Is it all in the family or all hereditary?

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Is it all in the family or all hereditary?

Research on successful aging, however, acknowledges the fact that there are a growing number of older adults functioning at a high level and contributing to society. Scientists working in this area seek to define what differentiates successful from usual aging in order to design effective strategies and medical interventions to protect health and well-being  into a longer life. — Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Today (deadline day – August 5, 2013) is my father’s birthday.  He was born in August of 1922 and would have been 91 today had he lived.  Instead, he died on Christmas Day in 1979, almost 34 years ago.  He was 57.  I am fairly confident I am not the only one with very special memories of him. 

            I wonder what he would be like today, at age 91?  Would he have Alzheimer’s Disease or some kind of dementia?  Several of his sisters have died from Alzheimer’s Disease.  It is not certain whether Alzheimer’s is hereditary, but it is definitely “familial.” 

            The difference between “hereditary” and “familial” can, of course, be found on the internet.  Yahoo Answers responds that “Familial diseases are diseases that families tend to have simply because families eat the same food, do the same things, etc.”  Familial could be a combination of genetic and non-genetic (i.e., environmental) factors contributing to the disease.  

            “Hereditary” most commonly means that an alteration in a single major gene strongly contributes to the development of the same or very similar conditions within the family.

            But I digress.  My dad’s father was diagnosed, back during the 70’s, with “hardening of the arteries.”  Again from internet research, “Hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis, is a common disorder. It occurs when fat, cholesterol, and other substances build up in the walls of arteries and form hard structures called plaques. Over time, these plaques can block the arteries and cause problems throughout the body.”

            This condition totally changed my grandfather’s personality and made him just mean.  There’s really no other word for it.  It was a challenge for his wife, children and grand-children to understand that his harsh and seemingly unloving words and attitudes were because of his illness, and not from any lack of love for them. 

            So, naturally, I wonder whether my father would have had hardening of the arteries and turned into a mean person.  I immediately shake my head.  It is almost impossible to think of him as mean and unloving.  Still, I know that particular illness is also familial.  Obviously we could go down the “what if” road for hours.  The truth is, no one knows what Jack Dean would be if he lived until age 91.  It is a gift and even a joy to remember him just as he was.

            He arrived inBowiein October of 1964, with mom and me in tow.  He had moved here to take over the pastorate of a new, small church called Grace Baptist, meeting in a house on the corner ofBelair DriveandShelter Lane.  He left a thriving church of 500 to 600 members inSnyder,Texaswhere he had pastored for twelve years.

Snyder was a westTexasoil boom town, responsible for the 1950 Slim Willett’s hit “I’m a tool pusher From Snyder.”  (Younger readers will need to look it up, probably both the song and the singer!)

            Grace Baptist moved over to Race Track Road, and dad pastored there until his death.  He was succeeded by Rev. David Price, the church’s former assistant pastor.  There’s a whole history there, too.  The church is about to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

However, I started this to remember my dad and to help readers know him.

            Jack Dean embodied many of the principles I talk about in this column from week to week.  He had so many of the attributes understood to help a person age well rather than being knocked out of the game by the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as pointed to by Hamlet.  He seemed to live by the Abraham Lincoln idea that “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

            Dad’s personality was warm.  He reached out to others with genuine caring and real interest in their situation in life at the time.   Many people describe his interaction with folks as “safe.”  Though he was a minister, one felt free to share any life information without fear of rebuke or scorn.  He had a gentle way of leading people to a stronger faith while not pushing them to conduct their lives in any prescribed manner.  As they observed his own life, many came to want to share his faith.

            Dad was full of energy and enthusiasm.  He was a “jack of all trades” around the church, serving from time to time as janitor, plumber, cook, electrician, auto mechanic and more.  He loved children and whenGraceChristianSchoolbegan, he would visit the children each day at recess or in their classrooms.  He lovedVacationBibleSchooland Sunday mornings.  His exuberance was contagious, and most of the time the school and church were very happy places.  Not perfect, just happy.

            I don’t really know if his positive attitude came absolutely naturally or if he struggled some to maintain it.  It certainly never seemed like he was “working on being more positive.”  Though he couldn’t “carry a tune in a bucket,” it was a delight of his life to enjoy the music of the choir and the congregation and to sing with gusto.  Occasionally, he would be so delighted that he’d bounce up to the pulpit and say “Could we sing that last verse one more time?” 

            Dad didn’t live long enough for us to know whether his attributes contributed to successful aging.  I think they do.  How about you?

            Thank you for reading.  Stay well.  See you next week.

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