Wednesday, January 18, 2006

#108 - Who Was That Other Man?

I don't remember exactly when it started, but I have always been fascinated with heredity. As a youngster, of course, there are always the inevitable comparisons with relatives. In my particular case, there were questions as to how two black-haired individuals could have produced a strawberry-blonde kid... no one could quite figure out where that particular gene came from. Or perhaps we blamed it on my paternal grandmother. But then we had a hard time trying to figure out how Dad came by his black hair. Either way, heredity in my family has been both fascinating and mysterious.

I particularly wondered who it was that I most resembled among my extended family. I spent long hours over the years looking at my own reflection in the mirror. I just couldn't find the obvious connections with any living member of the family and, for a little while anyway, found myself wondering whether I had been adopted. Mom assured me, however, that she felt every single contraction and was reasonably secure in the knowledge that the hospital had not given her the wrong child.

Thus it was with no small pleasure on my part to discover, after all these years, that among all my relatives I do happen to bear a striking resemblance to my grandfather. At least as seen by a camera lens over this past holiday.

I have mentioned before that my maternal grandfather was one of my boyhood heroes. Looking back it was probably quite amusing to see just how hard I tried to mimic his mannerisms. If Grandpa did it, it must be cool. No fifth grade kid was ever happier to need glasses because I could then have that in common with him. I even studied violin (a doomed proposition from the start) because Grandpa played the instrument.

So the photo - a typically spontaneous shot taken by my sister, presumably for purposes of future extortions - shows me and other siblings watching a profoundly insipid Barbie® video that my daughter had received for Christmas. I look like a cross between my grandfather and one of my uncles. And I wasn't the only one to notice. "Hey," one sibling said, "is it me, or does Woody look like Grandpa?"

So my ties to my mother's side of the family seem to be at least visually confirmed. On Dad's side, there's little doubt as to who my father really was. Dad is guilty on all counts. I look more like Dad today than I ever really wanted to, down to the "horizontal tie" configuration. (My brother knows whereof I speak. He's a member of the same club.) The rub here is, we have no idea who Dad resembled.

Dad was adopted. We kinda, sorta knew this several years before Dad died, but it wasn't confirmed until a few years after he passed away. By that time, all of the principals were either dead or unreachable. I did have contact with his birth relatives for a short time, but that has since fizzled and we're back to wondering just who Dad looked like. We may never know whether the man his birth mother eventually married was in fact his birth father. The only photos we've seen were of his birth mother's side of the family. There are some similarities, but nothing that jumps right out and indicates that this was Dad's family.

I will probably always be a little sorry for that. As a family historian, I love the links that bind us to our ancestors. It makes the game of wondering where our personalities come from that much more fun. Has music always been a part of both sides of our family, or was Dad the first on his side? Whence cometh my own over-developed ham bone? Is Dad's resemblance to his birth father as strong as my resemblance to Dad? And who, for heaven's sake, was that other man?

There's a connection that is now missing, and something that may never be explained in this life. I will always love and appreciate the family whose name I now bear, and that heritage will continue in one form or another for generations to come. I am also comfortable with knowing that all of my questions will be answered when I catch up with Dad on the other side. In the meantime...

...I hate waiting.

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