When I look at my hands I know I am my mother’s daughter.
I have her hands. And her feet. And her fingernails. I also have her passion for equality and her outspoken nature.
Recently I was looking at an old photo of my Father, a man whose face is not in my direct memory, whose voice I cannot hear in my mind.
In the few recollections I have of him I cannot see his face so I substitute it with the face from one of the even fewer photos I have seen of him.
I am looking at photo of my Father from a time when I am not in his memory either. A time before I am born, before my sisters or my brother are born. It is a time when my Father was a young man, not yet married to my mother. A young man but like all men of that time, he looked older than he was.
He is wearing his US Navy uniform. Navy blue with 3 white stripes on the jumper flaps. On his left sleeve a white eagle, wings spread and below it a Mechanic’s Mate insignia (a propeller). This photo was taken in the early 40’s, a black and white that someone colored and his eyes are a little too blue, his cheeks a little too rouged. His hair is parted on the left and has a shine from Brylcreem or maybe Vitalis. He has a small Errol Flynn mustache.
I look, really look at this man, this stranger, my Father, whom I feel no emotional connection to and for the fist time ever I wonder who I am to him. I am unmistakably my mothers child and I know this each time I look in the mirror but I am also his, technically I am 50% of him, but where? I study the picture looking for me in him or Him in Me.
As I look at his small attached ears, I see my sister Tara.
I look at his broad forehead and see my sister Michele.
The blue eyes, those are my sister Colleen’s.
Wavy hair, that would be my brother Richard.
I don’t know why at this point in my life, when I am over half a century old I care, but suddenly I do. What parts of me did I get from this stranger-to-me who left when I was 5 never to return?
What did I get besides the few brief snippets of memories that are my own, not stories passed down. So much time has passed that when I hear his voice, it is not his but my own voice saying his words. My Father, this stranger, what did I get from him?
I search his face again.
The nose I realize is mine. Not the new nose I got at 21 but I see my old nose on my father’s face. The nose I now see on my daughter’s face as well.
My square chin, that is from him.
I start looking more closely, his ears sick out, as do mine. Deep set eyes, yes I got those but bigger, like Moms. Strong jaw, me too. His hair looks thin, that I got from him as well.
I wish there was more to this photo. I know that in addition to hand and feet, I have Mom's knobby knees, her neck and her collar bones. But what about my arms? My legs? My shoulders and back? Should I assume that anything not Mom’s is his? I wish I could see more of him, find other similarities to tie me to him.
There is no more though and I realize that however limited the image I have of him in this portrait is, I am indeed connected to this man physically but what about personality or traits?
Was he funny? Did he like to read? Did he like art? Music? Did he love to dance? He loved motorcycles and owned a Harley, I love... Sons of Anarchy? I know he was a mechanic and I do have a natural aptitude for mechanical things, that must be from him, but is that all I share with him?
One trait I know he had was drinking, or rather his inability to walk away from one. I luckily do not have that. He also had a quick temper something I once had but learned to control, but maybe that was a nurture not nature thing. But maybe his was too??
I have felt family poor much of my life. All around me people had family outside their immediate nucleus. Uncles. Cousins. Nieces. Grandmothers. Aunts. Grandfathers. Nephews. My mother had no living family and because my father was so completely gone, so was my extended family. Even before my father died, when asked about my family I use to say that there were 6 members, my mother and us 5 kids. Such a small family and all I had.
While putting his picture in a frame, my Father has come to life in me. I see now that I am part of this man that I do not know, this man who I have for the most part given little thought to throughout my life. However, when I look in the mirror now I will see his chin, his protruding ears and jaw. When I look at my daughter I will see his nose passed on to her, through me.
By looking at that photo and seeing parts of me in it, I now see that I am not family poor. Though I do not have any “family memories” of him I now see that he is just like the Cousins and Aunts and Uncles and Grandparents that I never got to know. They are still MY family. They are a part of me and I am a part of them. In hundreds of seen and unseen ways I am part of the family collective because no matter what, my father's lifeblood, his DNA gave me this nose and chin and jaw and stand-out ears. Next time I look at my Fathers picture, I will see me and know that I am family-rich.