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CHIPS OFF THE OLD BLOCK

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There's an old saying in Mexico, "The child of the tiger has his father's markings." In English we say, "The apple never falls far from the tree."

Fathers, for good or ill, leave quite an impression on their kids. In the 1960s - the era of sociologist B.F. Skinner - that impression was thought to be "behavioral." Who and what a child became depended on his surroundings. Now, the evidence is shifting toward "genetic imprinting," the fact that we all come from the womb pre-wired.Either way, your father's one of the principal architects of who you are.

And sometimes the influences are strong enough to forge lives for generations.

Take Glenn and Alan Coffman. As Highway Patrol troopers, they wear the same uniforms, buy their glasses at the same place. And they are the spittin' image of each other.

Both of them have even taken a spin at watching over Utah's governor.

"I have to say I was really proud when Alan decided to become a patrolman," says father Glenn, who currently helps with planning and research.

Was Alan's career set in lead from the womb?

"Well," says Alan, "yes and no. I always looked up to dad. So as a little boy I wanted to be a highway patrolman. But as a teenager I wanted to be anything but. Then I got a little older, decided to take the test, and here we are. What I remembered today is the way my father treated people with dignity. I keep that in mind. I think it's one reason I've never been in a fight."

"When Alan joined, I told him to be honest and work within the system," says Glenn. "He's done well. In fact, I have only one regret. He gets to drive one of those new Mustangs and I never did."

Psychologists are beginning to understand the impact of a father's personality on his children, though single mothers have seen such effects for years. How many women with children whose father is deceased or absent have suddenly seen their former husband's gestures come to light again, or heard the voice and felt the presence of a man who'd been gone for years.

"I saw my son walking up the street recently," says one local woman, "and it was Bruce, all over again. The way he moved his arms, the way he held his head. It was almost scary."

In short, fathers - present or absent - not only leave their imprint on a child's physical nature. They leave an imprint on the soul.

Ted Wight, a Utah County flutist and mathematics professor, has seen himself - and his wife - in the style of his daughters.

"When it comes to music, I think natural temperament is exceedingly important," he says. "We have three daughters and all of them play harp. My wife, Marcia, played viola in the Utah Symphony and I've had an affinity for harp since my own Utah Symphony days. But after the oldest daughter began on the harp we didn't want competition, so we wouldn't let the younger ones play it. But they both begged until we let them."

The Wights' daughter, Lysa Rytting, studied harp with Susanna Mildonian in Belgium. She and her father have performed hundreds of flute and harp concerts together. It was Bill Cosby who said "I doubt that any father has ever liked the music his children did." But Bill Cosby never met the Wights. Temperament and training can make for an unbeatable combination.

Will the grandchildren be harpists as well?

"I wouldn't be surprised," says the father.

One of the best-loved "like father like son" stories is the story behind Disney's new animated feature "The Lion King." It is the story of a child with a noble birthright who goes astray for awhile but eventually returns to claim his rightful inheritance. The Book of Mormon contains the story of Alma the Younger going out to sow his wild oats, then returning to plant seeds of love and understanding, just as his father did. In the Bible the story takes the form of the parable of the Prodigal Son - the rebellious spirit who turns out to be more like his father than anyone realized.

Sometimes a child needs something to "come back to." He needs an idea of what life can be.

"A parent - in this case a father - needs to always keep in mind what a powerful model they are in a child's life," says Elizabeth Knoch, director of Adolescent Day Care for Valley Mental Health. "Stability is so important, giving the child something to emulate. If I had advice for fathers I'd tell them `be there.' And realize just how much influence your example has."

The example fathers set has several levels, of course. On the grand scale it can include honesty, ambition and compassion. But it also shows up in hundreds of other ways - in dress, speech and even in how a son or daughter spends free time.

A good example of the latter are the Gundersons, the father-son combo that runs Anglers' Inn (2292 Highland Drive). Some people fish to live, but Byron and Jim Gunderson live to fish.

"I was two years old the first time I went fishing with my father," says son, Jim. "He taught me all the basics. Then just working in the store has done a lot. We spent a lot of time at Deer Creek Reservoir and the Uintah Lakes. We really enjoy it."

Adds father Byron: "My father was a fisherman, so was my grandfather. Sometimes in the busy world if a family doesn't have something like fishing to share they'd never see each other. And there's a lot of fulfillment in fishing. It's difficult to imagine a world without fish."

And who's the best fisherman in the family?

"Jim is definitely a better caster than me," says Byron. "But as far as who catches the most fish, I don't know. We have little competitions and things, but fishing really isn't a contest. It's on another level."

Yes it is. Just as a good relationship between a father and his sons and daughters is on another level.