Apropos of Nothing: Genetics of a Caveman
An Editorial by Jamie Beckett

The art and science of purchasing an appropriate birthday gift has always befuddled me. This is especially true when considering a gift for a woman, perhaps a female member of my own family, for instance. There was a brief period in time when I thought, “No, I don’t want anything this year,” actually meant, “No, I don’t want anything this year.”

I am such an idiot. But an idiot with a perfectly good excuse, as you will see.

What might appear on the surface to be a simple declarative sentence, is actually a coded message that means, “This is a test, and you better come through on this, buddy, or there’s going to be trouble. Big trouble. You get me?”

On the other hand, there are beautiful moments of touching emotion that occur when someone opens the gift you chose so carefully for them, wrapped with a creative flair, and displayed prominently in a place where they would be pleasantly surprised by its discovery. I’ve heard that’s true, in any case. It’s not something I’ve personally experienced.

Recently one of my daughters suggested, completely out of the blue, that her preferred birthday gift this year was a DNA testing kit. That, I can do. That makes sense to me.

Several family members have spit into a tube in recent years, mostly in an attempt to discover their ancestry. The results have been interesting.

My son took the plunge, and we’re still trying to noodle out what the results might mean. He owns and works a hay farm in southern New Jersey, which essentially means he refuses to cut an enormous lawn until it’s long enough to have value to someone who owns livestock. It also keeps the code enforcement crews at bay. Apparently, you can’t cite someone for having an overgrown lawn if the sale of that greenery represents their primary income.

It’s an interesting business. I don’t pretend to understand it entirely.

My son’s results came back saying he was 78% European, 12% Central or South American, 3% Sub-saharan African, and 1% Scandinavian. This concerns us a bit, not only because these results only add up to 94%, but also because his mother is Japanese, from the Hokkaido prefecture, where her family has resided for centuries.

I’m thinking one of two possibilities is at play here. One, the lab mixed up his results with those of someone else. Perhaps a trainee or a disgruntled employee was involved somehow. The other option is, the Pump ‘n Pour Convenience Store in Hamilton Township, New Jersey, isn’t as reliable a DNA testing center as my boy assumes them to be.

There are probably other variables I’m not familiar with, too. After all, DNA testing is pretty complicated stuff.

When I decided to get my own results, I selected one of the more reputable testing companies. And I’m glad I did. It turns out, I’m 100% European, which isn’t exactly breaking news. But there is a twist to my story.

While the entirety of my lineage comes from the European continent, not all my ancestors were from the same country or region. In fact, there weren’t even all human. No kidding.  It turns out I’m 4% Neanderthal. A literal descendent of cavemen.

Eureka! This is why I am so bad at picking my dirty socks up off the floor and dropping them into the laundry hamper. Now, for the first time I have scientific evidence that it isn’t because I’m lazy, or disrespectful, or misogynistic. It’s in my DNA. When I leave a trail of filthy clothes from the front door through the entire house, ending at the shower, that’s just me exhibiting my family’s cultural heritage. We’re cavemen, for goodness sake. You can’t expect us to bend to the whims of modern western culture in denial of our own traditions and customs. You just can’t.

Of course there is one more concern I have now that my princess, my little girl, is taking her own DNA test. It’s unlikely, I’m sure, but it is at least possible that the last genetic surprise I’m in store for might just be to find out that my little girl isn’t really my little girl at all.

This might be a bit premature since the results aren’t actually in yet. But if it turns out we’re not actually… you know… related… do I still have to pay for her wedding?