As a parent, the concern arises fairly often as to whether my hard work and dedication to my daughters will prove to be well-spent or a waste of time. Will my efforts be rewarded with self-sufficient, strong, intelligent and well-adjusted women or will they choose paths that lead them to violence or crime or failure? The question is one that has been pondered by scholars and laymen for centuries—nurture or nature? Consider, two children, from the same womb, brought up with the same privileges and attention, same opportunities and education, and yet they turn out different.
You may be wondering why this topic is arising now and the one answer I have is: Don’t you know me well enough by now to know that it comes from a book? Yes, I just finished the new book by Michael Connelly featuring LAPD Detective Harry Bosch. Bosch is my favorite character in fiction and Connelly my favorite author. In fiction you find that some characters can be one-dimensional. The reader is not taken into the life of the character other than the particular obstacle facing him or her in the novel and you don’t get any particular insight into what makes the character tick. And those novels are fine. I happen to enjoy those novels immensely; you speed through them, enjoy them as entertainment, and then move on to something else. Some of my favorite authors write books like that, whether they are Stuart Woods or Robert Crais or David Baldacci or John Grisham.
But Connelly and his hero Bosch are different. Bosch is the poster child for a terrible upbringing. The son of a prostitute and a father he never knew, he was orphaned at 11 when his mother was murdered, and he spent the rest of his childhood in orphanages. Joining the army out of high school, he was sent to Vietnam and became a tunnel rat, the soldiers who were tasked with going into the tunnels used by the enemy as barracks, hospitals, morgues, and hiding places. A recurring theme in the Bosch novels is how much time Harry spent in the dark, in the darkest of places. After leaving the army, he joined the LAPD and eventually became a homicide detective, choosing this line of work to speak for the dead. Surely his mother’s murder influenced this.
And yet with all of the hardship and heartache faced by Bosch during his upbringing, he managed to lift himself up to become a hero. Which makes him unsympathetic to criminals, murderers, and anyone who stands in the way of getting to the truth. And over 14 novels, Bosch has evolved, but slowly. His victims are always blameless and his perpetrators are always absolutely bad. There is no grey; Bosch lives in a black and white world and has come to the conclusion that nature governs how someone will turn out. He looks to himself, struggles with his own fortitude in overcoming such adversity, and holds it against those who cannot similarly succeed.
But in this novel, the 15th in the series, Bosch is forced to rethink his take on nature versus nurture. While investigating a murder, he is led to a recovery facility for sex offenders and meets and develops a relationship with the therapist at the facility. He is immediately drawn to her… until he learns that she has a son who is in prison for a violent crime. This stops Harry dead in his tracks.
As I mentioned before, Harry is not one-dimensional. The reader is told that Bosch is torn, that he is struggling with his interest in the therapist. After 14 books, the reader knows, though, the basis of the struggle. Bosch has convinced himself that nature wins over nurture, so he is taken aback by the possibility that he is romantically interested in a woman who gave birth to a monster. At the same time, the reader cannot help but be somewhat disappointed in his parenting skills, for he now has his teenage daughter living with him full time, her mother a victim of a violent death herself. It is clear that he gives the victims he is investigating more attention and care than he does his own daughter. Some of it can be written off as a father not knowing how to be a parent. It could also be that Harry has resigned himself to the fact that no matter how much parenting he does, his daughter’s future has already been predetermined. That nature will win out and no amount of nurturing he does will change things.
I won’t tell you how the book ends, of what revelations Harry discovers, about himself, about his job as a parent, or about the murderers who walk the street waiting for him to find them, but I can say with 100% certainty that no book has remained with me the way this one has. It has been 3 days since I finished the book and I cannot resist the images or the discoveries.
Which leads me back to the beginning. What is the right answer? How much control do we have as parents in the way our children turn out? I see teenagers on the street, at the mall and I see how they act, how disrespectful they are, how they ditch school and I immediately jump to the conclusion that their parents must not care or are not involved or simply are ineffective. But maybe that isn’t the case. Maybe the parents simply have no affect on the outcome. I think of the example of identical twins who turn out so differently. How does that happen?
Yet even though the signs seem to point to the conclusion that nature dictates not only who we are but who we will be, does that mean that we should give up and not try? No, of course not. Because that isn’t my nature and that isn’t who I am supposed to be. I am destined to be interested, involved, dedicated and focused on my girls.
But it doesn’t hurt to at least think about it, hmm? Knowledge is half the battle and understanding that there may be a component to our psyche that is controlled by nature, means that if we do not like who we are, then we can practice the antidote to nature—evolution.