Wednesday, May 8, 2013

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.








14 comments:

  1. Wonderful post, as always Alison. I always learn so much from you and appreciate your insight.

    I hope one day I am blessed with the opportunity to provide my children with photos of their birth family. I hope I get the chance to speak with them all in person too.

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    1. Nella,

      Thank you! I am sure you will be able to do those things for your future children. Lucky for them and all of us that adoption is so much more transparent these days. It is wonderful to be along side of you and Tony through your blog as you travel towards your children.

      Alison

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  2. I can relate to this. When I first met my biologicaly mother, I was nearly 20, and I was disappointed to find that our voices sounded alike, and we were both women, but that's pretty much where the similiarities ended. Then she handed me a photo of my biological father in his 20's. I look A LOT like him, but I'm definately "me"- especially as I age.

    While it filled me with questions as a kid - it was kind of a blessing too. Since we didn't look like our parents, my brother (also adopted) and I didn't suffer from the "you're just like your mother/father" expectation that so often gets shoved inadvertantly onto biologically related kids/families. We were uniquely us, embraced for that, and it taught us independence. Though - yes, there was also that "who do I look like?" shaped hole until I answered that question for myself.

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    1. Beautifully said. I am definitely 'me' too! I agree too about it being a blessing in many ways too. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment.

      Alison

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  3. Alison, I can so identify with those feelings you talk about at the beginning of your post! I remember thinking sometimes that if I could just see her (my birth mother) and not even get to talk to her, that would be enough! I was always so curious to know what she looked like. I am now in touch with her - it is so wonderful - but am still waiting for a photo. I do hope we look alike. I would struggle in a similar way to you if I looked a lot more like my birth father. I so look forward to meeting my birth mother's family some day.

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    1. Jess,

      It is amazing how important it is to know that things that most people take for granted. I think that longing to know who we look like and particularly what our birth mothers look like must be pretty universal among adoptees.

      I would love to hear more as you learn more.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

      Alison

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  4. That's a great post, Allison...we all have different stories, and that is wonderful. I spent the day with my birth father whom I totally look like, act like and completely connect to. So far I really like my other relatives on is side as well including a half sister whom I have met and half brother whom I have talked to.

    My dad made lots of mistakes, but he is a wonderful dad to me which is pretty incredible to say at 47.

    I like my first mother, but the feelings are way more complicated....with my dad it was like "you had me at hello...."

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    1. Julie,

      I so appreciate your comment. We do all have different stories, and I love hearing how other adoptees in reunion have experienced their connections to their birth families. I am happy for you that your dad is so great. It's that best case scenario that we all probably hope for.

      It's a crazy thing opening that door that was closed for so long, you don't know what is on the other side or how you will feel but so many of us open it because knowing is better than wondering. I still find that true even though I have had disappointment (and even shock) as I have met my birth family. I have also met amazing, wonderful people that I am happy and proud to call my family.

      Thank you for sharing.

      Alison

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  5. Allison, thanks for writing this, as it's exactly how I've felt over the years, but thought I was being superficial. I never met my biological father, and didn't look like anyone on my mother's side of the family, so I guess I was always looking for some kind of tether, you know? I have since met his family, he passed away a while ago, and found that same relief, that I wasn't from bad stock. He just happened to get the sociopath card (minus the serial killing) dealt to him and couldn't form real relationships. I can't tell you how much your post meant to me, it's so nice to read something that seems plucked right out of your heart and validated. You're the best. Thank you...

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    1. Thank YOU so much for this comment. This is always the hardest stuff to write about for me. To know you can relate and have had such a similar experience makes me feel good (and normal and comforted and understood).

      Alison

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  6. Allison, Thanks for your writing. I have never met any of my birth family, but I have wondered and imagined all my life. My grandson is adopted and we are a multiracial family now. One of the things I told my daughter was to take pictures of his biological parents because some day he would treasure them. He looks just like some of his biological family even though he is our forever family. What a gift for all!

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    1. It is a gift! I couldn't agree more. I so appreciate you and other adult adoptees commenting on this blog. It helps to know that other adoptees have felt that same longings to know who they resemble.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Sue!

      Alison

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  7. My son is the spitting image of his birthmom. We have a semi-open adoption, and even she was amazed when she saw him right after he turned 2. They have the same face, same coloring, everything! People ask me if it bothers me that he looks just like her. It doesn't bother me one bit!! I love that he looks like her. She gave me *everything* when she chose adoption for him, so I am oh-so-glad that he has her face. It's a constant reminder of the love she showed him. :) Thanks for sharing this! I hope Joshua appreciates knowing who he looks like as he gets older.

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  8. Having seen photos of Joshua, I know his birth mom is beautiful. I love hearing about the resemblance from your perspective. I never thought to ask my parents if they too wondered about what my birth parents looked like. They must have. I am glad for the increased openness of adoption now.

    Thank you for sharing!

    Alison

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