Nature versus Nurture

Here’s a little narrative about my “biological” father; someone I’ve never given much thought to let alone write about before.  It’s important that I put “biological” in front of the word father because I don’t want to confuse one with the other.  I was raised and adopted by a man I call my father, or more commonly – dad.  I never met my biological father.  The opportunity has passed since he himself recently passed.  What do I feel about that?    Nothing.

Is it strange to feel nothing at all for someone you have never met and never had any desire to meet?  Or is it stranger still to never have had any desire to meet the co-creator of ones physical self?

Here are the few things that I have been told about him.

  1. He was very good looking.  Ridiculously so.
  2. He used to hit my mother.  He usually hit her in places that would not show any marks. The last time was when I was a month old.  He hit her so hard she fell backwards into the bathtub.  Then she took me and left and never went back.
  3. His mother was an alcoholic which, not surprisingly, seems to have had a deep negative effect on him.
  4. He had no respect for women and the more they swooned over him, the more he was repulsed by them.
  5. He had been married once before he met my mother and had two small children from that marriage.  They both lived with him and my mother when I was born.
  6. He had many more relationships with many more women and many more children resulted.
  7. He was a sports photographer.
  8. He also took pictures of young girls and went to jail for it.
  9. He refused to sign off for my adoption until the lawyer suggested he would have to pay all the child support he owed, and then he quickly signed.
  10. His first name was Doug.  I’ve been told his last name dozens of times but I can never remember it.

Of course, all of what I have been told has come from my mother.  The part about him going to jail came from my mothers sister (not the most reliable source but I’ve never doubted the story), who told my mother who then told me.  I have never had any feelings, good or bad, regarding anything I was ever told about him.  He was a stranger and obviously not a very nice man.  I have always felt like he was just a character in a story…not real.  Not real to me.  There would be no romantic fantasies about meeting him one day.  When I was angriest at my parents, mostly as a teenager, I never once imagined that I should run off and live with him instead.

There was one time, and I believe I was already well into my 30’s when this happened: During an argument, my mother accused me of giving her a cold look the way “he” used to.  I had never before heard anyone suggest that I resembled him in any way.  I’ve always looked a lot like my mother.  Angrily, she blurted out that I was like him in that I could shut down emotionally and become very cold.  Well that comment stopped me in my tracks and got me thinking.  And probably not the way she had hoped.  I wondered if there may have been a whole different side to all of the stories I’d heard about him.  I had always felt that my mother was overly dramatic and extravagant, even reckless in the way she expressed her emotions; lots of tears and yelling etc.; it always made me uncomfortable.  I don’t believe I’m cold but I guess compared to her and from her perspective I could appear so at times.  I may look like my mother but we are very different in many ways.

It dawned on me then that all the information I’d ever learned about this man had come from only one person.  From someone who sees the world very differently than I do.  And so, for a minute or two, I wondered if there was perhaps a little more to this stranger, perhaps there were some ways in which he and I may have been alike.  But then I also realized that it didn’t really matter to me either way.  As Popeye would say “I yam what I yam”. He was still a stranger and I still had no desire to know him.  Does that make me cold? Or realistic?  I’d like a second opinion please.

As I’ve grown older I have wondered whether there may have been any important medical history I should have been aware of but then really, what good would that do?  If there is or if there isn’t heart disease on his side for example, I’m still striving to live a good clean healthy life either way.

So I guess in my case, score one for nurture over nature.  All of my life’s experience, including never meeting this man, has made me into who I am today and I think I’ve turned out ok.  Even my mother would agree…I think.  😉


  • Tracy Westerholm

    I sit here not sure where to begin. That was such a personal post and so heart felt Bonnie. Your honesty was so raw. Cathartic for you I am sure! You just became more relatable to many women out there. Everyone has a story and if we can relate or learn from our own and the story of those we respect and admire or cross paths with, it is worth the risk of being vulnerable I think.

    This is how I see it…
    You are a product of what ‘was’ with your Mother and biological father. I am grateful for eternity for that. You have been my best friend since the day we met, unconditionally loving me no matter what we went through together. That is who you are.

    Your Mom did the right thing leaving an abusive relationship. I admire her for that. It takes strength and courage.
    Your Dad, is a kind hearted man who has patience like I’ve never seen before…;) He is soft and easy going. That was passed on to you through nurturing.

    Although I personally haven’t seen that cold stare with those gorgeous blue eyes of yours, I say laughing I’m sure James has! tee hee…and so he should have, if he would have just ate the damn veggies the first time around he wouldn’t have seen it! Both my kids have seen my brown eyed one!
    But that doesn’t make you ‘like’ your biological father, it makes you ‘like’ Bonnie when she’s pissed at you! lol
    I just scrolled back up and looked at your beautiful smile and the thought that came to mind was both my kids describing you as we arrive in Vernon, ‘gentle, kind and warm.’

    Maybe, you being as intuitive as you are were aware of what your bio father was like even as a small little soul and that is why you never thought of him in a warm way? So no I don’t find it odd that you never had the desire to find him and meet. I think you knew what you would encounter and saved yourself the reality of what really was.

    I think there is a dramatic difference between you and your Mother and how you express yourself. I think that over time you learned to balance what she put out there and that has made you who you are as well. You are the calm amid the storm that I am drawn to on many occasions…too many perhaps HA! But I always leave you feeling grounded and centred once again…which is friendship bliss!

    I love every single cell of who you are and look forward to what you will bring to Tara Cronica this year! I get goose bumps just thinking about it!

    Love love love xoxooxo

  • Bonnie Johnson

    Wow! Thanks Trace. Whenever I feel down I’ll come back and re-read your comment again. 🙂 So thoughtful and sweet.
    I do hope some people can relate to me and you are right, I write what comes up and try to be honest in my reflections which can be very cathartic. Often what comes out is entirely different than what I first thought I’d write about. Funny how that works.
    Love you too and would be lost without your friendship! xoxoxo

  • jacquie

    Bonnie, what a incredibly heartfelt, insightful post. Thank you so much for sharing what is clearly a very personal story. It really helps round out your character to know all this about you.
    The most poignant part, to me, is when you said you had a realization that all the info you have is from one source, and that source could have a skewed perception …maybe. It shows you to be a thoughtful, fair-minded person the way you handled that revelation. You show no bitterness.
    You’ll never know what traits or characteristics or mannerisms you received from you biological parent and it doesn’t really matter if you always look to the present and future and don’t live in the past. You’ve proven that.

    Thanks for a powerful, uplifting post.

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