I am a sophomore in high school. Recently in biology we have been learning about DNA. I know you’re just a counselor, not a scientist, but if fruit flies have to be a certain way because of that DNA stuff, what about us humans? My Dad’s no good, and my Mom tries hard with all of us, but I still don’t want to grow up and be exactly like her. You said you have been a counselor for a long time. Do you think the children have to grow up to be like the parents?
Scared of my biology.
Dear Scared L’il Fruit Fly,
The short answer is no. The long answer is: you have to want to be like someone. Or something. Kids from hugely overweight parents may have a genetic pre-disposition for weight gain, but it’s not a freakin’ voodoo curse or something. But, many times means you have something of a handicap that you must work defeat for a long time.One of my early lessons came from a kid who I knew well and had high regard for. This boy’s Mom was a highly strung, prescription eatin’ woman. She seemed predisposed to being extremely tightly wound and having extremely poor problem resolution skills. “Danny” was fifteen when I first met him. He was my very first "cutter", although he kept it a secret from me for six or seven months. When I saw the cuts I told him, “You know, as your mom's ripoff insurance isn't paying for me, so my charge is you teaching me about cutting”. He very reluctantly walked me through the last incident and I realized it wasn't “making a statement” about his lousy life, IT WAS A TRANQUILIZER! As he cut, he became calmer and calmer. We worked diligently together, and he finally discovered new methods of calming down. When I talked to him a few years ago (he's in his thirties now), he called to rage about a terrible incident(s) that happened to someone dear to him. I called him back the next day to ask if he had been drinking last night, and he said yes. I reminded him that his massively dysfunctional father, of who he broke off contact with years ago, was a very heavy drinker. When I asked him if drinking was the new cutting, he began to cry. Now, years later, he has two issues to work on: learning new strategies of calming yourself down properly AND consciously working at defeating the call of your genetics. The call of genetics seems to be somewhat inconsistent. Sometimes it's fantastically powerful, and sometimes it's hardly visible. The counselor-type question that you pose is this: are we destined to follow our genetic code, or do we have a choice? Everyone will say we have a choice, but is that true? How do we defeat genes that point us toward a sad life like those that came before us?
First and foremost, we need to evaluate our lives and decide upon a philosophy of life. Are we OK just living from day to day, with nothing ever really changing or improving in our lives, or do we set out to challenge ourselves in order to get better at almost everything? Even with set backs, can we continue to move forward to improve our lives? My great friend Jack was pretty uncoordinated in sixth grade. While many of us would put on our baseball gloves and easily toss the ball around, Jack was a lousy catch. Everyone at that age who was poor at something would find something else to do. Jack was the single exception. Day after day, even being the last one chosen for various teams, he would join us in our daily ball games. Despite his lack of sports popularity, he persevered. I had completely forgotten those days until, a few years ago when, during a visit from my now distant friend, I watched him in our backyard tossing the ball around with my 30 year old son. I was shocked by the old lost memory of his “stubbornness”, and subsequent success.
A 16 year old angrily proclaimed, “my Dad’s a terrible father. He screams at all of us kids, and punches my mother”. When I asked him what he was on juvenile probation for, he said it was for beating down a kid at school who had pissed him off. I looked at him, raised an eyebrow with an expression of, “awww, isn’t that cute? Like father like son”. He hadn’t even considered the connection before. I saw him working downtown about four years later, and he pulled me aside to tell me he and his wife were expecting their first child. He continued, “I’ve still got a temper, but I’m working on it all the time. No way my kid is gonna see the same crap I did. Man, this is the hardest I’ve ever worked in my life”. As I was shaking paws goodbye, I congratulated him while reminding him that the work is never over. This also translates into our successes are also never over.
Nowadays when I work with my multitude of teens with drug-infested parents, I inform them of our potential genetic danger. Although it’s not guaranteed, we’d be stupid to not be aware of it. Little stoner teens proclaim they’ll never use “dope” (the new term for meth). They are more than surprised when I inform them that not all teens enjoy getting drunk or stoned. That could mean they have an increased sensitivity to altered states. They might get more pleasure from the drug high than other kids due to their weird genetics. If so, and drug tastes “mature” over time, meth may be in the future mix. Certainly too much alcohol is predictable.
So step two seems obvious: never let your guard down. Just because you’re OK at 22 doesn’t mean the genetic monster doesn’t awaken in times of crisis at 31. If you need guidance, seek out a therapist that carries credibility with you. Know what you are going to do instead of letting your genetics decide for you. Cop an attitude about being forced to do something against your will. Genetics is not your master. Dream of greatness: as a parent, as a spouse, as a permanent friend, as a hard worker. Always work towards not merely defeating crappy genetics, but in becoming a significant human being.
In conclusion, the long answer is also no.