The first picture I ever saw of my biological father was what appears to be a work ID photo that comes up online when you search for his medical practice. As he is an old bearded man and I am not, I saw no immediate resemblance. I wasn't surprised we didn't look alike though. My mother had always said I looked "just like" her, and I believed her, even when my eyes contradicted the things she said. For instance, my mother used to tell me I was big-boned and that I would always be heavy like her, who had about a hundred pounds on me as an adult, because I had inherited that trait from her, who had inherited it from her mother, and so on.
In reality, my bone structure is bird-like. The bracelets that fit me best are usually intended for children. The clothes that fit me are several sizes smaller than the ones my mother would buy for me growing up, which was also confusing. My skin is paler than my mother's, and my eyes are a dark, muddled blue-green-grey compared with her bright, clear blue ones. We do look similar, but in the way a mother and daughter might when the daughter has taken traits from her father too. I was never the carbon copy I believed I was supposed to be, and so -- I realize now -- every trait my eyes told me didn't match my mother's just seemed sort of "off" to me.
I went back onto Ancestry.com to see what more I could find out about my biological father, and a series of yearbook photos came up, spanning from middle school through college. He was in all the clubs -- band, theater, National Honor Society -- and that's when I saw the first resemblance. He was delivering a speech in a high school play with his fists balled up at his chest, and my breath caught in my throat when I saw my freakishly small wrists -- and my forearms and my long-boned hands -- on his body. Another photo showed him almost in profile, and I recognized the jawbone and cheekbones I see in the 3-way mirrors in dressing rooms. His eyes are so dark that they look brown in black-and-white photos, and they are so small that their color is indistinguishable in low-res color photos, like mine. I guess they're probably the same color as mine too.
I didn't realize how much people look like their biological parents until I saw photos of him. I grew up with a biological mother who looked quite a bit like me and a social father whose hair and eye color looked sort of like mine and an adopted brother whose eyes were blue-green and hair was sandy brown and skin was a warm olive color, and I didn't know that blood relatives looked more similar than that. My mother used to tell me how she and her brothers looked so different from each other that people made jokes about what their milkman must look like. I pulled up their yearbook photos next. It was true they looked different. Their hair colors spanned from dark brown to red. Some were chubby and some were thin. None of them looked identical. But they all shared features. My red-haired uncle looked more like their father than any of them. Most of them had inherited his nose. That was the first time I realized I had that same nose too.
I had previously assumed when people said a baby had someone's eyes or nose or mouth that they were self deluded, that it was something people said to convince themselves and their children that they belonged. I was in my thirties with a child of my own, but it still took seeing photos of both my biological parents at the same time to begin to recognize "that nose looks like that nose" and "those eyes look like those eyes." I grew up thinking people could inherit physical features from their great-great-great-grandparents that had lain dormant for generations, which would explain why children don't always look like their parents, but if that's a thing that happens, it's not a thing I've actually seen happen. I've learned in the last few months that people look like both their parents, and when they don't -- when they have features neither parent has or they don't share a single physical trait with one parent -- there tends to be a reason.
I love seeing people with both their parents at once now. Immediately recognizing that the child is a mixture of the two parents and being able to pick out who passed on each physical trait gives me a deep sense of satisfaction that I can feel in my stomach. I don't know why.
Another odd thing that happened when I saw the old photos is I found I liked all my physical features better than I had before, even my nose. They'd all come from somewhere. Biology and the randomness of nature had selected them; they weren't just mistakes. I found photos of my known half-siblings online too -- my biological father's "real children," for lack of a better term. They have the same pale skin I have, the same colored eyes and hair. My half-brother has that same bird-like bone structure, while my half-sister inherited their mother's petite frame. We all have different noses.
I felt a sudden connection to my biological father and siblings. I had always wanted lots of siblings, but I hadn't expected to feel anything for the father. I didn't want to feel anything for the father. I knew there was a good chance -- I estimated at least 85% -- that he wanted nothing to do with me. I figured there was at least a 50/50 chance his children would feel the same way. But I wanted them all to know I exist. If they wanted to ignore me forever, that was their right, and I would respect that choice by leaving them alone, but I had a right to let my biological family know I exist.