Have you ever walked past someone and said to yourself: "geez he looks familiar - in fact he looks just like me?"

I remember watching Little River Band from the front row at Bay Park about a decade back and the lead guitarists was so similar, down to the last hair (because he had none on the front half of his head just like me), that we all cracked up laughing at the same time, including him looking down at me.

It was weird and wonderful at the same time given that I couldn't play a guitar or write a dozen hit songs and he possibly hadn't written a few kids' books, but there was no question we looked like we had been cloned.

We can look at people and they look just like someone we have met before but we don't quite know who and the possibility of them coming from the same gene pool enters the equation.


"Have I met you before? Are you so and so's brother, you look just like him!" are all conversations we have had at some time.

This last week I farewelled a brother from another mother who I had never met until I said hello and goodbye on the same day at his tangihana in Rotorua.

Although it was hard to connect with someone you never knew, there was no question we were cut from the same cloth or shared the same genetic garden that our father had watered with the thirst for the written word.

Turns out my bro was a librarian and followed my writings from afar, as I would have his endeavours had I known he was so close but so far away.

My father would always have a stack of books by his bedside. Long, lonely nights at sea as a fisherman or in far-off lands fighting another man's war were comforted by a bright torch and a good book.

One of my dream jobs was to be a librarian - the love for books was in my blood as it was for my brother who I never knew.

I couldn't help looking for comparisons as he laid peacefully in the wharenui and took comfort on his behalf that he still had a great crop of hair, while my Dad's genetics had kicked in big time to leave me with nothing but a lame excuse that I was clearing land for another good looking face.

The question of genetics and the part it plays in the directions we choose in life are being asked more and more, especially lately with the windfall of craziness that has blown across the planet.

How much of this madness is genetically inherited and how much of our life is influenced by the surrounding we grow up in?

I am constantly hearing "he's no good, he's like his dad and he was born like that".

Or on the other hand "he's a brain box just like his dad who was a real clever bugger".

Our genetic garden, like all other gardens, can only grow into something beautiful when it is watered and, for me, no matter what genetic hand we are dealt in life our environment, schooling, whanau and the korowai of aroha we are nurtured within can raise or lower our intelligence.

And that intelligence is influenced from a very early age by books and the world they open up to us.

Reading, in my opinion, is the wonder water for our genetic garden to grow and if we want to upgrade our genetic pool for the next generation then the legacy of reading is a gift like no other to leave.

Our own genomes carry the story of evolution, written in DNA, the language of molecular genetics, and the narrative is unmistakable.

Genetics is about how information is stored and transmitted between generations and if we were to go back to day one we would all have a bit of God in us as we would a bit of African in our DNA, given we originally all came from that continent and it was mother's milk and lack of Vitamin D (sun light) that gave us the waka blond looks we have today.

Human wellbeing is not a random phenomenon. It depends on many factors - ranging from genetics and neurobiology to sociology and economics. But, clearly, there are scientific truths to be known about how we can flourish in this world.

Sure some people are born "big boned" but lifestyle is something we are born into, not born with, and only personal choice, not parental genetics, can bring back our poor health if we have it.

Or as one well-read librarian once said: "Your genetics load the gun. Your lifestyle pulls the trigger".

Haere haere ra toku bro Pita.

- broblack@xtra.co.nz

- Tommy Wilson is a best-selling author and local writer.