In the Family Tree's Shade: Confessions of a Doting Grandfather
T.H. Huxley, for whom evolution provided both his religion and his family tree, asserted repeatedly that “a man has no reason to be ashamed of having an ape for his grandfather.”
What Huxley did find shameful was having a grandfather who was given to argumentation that was supposedly marred by “religious prejudice.” Presumably, it would have been less shameful for Huxley if his daughter gave birth to an ape rather than a human who would go on to indulge in argumentation of this kind.
Poor Huxley! He was so intemperate in his objections to religion being part of an intellectual debate that he was willing to make a monkey of himself in the process. Yet, in Huxley's perspective, such a metamorphosis represents an evolutionary advance. Better to be an irreligious ape than an intellectually religious human being!
I was not thinking about Thomas Henry Huxley on the evening of June 9 but was, indeed, thinking about becoming a grandfather, for the second time. It is a distinction of Homo sapiens among all members of the animal kingdom that he knows his grandchildren.
For man, the “family tree” is not a place of residence but an image that defines him as a historical being. History was in the making, and I was eager to be part of it, limited as my role might be.
Our first grandchild came into the world on June 9, 2002, at 10:12 p.m. Exactly one year later, as our family gathered in the tiny town of New Dundee, Ontario, to celebrate Thérèse Josephine Anne's first birthday, our collective ears were hungrily attuned to the telephone that was conveying news of the imminent arrival of our first child's first child.
Would the new babe imitate her cousin and also arrive precisely at 10:12 p.m.? The prospect lent an added measure of drama to the imminent birth. The possibility was all too real. Something else was occupying our attention that night — the final and deciding game for the Stanley Cup, an ice-hockey drama being played out between the Ducks and the Devils.
Only 12 such seventh games have ever transpired in National Hockey League history. Was this the quintessentially Canadian way that a family awaits the arrival of a child?
My daughter's pregnancy, like so many Stanley Cup games, had gone into overtime. The counterpoint between telephone reports of an imminent birth and television reports of an imminent champion began to weave its magic. The two reports soon became twins, their separate threads intertwining, forming a single fabric, revealing at the same time both their similarities and distinctions.
A pregnancy is divided into trimesters; a hockey game into three periods. There are the additional contrasts between labor and labor disputes, frequent contractions and long-tem contracts, the plain surgical mask of the doctor and the elaborate mask of the goalie, the delivery room and the penalty box. Finally, the ultimate contrast between birth and, especially when hockey games go into overtime, “sudden death.”
Marion Sophia came into the world on June 9, 2003, at 11:15 p.m., wholly unconcerned about the outcome of the game, but, nonetheless, a cute little devil. My daughter explained to me the following day when my wife and I visited her at the hospital that the delivery time would have been a little earlier, maybe an hour or so, had the obstetrician not insisted on watching the hockey game to its conclusion. We thought he should have been given a delay-of-birth penalty, a “minor” infraction, to be sure.
I called my parents, who live in Fall River, Mass., and informed them of the arrival of their 11th great-grandchild. My mother, who is spry and 98, was especially pleased the baby was named after her. Ninety-eight-and-a-half years span the time between the oldest and youngest living members of our family. Nearly a century has passed between one Marion and another.
The family binds time as well as hearts. It is simultaneously transcendent as well as immanent. In the year 1904, when my mother was born, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov received the Nobel Prize in the physiology of medicine.
That same year, the New York City subway system was inaugurated, as were the federal reserve notes. Republicans convened in Chicago to nominate Theodore Roosevelt to be the next president of the United States. Vladimir Horowitz, Salvador Dali and Pablo Neruda were born in my mother's birth year.
June 9, the birth dates of our two grandchildren, is also the birth date of Johnny Depp, who, oddly enough, played the title role in the movie, Don Juan DeMarco.
The family is a small church, an ecclesiola, and a microcosm of the culture of life. It remains the basic unity of society and the best way to school children in love and learning. In the words of Pope John Paul II, it is “the first and fundamental structure for ‘human ecology.'”
The family is an integrated diversity that spans time and place. It is wiser than the ideology of the moment or the fashion of any location. The family participates in the eternal and belongs to God. It is society's single most valuable asset. I need not go any further, but the gracious reader will excuse me if I “go ape,” so to speak, over my grandchildren.
Dr. Donald DeMarco is professor emeritus at St. Jerome's University in Waterloo, Ontario.
- September 7-13, 2003