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I have a friend whose 17-year-old daughter is like a facsimile of her, except that she does her hair and makeup differently (as in not at all) and dresses her own way. They’re like two identical dolls dressed by radically different children. There’s danger there, because my friend sees her own face so clearly on her daughter, and struggles at times to see her daughter as a separate person, with different characteristics, and needs, and limitations. The temptation to project yourself and your own feelings onto such a familiar face must be extraordinary.

“You sound just like your father.” I said this to my second oldest nephew recently, because I heard his voice from a distance and actually thought it was my brother. His voice had deepened significantly since my previous visit. The older one looks more like his father, and the younger one sounds more like his father, but neither one of them is just like either of their parents, even though there are those genetic matches, and habits they’ve picked up in how they phrase things.

I look very different from my mother, especially in body type. I am taller, with a bigger frame. I’m built more like my father, which does not feel good to me. As a teenager, I tried to starve myself down to the right size, so that I would resemble my mother more, and my father less, but it only lasted long enough to give me fainting spells and muscle cramps, and when I started eating again, the illusion of similarity disappeared.

My father is six-foot-four and over three hundred pounds. He used to be unspeakably strong, before diabetic neuropathy, two strokes, cancer, and age. My hair is brown with red highlights, like his was, rather than dark brown to almost black like Mom’s. My nose is more rounded, like his, my face is more Russian, like his, my skin color is peachier, like his, whereas Mom’s coloring is more Mediterranean. To other people it’s probably subtle to the point of invisible, but to Mom, and therefore to me, the differences are overwhelming.

The fact is, I didn’t and don’t look like my father. I have a full head of hair, and no beard. I am nowhere near as tall or imposing as he is, and my body language is very different. I wasn’t a smaller version of him, at any point in time. But when categories were being given out, my brother matched up more with my mother and I matched up more with my father, and that was that.

For a lot of people, there’s relief in being able to see a parent’s features in a child, if only because it proves parentage. That way you know for sure that the babies weren’t switched at the hospital, and the mailman didn’t get his genes in there without you knowing. But I wonder if looking nothing like your parents might be easier, as long as you are certain of their love and attachment, because then people can see you more clearly as an individual and not so easily confuse you with someone else. But then again, we all look for clues to who we are in the people in our families. We look for a great uncle with our particular inability to do math, or a cousin with our propensity to laugh until we fall on the floor crying. The balance between wanting to be unique and wanting to fit in is so precarious.

I have two dogs instead of human children, and they are small, white-haired dogs. We will never show up in those side by side pictures of dogs and owners who look alike.


“Wait, you don’t look like us?”


“We need to lie down.”

When I was younger, we used to have black-haired dogs, so that was a little more like me. I especially felt like Dina, my black lab mix, was my familiar, even if we didn’t look exactly alike. I related to her “black dog” status, not the most desirable puppy at the shelter, not the right size or breed or coloring to be popular. There were lots of puppies like her at the shelter, and at every shelter. But mostly it was her personality, and her status in the family, that I related to. She cried desperately when we had to keep her downstairs in the kitchen as a puppy, before she was potty-trained. She escaped from every enclosure we made for her, but no one was willing to put time and effort and money into training her, or buying her special beds and toys and treats, or coming up with a set schedule for her. She was largely left to her own devices, like I was, and she was overwhelmed, like I was, and she developed some odd behaviors as a result, to try to comfort herself, like me.

dina smiles

Dina’s smile.

dina stops to sniff

Me and Dina (we even dressed alike).

A look-a-like was what I needed at that time. Someone I could think of as just like me, and still worthy of love and attention and care. Taking care of Dina taught me how to take care of myself. But by the time Cricket came along, I was ready for a dog who was not like me at all, but who needed me anyway. She was so assertive, and cute, and very high maintenance. She taught me that even though there’s a steep learning curve in loving someone so unlike yourself, there’s also a freedom in it. It’s so much easier to accept her strengths and weaknesses as they are when they don’t reflect on me. She’s her own person and I can see her clearly without judging her, or myself, quite so much. And that’s a relief.


Cricket is her very own person.

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

57 responses »

  1. exiledprospero

    Love the picture of you and Dina.

  2. My dog looks nothing like me, but her personality sometimes mirrors mine, and because of how much I love and accept her, she has helped me to be more loving and accepting of myself. Thanks for this reflection.

  3. One of my very favourite things is spotting mothers and daughters. I think it’s magical; it really does give me a thrill.

    I could never see myself in my mum and, it was only after she died when I met cousins and aunts fr the first time, seeing my crooked teeth or jawline or nose in someone else…wow!

