Newsletter 86: The Pleasantness of Having Weak Genes

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I’ve decided to start putting some of the best newsletter essays here on Medium, so more people can read them. You’re still better off just subscribing. Here is a newsletter from December 2017, about the weirdness of looking exactly like one’s father — the weirdness of having another human being all together who has the same face as you — and how I’m pleased my children won’t suffer the same fate. My sister got married last weekend, and all of my dad’s brothers were there, all of whom look exactly the same, and it was disorienting. May your genes be weak.

Earlier this year, my parents bought a condo here in Athens. They kept their place in Mattoon, splitting time between here and there, but they’re retired now and wanted to be as close as they could do their only grandchildren. We love having them here; right now, Dad and the boys are at the YMCA together, playing basketball and running laps around the track, and that is not something they could have done if we were still in New York and they were still in Mattoon. The holidays and stray Cardinals weekends were the only times we all got to see each other. Now we get to do it all the time. We’re very lucky, and not just because my father is actually handy (unlike my whole stupid generation) and is constantly fixing things that break down at my house.

And now that they’re here, some of our friends in Athens are starting to get to know them. At a holiday party last night, a neighbor took me aside and said, “Hey, I saw your Dad at Add Drug with your boys yesterday.” He paused and laughed. “It’s really creepy how much you two look like each other.”

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I never think I look much my like father, but no one ever thinks they look like anyone other than themselves. Obviously I do, because every single person who has ever met either one of us says we do. Every time we’ve ever checked into a hotel together, the first thing the person behind the desk says is invariably some sort of “lemme guess: You guys are related!” joke the minute they see us. It’s the first thing anyone ever notices when we’re together. It is sort of funny how little perspective one has on one’s self. Something I can’t quite grasp about myself is literally the only thing total strangers see immediately.

What’s particularly odd about this is that my father has three brothers — Larry, Terry and Jimmy, which sounds like a Newhart joke — who look exactly like him, a fact that is completely obvious to me (and everyone else).

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My lack of self-perception aside, my father and I look alike, just like he and his brothers look alike, and just like he and his father looked alike. All my cousins look like Leitches. The Leitches have a very clear and straightforward look, and it is impossible to deny. It’s a strong throughline. It’s just powerful genes.

So, then, it seemed a fair assumption that when I had children of my own, they would have the same look. You can tell a Leitch boy from a mile away. Surely my sons would be the same.

My sons are not the same. My sons don’t look like Leitches. They look like Stevensons. They look my wife’s family, not mine. To see a picture of my wife as a child, or her brother, or her father, is to look at a picture of Wynn or (especially) William.

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Generations upon generations of Leitches looking exactly like each other … and here I am, the weak link in the gene chain, getting wiped out in one felt swoop by the Stevensons. I suppose this is something that I should be unhappy about, but it isn’t. My wife is much better looking than I am, and the children thus are going to be far more handsome and attractive than us sullied, shabby Leitches. The last thing I want those children to have weighing them down the rest of their lives is having to look like me. Let the past die. Kill it if you have to.

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