Life often hands out gifts, and I received a few today. I was forwarded an article in a scholarly journal; a few notable Canadians were asked to write about a university professor who inspired them and changed their life. Dr. Alex MacKenzie, a notable genetics researcher and doctor, winner of the 2013 Champion of Genetics Award, wrote about my dad.
I first encountered the late J. Gordin
Kaplan teaching his third-year molecular biology course at the U of O in 1973.
An indifferent student meandering indifferently through the undergraduate
curriculum with no particular destination in mind, I came late to his second
class (having missed the first) to encounter Dr. Kaplan beautifully outlining
Jacob and Monod’s then fairly recent work on the bacterial lactose operon –
work that established many of the key principles of gene operation.
elegant man, Dr. Kaplan had the delivery of a Shakespearean actor, albeit one
with a distinctly New York accent, a fierce gaze and a wonderful sense of
timing. A lover of all things Gallic and frequently bedecked in a cravat and
beret, he gave lectures that were performances. I remember him pausing to stare
at the floor mid-sentence for emphasis before delivering the intellectual coup de grace concerning a particular
aspect of the operon theory, describing how the genes that make up all forms of
life are controlled. Through his eloquent mastery, the elegance and simplicity
of the then-nascent world of molecular biology shone forth. He had me from
did an honours project with Dr. Kaplan the following year, then shipped off
under his guidance to his friend Lou Siminovitch in the U of T medical genetic
department, where I completed a
doctorate. To this day, I have been, more or less, tilling
the same DNA furrow that Dr. Kaplan laid out so beautifully on that September
This made me very, very proud – and also laugh, not just the beret and cravat – I never once saw Dad in a cravat and I’d dispute that memory, but the beret was a staple – but because MacKenzie describes the theatrical gene I inherited from him and he from his grandfather the Jewish Shakespeare. One of the things I was most proud of as an actor was my timing. Genes! Bravo, beloved father. Dr. MacKenzie has made a huge difference to the world with his research, and so did you.
Received this from #1 daughter: her older son with his best friend Finn at the Ex, two cool guys in their Jeep. They don’t look three, do they? Pre-school Easy Riders.
Wish his great-grandfather could have met Eli, and vice versa.
My woodpecker is still at work. When I wake up, he’s pecking away at the dead wood of the ivy, and late in the day, he’s still there. Alone, working, intent – inspiring, that little guy. I am working too – over 60,000 words on the new memoir; the peaceful month of August has been a huge gift. Chris wrote to ask what my hopes are for this one, and I wrote back, Incredible success, obviously – publishers fighting for it, bestseller lists, becoming rich and famous and buying houses for both my children.
Or – the same as before, 132 discerning readers, most of them my friends and family. I will be sad and disappointed if it doesn’t fly out of the nest. And then I’ll start to write the next.
As perhaps the last of today’s gifts – which included a visit with excellent #1 son, a lot of dark chocolate and rosé, and the smell of gardenia and jasmine – I have become a follower, on Twitter, of the Dalai Lama. How amazing is that? The Dalai Lama has a Twitter feed! What a world.
It’s a rough life.
PS And one mixed blessing gift – someone returned my book, Finding the Jewish Shakespeare, to the Little Free Library, obviously untouched, unopened. Well, thank you for giving it back. I didn’t leave it there, though. It’s now stacked up with all the others – the many others – waiting for eager readers. One day.