My wife and I took the kids to Italy last spring, and before we went we read to them about the country of Italy, the Italian Renaissance, and the ancient Romans. We even discovered The Roman Mysteries series, a sort of Nancy Drew for the classical world.
One of the books we read was David Macaulay’s City: A Story of Roman Planning and Construction. I strongly recommend it for both kids and adults. The Romans planned their cities to handle a century or more of growth, and it’s fascinating how they designed and built the roads, buildings, and plumbing. The aqueducts are particularly impressive; for example, the great aqueduct of ancient Constantinople carried water over 150 miles, more than the distance from Lafayette to New Orleans, and longer than the longest bridge in the modern world. But unlike modern bridges, the aqueducts were built from hand-cut stone.
The book follows the growth of an imaginary settlement in the rich, wheat-growing area of the Po Valley. I asked the kids if they knew what the Po Valley was, and they said they didn’t.
“It’s where the Po folks live,” I explained.
I have repeatedly noted here that, despite the objections of many in the humanities (and even the sciences), we are very much genetic animals. We are not genetic machines; obviously we learn and change constantly after we are born. But one of my concerns is that we have developed these ideas that people are nothing but tabulae rasae, blank slates, completely logical machines programmed by education after we are born.
Here is an example of why I am confident of that there is a powerful genetic aspect to our behaviors. It’s almost exclusively fathers who tell corny jokes. Moms may occasionally tell one or two, but fathers do it a lot. I never thought about it until recently, but I began coming across humorous references on the Internet, particularly this one:
That got me to thinking.
In addition to dumb jokes, it seems that fathers are also more likely to tease children, and to tell them tall tales. It occurs to me that these just might help with survival skills. Consider this extremely un-funny joke:
A father takes his small son outside, puts him on the roof, and says, “Jump to me, I’ll catch you.” When the child jumps, the father just lets him fall to the ground.
Then the father says, “Remember that. Never trust anyone.”
That’s extreme. I think the more prudent lesson is to never trust anyone completely. Think about it, even the people who care most about us will let us down, and sometimes they will simply be wrong. And of course, there are people we shouldn’t trust at all.
Perhaps by telling kids dumb jokes, and cock & bull stories, we teach them to think about what they’re hearing, and to be a bit critical and skeptical. Despite the complaints in this video about scarring our children, dumb jokes and wild stories elicit little more than groans and rolled eyes, which is much better than letting a child fall to the ground. But the lesson is the same. If your father can’t always be trusted, neither can anyone else.
Teasing children, in contrast, probably teaches a different kind of skill, the ability to stand up to criticism and ridicule. In fact, if it’s done right teasing can even teach kids to laugh at themselves. All of these are important social and personal skills.
To the larger theme of this blog, these seem to represent genetically influenced behaviors. Notice again, they are dumb dad jokes. As I noted it is typically – but granted, not always – the father who tells dumb jokes and dubious yarns, and who teases the kids.
In contrast, consider Bailey White’s book, Mama Makes Up Her Mind. It’s on my long list of books to read, but the title alone fascinates me. How many copies would White have sold with the title, Papa Makes Up His Mind? If we say, “Dad makes up his mind,” the response might be, “Ok, and… ?” But if we say, “Mama makes up her mind”? Continued below…
Dive for the furniture.
When we see the same patterns in human behavior, particularly when they break down between the sexes, or among different age groups – or even other defined groups that I want to discuss later – we have to suspect a genetic basis. I think we avoid these ideas because they easily lead to racism. That’s not where I want to go at all.
Consider that in this video, both girls and boys complained about dad jokes. But then consider that only the boys will grow up to be dads. This suggests that dumb jokes are not the result of a learned, ‘logical’ behavior.1)And I am using both meanings of the word ‘logical’ here, i.e., a coherent series of conclusions, as well as the ways in which we use words themselves. Think about it, have you ever heard of a father sitting his son down and explaining why it is important to tell kids dumb jokes?
I doubt it, because as far as I know I’m the first person to consider the question. (I would bet this idea is not original to me, however.)
Given that consideration, it seems likely that paternal corn is the result of some sort of genetic drive. This example is a lot of fun.
Later on we will get to behaviors that are no fun at all.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||And I am using both meanings of the word ‘logical’ here, i.e., a coherent series of conclusions, as well as the ways in which we use words themselves.|