Nature Versus Nurture 8/3/20

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

For my readers tired of hearing about my father, you can probably skip this one. See, by now, my father’s remains have been cremated, and I’m told that by Tuesday, his ashes will be spread without ceremony. As you might imagine, yes, he’s been on my mind a lot of late. What’s more, I’ve been thinking about the fact that I’m the last Bleil standing.

Not really. As it turns out, my distant cousin Bryan is kind of the “Bleil” family gatekeeper. He has done extensive research on the Bleil’s in the US. As it turns out, we’re all related, and our roots all trace back to the same small town in Germany, Erligheim, just south and slightly east of Frankfurt. No, I’ve never been, but I long to go, and will happily take donations to the Send Bleil to Erligheim Not a Real Charity. Your donations are definitely not tax-deductible.

When I say I’m the “last Bleil standing”, I mean that my bloodline name ends with me. I have no brothers, and my father’s only brother died a bachelor without children. It’s really no great loss; it’s a bigger deal to some people than others, but I’ve always taken this “responsibility” with a grain of salt. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always wanted to have children, but I’ve reached a point in my life where I realize that it’s just not meant to be.

But I’ll be honest. Every time I look in the mirror, I see my father. Oh, a different haircut, and he had a broken nose which was something of legend as he never did tell us how it happened, but my facial features very much mimic his. Ours was a rocky relationship to be sure, which means that sometimes it’s rather difficult to look into my mirror and see him staring back at me. Last night he was actually in my dream, and while he was friendly and happy, he was once again criticizing some decision I had made as he famously did. It seems as if I could never do anything right in his eyes, and even today I feel I can never do anything right in my eyes either. I attribute my self-criticism to my father, but is that nature, or is that nurture? Clearly my looks are from my father, but my unattainably high standards?

My branch of Bleil’s has a history of being alone. My grandfather never remarried after he lost my grandmother, and my father never remarried after he lost my mom. My uncle spent his life living with, and eventually taking care of, my grandfather. I should say, though, that my grandfather did start dating a woman about forty years younger, that the family thought was just appalling. It never bothered me; I figured he should spend his money on what makes him happy. Of course, the problem is that it was mostly my uncle’s money that he was spending, which is a problem.

But here I am, alone. Nature or nurture? I lost my wife to divorce, and it’s looking like I’ll never find another, much like my grandfather and father. I guess I’m just too old-fashioned, which can be a difficult thing. But, here I am. I think I learned my habits, good, bad, or indifferent from my father. He held very high standards for himself, as do I. I’m struggling at the moment, but it’s because of those standards that I’ve reached the levels of success that I did. It’s also a stubborn streak that my father taught me that helps me to see things through to the conclusion. I’ve often had to correct people who think that I must be “smart” to have my doctorate. To be honest, some of the dumbest people I know have their doctorates. What it means is that I’m stubborn, stubborn enough to jump through all of the hoops in a timely enough fashion to have completed. I also have my father’s terrible temper. Are these learned, or inherited?

I’ve worked hard to temper both of these traits. It’s too easy to hold others to my own personal standards, but that’s not fair. For example, I have never been able to separate the physical act of love from the emotion, and as such, I’ve never been very sexually active. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had lovers, but always with at least the hopes that it would turn into something permanent. But, that’s not the way the world works these days, so I know that my standards are not only unrealistic, but unhealthy as well. So, I never criticize others for their sexual proclivities, so long as nobody else is hurt because of them.

The funny thing is that these habits that would be terrible if left unchecked can actually be useful when appropriately applied. For example, my temper has had to come out when dealing with trouble students or employees.

I don’t know if these things are genetic or learned, but I’m glad I have inherited them. Yes, it’s been difficult to find a proper balance for them, but they’ve also served me well. So, I guess all I can say is…thank you, dad.

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