My husband and I are opposites. He has black hair—that rare, true, deep black—which is thick and wavy. I have straight, fine, reddish hair. His eyes are deep brown, mine are green. I am so fair that I can get sunburned just thinking about the sun; he sports a deep tan year round.
So perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that we each have a child who looks nothing like us.
Matt, our oldest, takes after his dad. While his hair isn’t true black, it is deep brown. His eyes are the exact color of my husband’s. No need to worry about excessive sun exposure—I only put sunscreen on him if we’re going out at noon in the summer. When he was a baby, I was occasionally asked if I was his nanny. Other kind souls would look from him to me and say, “He must take after his father”. I wish I could say it never bothered me that we don’t look much alike, but that would be a lie. It was as if my DNA had made no contributions at all, and I would scrutinize his tiny baby face to search for something, anything, that clearly came from my side of the family.
When our second son was born, imagine our surprise when he turned out to have fair skin, light brown hair and big blue eyes. It was my turn to have a mini-me, and my husband’s turn to have people look surprised when they saw him carrying this pale, fair child around. You would think I would be happy to have a child who is obviously, undeniably from my side of the family. You’d be partly right. I like to imagine that my son’s blue eyes were inherited from my father and from my maternal grandmother; two very important people in my life. It’s fun to look at pictures of myself when I was a baby and note how my hair curled the same way. But I also feel strangely… guilty. Everyone knows that brown eyes are dominant, right? How could it be that Ramzi has blue eyes? A (thankfully) few people have even jokingly asked if the mailman wasn’t involved in his conception.
It turns out that eye color is one of those incredibly complicated things that doesn’t fall into a simple DNA binary. There are three color alleles, blue, brown and green and depending on family history, brown eyes can even be recessive to blue. Oh, and did I forget to mention this? My husband’s father has green eyes. Most of that side of the family has blue eyes and light brown or blond hair.
When people look at us questioningly, and this happens quite often, we tell them that there are blue eyes in my husband’s family. They nod and I try to tell myself that they are convinced. It’s ridiculous, I know, to worry about what others are thinking, but there you have it.
When we go out together, we look like two separate families spliced together. Father and big boy, mother and baby. People say things like, “Oh, your kids look nothing like each other!” Or, “Oh, they’re almost identical except for their coloring!” Or “Wow, they look so much like you!” Or “Wow, they look nothing like you!” All families like to search out family resemblances and ours are no exception. We put pictures of cousins next to each other and exclaim over the similarities while ignoring the differences. In the end, it turns out that DNA is in the eye of the beholder.