Who do I look like?



my birth father around age nine
me at age 6

Growing up adopted, I wondered about a lot of things.  Who were they...that other mother and father?  What was their story?  More specifically, what was their story, when it came to me?  What exactly were they to each other?  How old were they?  Why did they choose adoption?  As I got older, I wondered about my medical history, especially at doctors appointment when I had no information to share.  But one question rose above all others.  It seemed silly or shallow or maybe even unimportant.  What did it really matter anyway?  But I always wanted to know who I looked like.  And to be honest, I wanted to know that more than any other thing.

When we went to Ethiopia to adopt our sons, we were lucky to meet one member from each of their birth families.  In those people, we can see our sons.  We have photographs.  The boys don't have to wonder who they look like.  They can see it for themselves.  I think that helps.  It's only one part of being adopted, but it matters.  When I was growing up, especially in my preteen and teen years, I would have given a lot to see a photo or to even know their first names.

I was 20 when I met my first biological relative.  It was my birth father, Tim.  He couldn't get over how much I looked like him.  I couldn't see it.  Absolutely not.

About a year later, I met my birth mother, Jean, I could some similarities, we have the same eye color and skin tone and my laugh sounds like hers.  I wanted more than that. I actually wanted to be the spitting image of someone but I wasn't.

Not long after that, I was in Boston with a friend and ran into Tim.  As soon as he was out of earshot, my friend said, "I know you don't want to hear this, but you look just like him."
my birth father as a young man

I went back to thinking about Tim.  Perhaps I did look like him.  But how could I look like someone that I felt no connection to?  Someone, to be honest, that I didn't like. A person who had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, an extensive criminal history, and who was an absent father to the two other children he fathered?  I felt embarrassed that I was a part of him. How could I look like him?

After Tim's death 5 years ago, I met his siblings for the first time at his memorial service.  I liked them instantly and I liked them a lot.  I felt a genetic weight lift off my shoulders as I got to know them.  I wasn't from 'bad stock'.  Tim's life was a product of his own tumultuous childhood, choices he made and other factors that have nothing to do with me.

After the service, Tim's sister (my aunt), handed me a photo album of pictures of Tim from his babyhood to near the time of his death, I felt myself soften toward him for the first time.  I looked slowly at each photo.  In many of them, I could see myself.  It has taken the better part of 50 years, but I know who I look like and I have made peace with it.  I look like my birth father.