Navigating the Sandwich
Dad And The DNA Kit
In which I try to explain to my 90-year-old dad why there are Neanderthals in our genome
I phoned my 90-year-old father at 11:00 am, the usual time.
He lives in a snappy senior apartment. It’s a very nice place. Active. Lively. His only complaint? Too many women.
It’s a sad fact. Women outlive men. Which would explain the heavily woman-centric scheduled activities — shopping excursions, theater, tours of notable mansions. I would have thought he’d be a natural for the Murder Mystery dinner, being a retired police officer, but he declined. “I’ve solved enough murders,” he said.
He turns a lot of fluffy gray-haired heads whenever he walks into the dining room. He’s a catch. Widower. Full head of hair. Still drives.
“So, I got my DNA results back–” I said.
“What DNA results?” he said.
“I took one of those tests–”
“You know . . . spit in a tube, then you send it to a company and–”
“Because I thought it would be interesting. Don’t you want to know where you come from?”
“I already know where I come from. Sixth and Becher Street.”
My father had always been a man of science, or at least interested in it. He had been all over the space program, dragging the TV out to the garage so he could grill and see the first man walk on the moon. Our bookcase shelves bowed by the weight of National Geographic magazines, so of course, I thought my father would be interested in my haplogroup.
I paraphrased from the report. “There were these groups that came from Africa — basically we all came from Africa…”
“Wait. But, I’m not from Africa. My Grandfather was born in Poland!”
“Yes, that’s true, but, thousands, hundreds of thousands of years ago . . . Dad, remember? National Geographic? Louis B. Leakey?”
I recalled the photo of a slightly paunchy, gray-haired gentleman in khakis, lying on the dusty, stony ground with a spade, sifting through grit for traces of our earliest ancestor.
“What about him?”
“All those fossils? The first humans?”
“It says here that if you could trace your maternal line back thousands of years, everyone would be from a single woman in Africa.”
“She must have been very busy!” he said.
“No. I mean . . . she wasn’t the only woman,” I said.
“But, you just said.”
“Yeah, but there were other women too. It’s just that her DNA. . .”
“So . . . where’s Adam in all of this?”
“In New York,” I said. I thought he meant my nephew Adam, who gave me the DNA kit as a gift, but he meant, Adam. As in The Garden of Eden’s Adam. I didn’t want to come off as dismissive. I tried to explain the migration of tribes, movements of peoples across continents.
“No, no, no. You had Eve. And Adam. That’s what I was told.”
“And I was told the reason why women have labor pains is that Eve ate the apple and now we all have to suffer.”
“Makes sense,” he said.
“As much sense as Noah’s Ark,” I said.
“What’s wrong with Noah’s Ark? There was evidence of a flood . . .”
“Okay, sure. Maybe there was a flood, but . . . every species? Polar bears, penguins? Antelopes? Come on! Maybe every animal Noah had. Or maybe every animal that he knew of, like goats and chickens, cows.”
“What about Mary Magdalene?” he said. We were talking cows, goats, floods, Adam, Eve, how had Mary Magdalene got on board? “I always wondered about her.” He sounded a little wistful like he was remembering a first kiss, a secret crush.
“You know, Dad, they say she was Jesus’ girlfriend.”
“Could you blame him? That red hair!”
“Did she really have red hair? Or was it because she was supposedly a tart?”
“Makes no difference to me!” he said.
I was going to bring up Neanderthals, specifically how I had 327 variants, higher than 98% of all the other people who have spit into tubes but . . . I didn’t want to go down that rabbit hole. I was tired. My head hurt. “Basically, I’m 100% European. Polish. German. Irish.”
“I could have told you that!” he said. “How much did this cost you?” I explained it had been a gift and I didn’t know how much it had cost. “Boy, somebody got taken!” he said.
This is the sixth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. Her previous articles for Covey include installment Breaking My Family Holiday Traditions, Dreams from Her Mother, No Guns for Old Men, Call Me. Maybe, and Divide and Conquer?