly more information. Some minimal analysis would have been a nice touch. What we got were numbers and a map. No analysis. Not even a summary paragraph. Nor reference material or links or anything to work with.

Garry was more entertaining than me, but not exactly shocking. We knew about his Irish grandparents. We expected — and found — lots more Europeans and many more Africans, almost equally mixed. And we expected that. Garry’s DNA is a broad brush across Europe and Africa.

Garry even has a 1.7% Ashkenazi Jewish in there (maybe we’re related?) … and a 2.1% Middle Eastern component. I, on the other hand, am Jewish. Except for that tiny bit of Baltic. So where does my weird B+ blood type come from?

I was disappointed. The results are skimpy. Within the limits of what they did, I suppose they are accurate — but it doesn’t feel like they did anything much. No depth to this material and the lack of any kind of analysis? Really? If you want real information, they want a lot more money. But if this is all the information they can retrieve from the DNA, more money isn’t going to get us deeper analysis. To get deeper analysis, you’d need deeper information gathering and that’s missing. What they really want to do is run your family tree information against other family trees to look for matches. If that’s what you want, join You’ll get more information there.

They offer links to “relatives” here, but if you want to get in touch with them, that costs more. Of course.  There were more links for me than for Garry, but that’s because Ashkenazi Jews are closely related and have been studied more than most groups. Otherwise, the information MyHeritageDNA gets seems more dependent on how much data you give them than anything they retrieve from your DNA.

MyHeritageDNA doesn’t dig for information. If what you are looking for is something that will agree with what you know, this might be just what you need. If you are looking for a deeper or broader understanding of your ancestral history … well … this ain’t it. 23andMe gets better reviews for about the same price. gets reviews just like this one, but provides nominally more analysis of results — but at a price.

Of course, any analysis would be more than I got. Also, there a very new one called Insitome DNA Test Kit: Neanderthal Genetic Traits Profile (Ancestry) powered by Helix which sounds potentially interesting. But I’m not paying up front again. Once was enough.

Inheritance. Now I know that I already knew it. Whoo hoo!


The mysteries of life in the DNA helix have grabbed my attention.

Ever since I dove into the science of DNA — as opposed to “I’m looking for my family,” I’ve been fascinated about how it works.

I always figured we got half our “stuff” from mom, the other half from dad. How it mixed up was like the big bag of goodies on Santa’s back. You got your portion — and who you looked like? Well … it might depend on the day, year, light … and all of that.

I was right. But I wasn’t entirely right because there is a good deal more to it than that. As a start, we only get a 50-50 split between both parents in theory. In actuality, we may get much more from one parent than the other — a lot more DNA from one parent than the other.  We me get even more from our grandparents, who in theory only contribute 25% to our make up but this stuff doesn’t come in neat, divisible piles.

“Y0u look exactly like your grandmother” isn’t just something people say. You may really look exactly like your grandmother because all those alleles that make you look like you do came from her batch of DNA. It’s why siblings may look very different from each other — unless they are twins, of course. It’s why short little me has a 6 foot 4 inch son and he has a 5 foot tall daughter.

Tall brother, short me — and very short sister. Blond brother and sister. Dark-haired me. Green-eyed siblings and me with the big brown eyes. Tone-deaf brother (like father). Musical mother, sister and me. My son looked like a photocopy of his father when he was a toddler. By the time he hit his teens, he was a dead-ringer for me. Except right now, he looks remarkably like his father again … unless you see him from the side, in which case — it’s me again.

How can that be? How can we look like very different people at different times of our lives or for that matter, like two very different people at the same time?

It’s because all your DNA doesn’t kick in at the same time. That’s why blond babies end up with brown hair and dark-haired people end up with white hair. You quite probably did look like dad when you were three, but you are the spitting image of your mother by the time you’re forty and who know who you look like in old age? Different parts of the big helix takes charge during different life stages. I had wildly kinky-curly hair as a girl. Which went straight by the time I was seventeen and has stayed that way.

The same thing happened to my granddaughter. She casually said “Oh, I don’t have to straighten it anymore. It’s just went straight.” Right on time, too. It’s a late teens thing, apparently. Meanwhile, before I was 30, my hair was half gray and white by the time I was 50. Now, it’s getting a little browner again. Different DNA kicks in and things change.

If that’s not a mystery, what is?

Even with all of the things we’ve learned about DNA over the past couple of decades, there’s so much more we don’t know. Like … how does personality attach to the “how we look” segments? I always looked like my father by coloring, though the rest of my face looks more like mom. My brother looked just like my mother until one day he looked exactly like his father.

Do things like criminality, high intelligence, patience, restlessness, high energy … do these come as part and parcel of our appearance? Are they separate? Is there such a thing as “looks like a good guy? or looks like a bad guy?” Surely some portion of our traits come out of the helix, but the rest must be at least affected by environment, right? We have long since learned that environment is not the only thing that turns us into fully formed people and more than half of us is hooked onto our DNA but that can’t be all of it. So, how much of how we relate to our DNA is based on the lives we live?

So many questions and not nearly enough answers. For the time being, I’m locked into trying to figure out how this works. Garry and I have both “discovered” family … but it’s so many generations back — at least 4 — that whoever they are, they aren’t terribly relevant to ourselves right now.

Unless they have a huge heaps of money are coincidentally looking for nice people to whom they can give it. If that’s so, please … over here! We could use a little help!

I’m sorry if this sounds too complicated, but it isn’t. It’s really an explanation of why we don’t necessarily look like a combination of mom and dad and might instead look like Uncle Jim or Granny. Why your brother looks nothing like you and your son is a full head and a half taller than you, but your granddaughter is a lot shorter.

DNA isn’t evenly or neatly divided. We get all the stuff from parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and what we look like — and act like — can be a pretty wild combination of all the people who are part of our ancestry. All of them … all the way back to Africa, from which we all emerged.