Family history

September 7, 2006

Read a beautiful and loving piece by Joshua Micah Marshall that made me cry. It wasn’t just, as Uncle Kvetch points out, that his father was not his biological father, it was also the comment “One of the great heartbreaks of my life is that my dad did not live to see his first grandson…” that did it for me. I feel the same about my mother who died last year not knowing my first grandchild, although I then pull myself together and realise that there are a million and one things that have happened or are going to happen that she didn’t know about either. Somehow that idea though is still a powerful one.

I have always had a strong feeling of attachment to my family in a way that is hard to explain. I keep the family tree up to date and add anyone who I can establish even a remote connection to. I don’t particularly need to know the people, but do want to know who they are and something about them. As David Velleman suggests in the abstract of his paper on family history “… knowing one’s relatives and especially one’s parents provides a kind of self-knowledge that is of irreplaceable value in the the life-task of identity formation.”

Even if one avoids the arguments about the importance or otherwise of biology and environment, I am sure that the family stories form an important role in reinforcing or dissuading certain behaviours because they become seen as a family trait.

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