Valentines Day 2011: Genes, Family, Love and, of Course, Dogs
I never grew up with really warm and fuzzy feelings for my grandfather. The strained relationship was more than just a matter of not clicking. It was more an issue of two head strong people who were so sure they were in the right, the other person had to be wrong.
When I first began complaining about him to my mother, she tried to convince me he had a lot of great qualities. And, if I look at the matter objectively, I can see that he did. As a child growing up in Oregon, he and my grandmother made sure that, even in their seventies, they travelled from Michigan to visit us twice a year. No matter what. Even after my uncle died in a plane crash, they still made the trip via air at times, which I now realize was extremely hard on them.
And when it came to matters of giving gifts of money or material possessions, he went beyond the call of duty to be fair.
But when it came to matters of who he respected and held in high regards, I never measured up. Not because I wasn’t smart or determined. I was both. What I didn’t have was the ability to keep my mouth shut, a natural respect for my elders or, most importantly, a Y chromosome. And nothing was ever going to change that. And therefore, nothing was going to change about my relationship with him. Or so I thought.
But time and perspective have a way of altering our views. Admittedly, when my grandfather died of Alzheimer’s in 1998, my relationship with him hadn’t changed. But now in my mid-forties, I’ve bumped along the path of life long enough to accept some of the hard lessons it teaches.
And one of the toughest for me was recognizing how much I am like my grandfather.
Granted, I think I could teach him a thing or two about tolerance and about not taking life too seriously, but other than that? I’m definitely his granddaughter. No doubt about it. I’m no scientist, but I have no question that the helix of DNA he passed on to me carried the genes for being outspoken, strong-willed, and impatient. That same blue print is also completely missing the genes for being calm, detached and deferential.
I may not care about the same things he cared about, but I don’t think that matters. At least not to me. Granted, my conservative grandfather is probably rolling over in his grave at some of my beliefs and loyalties, but that’s all right. What’s shaped my passions and values isn’t part of the DNA. I get those from my life experiences and the choices I’ve made.
But in remembering my grandfather, I realize there was one passion we shared. And, even though there may be no scientific proof, I’m pretty sure it is an inherited trait. I’m positive that there is a gene for undying love and compassion for animals, particularly dogs.
I know my rigid, self-controlled grandfather was beholden to the pull of the “dog gene.” His absolute adoration of dogs above people is only matched by my own. When my children or husband comment about how I love dogs more than I love them, I smile. I know I should be denying it, but instead, I think of my grandfather: a man who would fly or even drive a couple thousand miles to visit his daughter and grandchildren. Or so everyone else thought.
But even as a young girl, I knew differently. When he and my grandmother would arrive at our house, it wasn’t me or my brother that would make his face light up. It was the sight of our lab/German Short hair mix, Charlie Brown, that would make his eyes twinkle and his usually stern mouth break into a smile. And, if you look back through family photo albums, I think there are more pictures of grandfather with Charlie Brown than there with any of the rest of us.
I never saw my grandfather get enthusiastic about much, but he was always enthusiastic about animals. And even though a lot of things about my grandfather bothered me,that never did. And now I know why.
Because I was exactly like him. I still am. And, now, I appreciate all the traits he passed on to me.
Now, on this Valentine’s Day when we are supposed to let those we love know, I don’t have the opportunity to tell my grandfather what I’ve learned. That I loved his passion for animals, and, after all these years, I know I also loved him for that passion… not as much as I love my dog, but I still loved him.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Grandpa.