The Long Arm of Childhood

December 9, 2017



I don’t know whether you share with me the trait whereby characteristics of your parents increasingly emerge from you unexpectedly and unbidden, but that’s certainly true with me, and I find it endlessly fascinating. This morning, an English acquaintance passed me in a café and asked the routine “How are you?” not expecting, I’m sure, the answer that he got: “Not bad for an old man.”

His eyes expressed surprise, and I didn’t detain him to explain that, from the time when my father was in his forties, perhaps, that was a stock answer of his. I’m sure I have never given it two seconds of conscious thought in my life, and if you had asked me if my father had any habitual answers to such a greeting, I’d have come up with nothing. But there it was on my lips—another person’s voice coming out of my mouth. And this is not just a sentimental invention: my mind’s eye saw him smiling. The subconscious is a marvelous thing, and results of its nurture in the far past can be fascinatingly mysterious.

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