Gaetano is my great-great-great-great grandfather. So that means that some of his DNA is still a part of mine. Not much, mind you, for there are 64 people who contributed DNA at that level of my ancestry, but there is a little bit of him in me.
My decision to embark on this story came from a question that I stumbled upon while musing about destiny and DNA and the influence of the past on the present. The question is not new, psychologists have been asking the question about genetics vs. environment on the construction of the personality and of a person’s life. I think the question has been batted about enough, by now, to know that it really does not have an answer. We know that our predispositions are often created by our genetics and then the manifestations are guided by our environment.
On my mother’s side I know the effect of genetics. I carry a mutated gene, MSH2 exon 15 G2575T, and it has produced significant effects in my maternal line. Effects: that is a pretty benign word to describe the havoc that is wreaked on a family by a mutation which predisposes any carrier to a 60-80% chance of colorectal cancer. That one is straight-forward and obvious in its manifestation. There is no question of the effect of genetics.
On my dad’s side, things are more complicated. Yes, just like with my mom’s family tree I can trace patterns on my dad’s side. But the effects are not easy to see, not like tumours and cancer. They are soft, soft like divorce and a tendency to drink too much.
As I grow older and my personality has solidified around the probably unchanging core that is me, I have been able to stand outside of myself and look at what, or who, I have become. Sometimes the observations I make are concerning. And I have, on more than one occasion remarked how much like my dad I see myself become. But, I am not my dad, I am someone else.
And now I look back to the age-old question: are we a product of our genetics or our environment? But I rephrase that in a way that is, perhaps, a bit more dramatic; am I destined to become who I am or can I become someone else?
And so I look back to Gaetano because I want to know him. I want to know him and his wife Littera Greco. I want to know his son Salvatore and his son Giovanni and his son Pietro and his son Francesco and his son Albert. I want to know these men because, in the end I want to know Albert’s son Dennis. And, perhaps in knowing myself I can ensure that I never become who my genetics destined me to to be and so that I can teach the sons of Dennis how to be their own men.