The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Thursday, March 15, 2007

On the genetic inheritance of gift

My father was an enormously strong man, in his youth. His strength would have been legendary, had he lived in earlier days, that lauded such things. As it was, however, he found daily uses for his strength, in the way he went about tasks. He was a man who could lift furniture upstairs, on his own. He had no need of the help of another. He could move objects that would be unmovable, at all, to a typical man, with casual ease. Many a time, as a child, I would wonder at the strength he applied to his daily tasks, in the garden or about the house. Unseen by me, he would apply his strength too, in his business – but for privacy’s sake, I am not going to say what that business was. That his strength was an asset to him, even in modern life, is clear, and in some ways, had he not been strong, he would not have been the success he became (for reasons I will leave undescribed, for they would tell too much about his life – and that wouldn’t be fair).

Now he was an enormously strong man – and I inherited some of that from him, for I have always been a strong man – stronger than most men – yet, not as strong as him, I think. The strength has been handed down to me, somewhat diluted.

I look at my sons, now, in particular, Ainan, and no longer see the strength there, at all. You would never guess, looking at Ainan, that his grandfather was of great physical strength. Ainan does not possess the build that promises a large musculature to come: his is the slightness of the eternal academic, not the strength of a fearsome warrior of old, as, no doubt, our forebears in the old celtic world, were.

So, why do I discuss this? Well, looking at Ainan today, in relation to me, I felt our disparity in strength, and remembered my father’s greater strength before me. Is this, then, the destiny of all genetic gift? Is it to be lost little by little, generation by generation, until all is diluted to nothing? Looking at the decline in strength from grandfather, to father, to son, it might seem so, but all, as usual, is not what it seems.

If we look wider than a single line, we see a different story. I have three brothers, two of whom are stronger than me. I am the shortest male in my family, (though six foot tall) but not the lightest, though the two I estimate to be stronger than me, are both heavier and taller than I am.

My father’s genes have spread wide and each of his children carry half of them. He bore gifts of the mind and gifts of the body – for his mind is good, very good – and his body, in terms of strength, in particular, was most well equipped.

Looking at my brothers, I can see that my father’s qualities of mind appear in them in various admixtures – and so too his strength, in various proportions. I don’t know how many genes are involved in the gifts of the mind and the body – but we each have half of them. It seems, from observation, that there must, for strength, be more than one gene involved – for one can see a gradation across the sons: from quite strong, to strong to very strong to ferociously strong.

My father’s gift of strength lives on – and it is possible that one of his sons is stronger than him, in one way – for one son is six inches taller than his father, allowing him an advantage of scale, even if, for his size, he is weaker.

So, too, is it with my children. Ainan missed out on the gift of strength, it seems – but his brother Fintan did not. Fintan is thickset, well-muscled and, like all Cawleys, stronger than you would estimate. So my own gift of strength has not been lost – it is just not evenly distributed amongst my sons.

I do not know whether Fintan will be as strong as me, or whether, like one of my father’s sons, stronger than his father – but that he has inherited greater than common strength is clear. So, the gift goes on.

I would think it is like this with all genetic gifts. Looking both wide and deep, one will see that the gifts pass into one branch of the family, but miss others – and then further branch again, passing into some lines and not others and so on, forever. Nothing will be truly lost as long as one rule is adhered to: have several children – so that each may bear half the genes and so at least half of each gift, onwards.

I ponder this question because Ainan has certain mental gifts which were evident in my childhood and, no doubt, were anyone around to watch, in my father’s before him: how many more generations can this continue?

The answer is, I think, forever – as long as each generation has enough children so that some – well, at least one, - expresses the gift in question and may pass it on.

As it is in our family, so it is in yours. Whatever gifts you have in you, may be passed down – you just need to have a kid or three. Don’t worry that some have it and some don’t – (or some have more and others have less) because all bear some of it, onwards.

Now all I have to hope for is that I become a grandfather, one day – and watch the story begin to unfold again. There would be satisfaction in seeing that genetic continuity at work. I only hope my children want to have children when they grow up. We will see.

(I should add that even my father is not the strongest man in family legend – there were much larger and stronger men, still, in our background. Looked at physically, therefore, there is evidence of decline in strength over many generations, I would say. (In the direct line, there is decline…but the genes spread wide and are around somewhere). Once, it seems, my forebears had a use for such strength – otherwise they would not have evolved to be so strong, I would think. Looking at the history of the area and of the family, I would say a lot of that would have something to do with the war-torn history of the Land of Ireland, in times, before the gun, when strength was a man’s greatest defence – and offence, too, I might add.)

(If you would like to read about Ainan Celeste Cawley, a scientific child prodigy, aged seven years and three months, or his gifted brothers, Fintan, three and Tiarnan, thirteen months, please go to: I also write of gifted education, IQ, intelligence, child prodigy, child genius, baby genius, adult genius, savant, the creatively gifted, gifted adults and gifted children in general. Thanks.)

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 7:31 AM 


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