Amy Choate-Nielsen: Personality quirks might just be hereditary

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 3 2013 3:20 p.m. MDT

When it comes to giving gifts, I try to take a page from my dad.

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My dad always says the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

And I usually disagree.

My social views are less conservative than his, for example.

We like different music.

He lives off sauerkraut and pickles. I like fancy food.

He doesn’t care what other people think about him. I can be shy sometimes.

He’s afraid of heights. He’s stubborn. And no matter the issue, he always thinks he’s right.

Wait a minute. Maybe this is a list of how we’re the same.

As I get older, I notice more and more how so many of my quirks are actually echoes of my parents’ personalities, and I see the analogy in a whole new light. Sometimes, I catch myself doing the very things that once made me roll my eyes in embarrassment for my father.

Case in point: This last weekend, I went to a birthday party for a longtime friend. I meant to buy her a present, but I ran out of time. As I was unpacking boxes in my new house, hours before the party, I came across a black satin purse with red Chinese characters.

The purse had never been used. I bought it in Taiwan years ago because I thought I might use it someday or maybe it would make a good present, should the need ever arise.

I took the purse out of the plastic bag and brought it into the kitchen to show my husband.

“I think I’ll give this to Kristen,” I said, proudly.

But he was aghast. Here I was, unpacking boxes, finding random things and offering them up as gifts, like I always do. Like the time I gave my old magic book to my niece, or the time I gave my old bunny-charm ring to my daughter, or the times I scrounged for potential gifts around the house, which is every time I’ve forgotten anyone’s birthday.

“Do you know if she’ll even like it?” he asked me. He reminded me that finding a random object in the house and giving it as a gift does not constitute an appropriate offering if the present was not first bought with its recipient in mind.

“I think so," I answered. But I wasn’t sure. I was beginning to feel confused.

I could see his point, but I operate off a deeply ingrained understanding that sometimes giving gifts from around the house is OK.

“It’s reduce, reuse, recycle,” I told him.

I realized then that my skewed sense of gift giving is one of the things I inherited from my family tree. One of the first stories I ever heard about my father’s childhood had to do with a gift he gave a little girl at her birthday party — two brand-new balls of string.

It was 1957, and my dad was impatient because his mother hadn’t gotten home yet with the present she set out to buy for the girl. Instead of waiting for his mom, he grabbed the first useful thing he could see and rode his bike over to the party. The girl handled the gift OK, he says, but his mom made him ride back later that day to give the gift he was supposed to give.

“It was a perfectly good present,” my dad says to this day, as he lists off all the things you can do with string. “You could make kites with it, make Japanese origami things, weave it or something … you could do kites ...” His voice trails off because he’s run out of things to say about all you can do with string.

My dad’s story makes me grin, though, because no matter how horrified his mother was, or how stunned the little girl might have been, he wasn’t bothered.

“It takes a lot more than two cords of string to embarrass me, if you haven’t figured that out by now,” he told me.

I love that about him. Maybe I’ll be as thick-skinned someday.

But for now, I left the purse at home.

Amy Choate-Nielsen is a full-time mom and part-time writer. She spends her days at the park and her nights at the computer. She writes about family history and her quest to understand life while learning about her deceased grandmother, Fleeta.

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