It’s been a year and a half since my son was born, and he still doesn’t look like me. I’m starting to give up hope. Or consider plastic surgery.
At first, there was reason for optimism. Elijah arrived with dark curly hair and was a dead ringer for Dad, just like I was for my own father. Our resemblance was indisputable to all but my wife. Even the nurse who accompanied us out of the hospital agreed.
Then Elijah lost all his hair. When it grew back, the wispy strands were light brown and straight — except for one pesky cowlick in the back that made it seem like he had perpetual bed head.
General consensus now says that he has my wife’s entrancing eyes and that every other feature is up for grabs. It’s a topic of endless fascination among relatives and friends: Whose nose does he have? Ears? Mouth? Toes?
While I’d love to see myself reflected in him like a mirror, much more interesting are the moments when I see him do something and it reminds me of something I just did an hour ago.
Just watch Elijah as he eats: See him cram his mouth full of food, devouring a whole hot dog in a few seconds? He gets that from me. Ditto for when he decides it’s a good idea to get a little creative, eating ketchup off of tortilla chips or mixing applesauce and carrots. (He outdoes even his old man in this area.)
There are times when he slows things down, however, and on those occasions we say that he’s having a meal in the tradition of my wife’s family. At those times Elijah takes forever to clean his plate, sitting happily in his booster chair as he savors every bite and becomes distracted by his surroundings.
And when he grabs a harmonica or plays the recorder with gusto — literally gusts and gusts of wind coming up from his little belly — I can’t help but see him following in the steps of my wife, a musician.
My mother watches Elijah run around naked except for his diaper and sees a resemblance to my late father. She calls him her little exhibitionist; I call that too much information.
We see the way that he can be obstinate and oppositional, and we know that karma truly exists. When every parent threatens their child by saying, “I hope your kids are just like you,” this is what they meant.
There are times that I worry about how else he might be like me, and I’m not just talking about the scar that he recently got by falling off of a chair, a blemish that is almost a perfect double for one that I got at his age.
We share the same DNA, and I worry that he’ll pick up the way I can be forgetful and aloof or, more seriously, that he’ll develop the same chronic medical condition that I’ve had for more than a decade.
I worry that he’ll throw a football in the same pathetic way that I do and that he’ll struggle to say what he means when he means it.
Still, there is hope — maybe not for Elijah to have a face as freckled as mine but for him to echo the best in me and those I love. As I see it, family resemblance doesn’t have to be just a genetic hand-me-down. It can be taught and nurtured.
That’s what parenting is all about: Recognizing that Dad’s love of deep-fried Oreos ought to be balanced by Mom’s farm-fresh ways, and that Mom’s willingness to watch a 4-minute video of babies talking to each other on YouTube can be offset by Dad’s interest in newspapers and current events.
Only time will tell if it’s really possible to influence such things. I hope so, but I’m keeping the plastic surgeon’s number on speed dial just in case.