Depending on which side you take in the age-old controversy about heredity versus environment, we are all either genetically inclined to become who we are, or we adapt to our surroundings as we grow. Of course, there are plenty of arguments against both claims. We’ve all seen kids that came from good families go bad while their siblings grew up to become good citizens, and we’ve seen others who came from dysfunctional families, grew up in poverty, and yet overcame all kinds of problems to succeed. Either way, I was screwed, thanks to my old man.
Don’t get me wrong, my dad was a great guy, and the lessons I learned from him helped shape me into the man I am today. He instilled a love of books and travel in me at an early age, as well as a work ethic, and he always told me that I could accomplish anything I wanted to in life if I were willing to work hard enough to make it happen. He also had a great sense of humor and there were times that it came back to haunt me.
I was probably about five or six years old and we were sitting on the couch watching the old Red Skelton Show on our little black and white TV. Mom had made a big bowl of popcorn and I was munching away as we enjoyed the antics of Clem Kadiddlehopper and Freddie the Freeloader, and when I started to reach into the bowl again Dad pulled it away and said I couldn’t have any more. I asked why not, and he told me it was because I still had my appendix.
At that age I had never heard of an appendix so Dad explained that it was like a little sack that hung off your gut, and when you ate popcorn the seeds fell into it. He told me that when that sack got full of seeds, it exploded and you had to have an operation to get it out and it really hurt. “But you’re eating popcorn,” I said, and Dad lifted his shirt and pushed down his beltline to show me a scar. “My appendix exploded,” he said, “This is where they cut it out.” Suddenly popcorn didn’t taste so good to me anymore.
Fast forward about ten years and I was at my girlfriend’s house one Saturday night when her mother made up a batch of hot buttered popcorn and offered me some. I declined, telling her I couldn’t eat it since I still had my appendix. “What does that have to do with it?” she asked, so I explained all about the appendix and the dangers of popcorn seeds. That lady looked at me with a newfound understanding of just how low her daughter’s standards were in young men and asked, “Are you an idiot?”
Well yeah, but what does that have to do with anything? As it turns out, she was a nurse and she dragged out some kind of medical book and gave me a quick lesson on human anatomy, while my girlfriend, her sister, and whoever else was there laughed at my ignorance.
Incensed at this betrayal by my very own father, I called home and told my dad indignantly, “You lied to me!” Nonplussed, Dad said, “I lie to you all the time. What are you talking about?” I explained all about the appendix and what I had just learned, and it was Dad’s time to roar with laughter. “Really?” he asked. “That’s why you don’t eat popcorn? Your mother and I thought you were weird and just didn’t like it.”
My relationship with that young lady ended soon afterward, probably because she realized that her mom was probably right, she could do better. The good news was that my next girlfriend taught me even more about human anatomy. But that’s another story.
Tags: black and white TV, Clem Kadiddlehopper, dysfunctional families, Freddie the Freeloader, heredity versus environment, human anatomy, love of books, love of travel, Red Skelton Show, role model, work ethic