Our dad columnist discusses the good, the bad...and the ugly, of babies
It's true, your baby really is one of a kind. But what makes them the way they are? Sam Cummins discusses the good, the bad, and the uncle Gary.
Mazel Tov, and wow, look – it’s Mendel’s peas made real!
Like sourdough and gut health, the subject of genetics rears it’s pointy head with semi-regularity as new discoveries are made, and on a personal level, there’s nothing like the arrival of a little human to really take you back to your fifth form biology class.
Now back to the baby. Your beautiful, perfect creation is most likely made up of over 20,000 genes within 46 chromosomes. Or, more accurately, 23 pairs of chromosomes; each pair delivering one from Mum and one from Dad. (Special shout-out to the babies who have 45 or even 47 chromosomes, you’re perfect and beautiful too!).
You don’t have to have a PhD in maths to realise that’s an incredible amount of possible permeations – 64 trillion apparently.
My wife and I have four sons. Three blond, one full ginger. The ginger hair is a trait controlled by a single recessive gene – and you need two for it to be a sure bet. One tall, one short; from teeth to toes, there are too many similarities and differences in our boys to list. And this is before you throw personality and temperament into the mix as well.
I can’t even imagine how frustrating it must be for actual scientists to hear laymen theorise about genes, particularly epigenetics (which, while I’m sure has some real science behind it, seems to have plenty of room for total quackery). “Yeah, I’m pretty sure my kid helping himself to cookies is because of the lack of sugar his great-great grandmother had during the depression.” Argghh, knock me out now.
On a side note, this doesn’t mean you should blindly trust science or scientists either. If there is anything the last 12 months have taught us, it’s that science is definitely political, and the application of the political is always personal (and before you get any weird ideas, I vaccinate my kids).
But the general consensus is that environment can amplify, turn down or even mute the ways genes express themselves, and this may be most noticeable in how tall you are, how much you weigh and how happy you are. A good example here is height. A running rule is that you take an average of the father's and mother’s height and add two inches for a boy and deduct two inches for a girl. My wife and I have terrible height parity. She’s 5’4” and I’m 6’4” – this gives an average height of 5’10”. In theory, all our boys are genetically programmed to be about six foot, but if they don’t get enough nourishing food, they may only make it to 5’9”. Or maybe they'll have so much food and love they'll all grow to be the next Steven Adams…
There are no hard and fast rules here, and if there were, I’m sure people would be getting sold programmes on how to raise happy, perfectly proportioned people. All I know is that my wife blames any negative behaviour from the kids squarely on my genes, and any positive accomplishments on hers.
Just like anything, reading about how your kid's genes work is going to be way less interesting than seeing it in real life. So enjoy the ride of seeing this little bundle of complex sugars, phosphate and nitrogen blossom into an awesome human, and hopefully they don’t end up looking too much like your uncle Gary (especially if you have a daughter!)
Sam Cummins is a funding and policy manager living in the Bay of Plenty with his wife and four sons. Most of his spare time is spent trying to figure out which of his boys is yelling ‘Dad!’ Often it’s all of them, and all at the same time.
AS FEATURED IN ISSUE 54 OF OHbaby! MAGAZINE. CHECK OUT OTHER ARTICLES IN THIS ISSUE BELOW