As he gets older – and I say this with the caveat that he has yet to hit nine months old – it’s looking increasingly like my son has inherited a trait of mine that won’t exactly do him any favors in life. It’s one I got from my dad, and that two-thirds of my immediate family have. (Those of you shouting “a funny looking nose,” please pipe down.) I’m left-handed, and it looks like he will be too. Apparently you can’t tell for sure until a child is about a year old – in some cases 3 to 6 years old – but for some kids there’s a definite left hand bias from the very start.
Seeing as today is International Left-Handers’ Day, I felt it was my duty as a lefty geek, and possibly the father of a lefty, to keep you informed about the uh… condition.
Left-handedness is a recessive gene, so even if both you and your spouse are left-handed, the odds that your child will be are only about 50-50. If one of you is left handed, it’s a one in four chance, and if you’re both right-handed it’s one in ten – I still don’t know if that figure seems really low or really high.
Southpaws like us make up roughly seven to ten per cent of the population, although it has been suggested by left-handed advocate groups (yes, we have advocate groups) that were the condition be left to develop naturally (for a variety of reasons, many people with the capacity for left-handedness or ambidexterity choose right-handedness, or have it forced upon them), that figure would be closer to 30 or 35 per cent. Anecdotally, it appears that lefties are more creative, more intelligent, and better at non-linear thinking, meaning that there’s a good chance that a higher proportion of geeks are left-handed. The abilities of Martina Navratilova, John McEnroe, Sandy Koufax and Ty Cobb have been attributed to their left-handedness. Jimi Hendrix, Paul McCartney, They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh and President Obama are (or in Jimi’s case, were) all lefties, too.
Now the bad news – left-handers are more likely to suffer from migraines, dyslexia and stuttering; we’re more likely to transpose letters and numbers or even confuse left and right, certain tools and sports equipment are either more scarce, more expensive or even non-existent and fountain and dip pens are almost impossible to use without causing staining or smudging. Actually, the latter reason is why my secondary school art teacher gave up on trying to teach me calligraphy, although my insistence on transcribing the Jedi Holocron prophecy from ‘Dark Empire’ as a final calligraphy project may have been another factor. ‘Two left feet’ is a bad thing, and even the word for ‘left’ or ‘left-handed’ has negative connotations – in Latin it’s sinister (enough said), zurdo (Spanish) means malicious, gauche (French) means tactless and unsophisticated, even the Irish – ciotóg (say ‘kit-ohg’) – means clumsy. Superstition has us as the spawn of the devil and a 1991 study even suggests we have a shorter life expectancy than righties. We can’t succesfully throw boomerangs either, although I’d question the practical applications of that.
As I was researching these statistics and silently remarking to myself on how, at least socially the stigma about lefties is all but gone, I came across a worrying amount of badly written, poorly researched and just plain wrong information. There are people out there who would have you believe that left-handedness is caused by brain trauma during delivery, is a ‘nasty habit’ or that left-handers will often lapse into spontaneous mirror writing; and whereas I hate dealing in absolutes and say neither ever happens, I also take exception to it being treated as an affliction or to implying that something is a ‘common symptom,’ a phrase I came across all too often in relation to left-handed traits.
So – how do we make things easier for a lefty kid? Things are better these days – for a start we’re not persecuted (my dad has often told of getting a whack across the knuckles whenever he was caught writing with his left hand in school). Online stores like Anything Left-Handed carry, well, anything left-handed: it’s unlikely your left handed geeklet is going to be too concerned about opening wine bottles or screeding concrete just yet, but it’s nice to know that lefty mice and keyboards are available for computer geeklets, pens and safety scissors for crafty kids and a whole load of stuff for lefty GeekDads and GeekMoms. Even if you’ve become fully accustomed to coping with right-handed tools, it’s remarkable how much more natural a left-handed version feels.
Without getting all ‘woe-is-me’ it can be a tough world to cope in with so many things designed specifically to be easier with the right hand (and therefore more difficult with the left.) If you see me doing something left-handed and think “wow, that looks awkward,” it probably is. But there are lots of resources out there to help you teach a lefty to write, tie shoelaces and to generally cope in a right-handers’ world. There are also a few interesting tidbits for a right-handed parent to try to understand just what it’s like to be left-handed. My favorite – use a right-handed scissors with your left hand and try to accurately cut out a ‘human’ shape you’ve drawn on a piece of paper.
More importantly though, is don’t try and force anything. There’s at least some evidence to suggest that, because left-handedness is hardwired, trying to force right-handedness on a lefty kid (and vice versa) can result in headaches, stress and short-temperedness – generally things you don’t want your geeklet going through. Keep an eye on him or her for a hand preference – remembering that they may not do everything with either hand – and adjust accordingly.
A shocking number of websites relating to left-handedness are either well out of date (the most recent lefty athlete one mentioned was Cam Neely) or are full of dead links, but if you’re interested in reading more on us Southpaws, the Left-Handers’ Day site is a good place to start. ‘Anything Left-Handed‘, which I mentioned above, is another good spot, but it’s mainly an online store.