    But, when I’m out and about, the very best thing for me is spotting the mother-daughter duo.

  4. I guess maybe soul-alikes??

  5. I enjoyed your insights a lot, you put much truth to paper. 😀

  6. I have a step daughter and a foster daughter. Both of them, I am told by various doctors, acquaintances and store clerks, look just like me–we think it’s funny. Some people say we grow to look like our dogs. 🙂

  7. Though I favor my parents, I don’t look as much like either one of them as I do my mother’s sister. Both of us favor my mother’s family, but we’re still different-looking. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of an ancestor of ours that I realized where we got our different looks from. Something about that gave me comfort. As for my dogs, we don’t look alike, but we sure act alike–stubborn, independent, high-strung, active, and moody tendencies. I find that comforting as well.

    • I watched a show about dogs in England where this guy had to guess which dog belonged to which owner, and he focused on the personality of owner and dog to match them, rather than looks. I think you’ve got something there.

  8. I hear you on struggling with resembling the “wrong” parent. I have always been told I “look just like him.” This complicates an already loaded, complex dynamic, as you might imagine.

    As a teen I went through a terrible self-abusive phase to try and “correct” my bod in order to match my gender/sex ideals of thinness and gracefulness. As a young child, my parents put me on endless diets because I was stocky, like my father. I ❤️ Your furbabies. They look like themselves, which is a wonderful thing to resemble.

  9. Good for you when you rescued Dina. Black dogs and cats are the hardest to place.

  10. I quite often see dogs who look like their owners – or is it vice-versa? 🙂

  11. How very relatable about our families and our dogs. 🙂

  12. I really enjoyed this Rachel, it was beautifullly written. I do genealogy and have seen some intersting family resemblances. I only have adopted feline offspring and never really loked for myself in anyone else but I am glad as I age I seeem to take after my father’s mother because she lived to 88 in perfect health. I’m glad you and Dina had each other, I love that picture of you walking her..

  13. When I was younger, I never thought that I looked like my dad. As I have gotten (much) older, I begin to resemble my father more and more. All my kids comment about it.

  14. Hey, people said I looked like my mother and I’m adopted. People just say stuff to say stuff. They just know what else to do with their mouths…….

  15. What is the red stuff all over the bottom of Cricket’s beard? If I was there I would lick it off. Mom says if she had been born a dog, she would have been a schnauzer!

    • I’m pretty sure Cricket was eating beets at that moment. But I have another picture where she has pink streaks in her hair, from the icing that dripped off the side of the table onto her head.

  16. When Hubby made Maggie’s detachable waterproof cover for her little jacket and we wore our black capes, we looked like a trio of bats!

  17. So interesting on so many levels. When I taught K thru 2 Grades, no one ever had to tell me who each child’s parents were as the mannerisms were identical 100%. Both my parents were joined to each other (both willingly and voluntarily) and I, as an only child was, and am, fiercely independent, much to both of theirs surprise and intrigue. Very interesting article.

  18. Another lovely post Rachel.
    Everyone says that my sister, my mum and I are all exactly the same…I myself don’t see it except in some photos of my sister and I. I love checking people out and looking for similarities, both looks and personalities. I also look at dogs and owners sometimes and think that oddly, some do look similar. I have three very different looking dogs and I’m pretty sure we bare no similarities ha! Saying that, two are related and if you closely at their very lovely faces you can tell they have come from the same mummy (different dad according to the vet).

  19. Namaskaram Rachel, what have you done to me 🙂 🙂 ?? I am suppose to be in my own kitchen, cooking and photographing for my next blog entrance, but checking my mail I came across your very own blog. And so I am sitting here, reading as many of your postings as I can for now but mainly looking at your gorgeous little ‘fluffs’ – what beautiful names you have given them. I follow you now, just so that I do not miss any of your future postings/photos. Please do give a little cuddle to either of them. Ciao, for now. Carina

  20. Very interesting! I think I see more similarities between dogs and owners than between cats and owners, but you are right, it is great not to have to compare ourselves to our pets. Although I wouldn’t mind being able to leap in the air like my cats. My sister was the cute one, looking like our mom (dark, curly hair and blue-violet eyes) and I was the quiet, serious one with light reddish brown hair and green eyes. Fortunately our parents were complementary and I seldom felt unattractive. I was a late bloomer and that turned out to be a blessing later in life. Now I am beginning the transition of letting my hair grow out white, so maybe I will resemble my leaping Lily with much white!

  21. I kept Johnny in a crate where he still sleeps at night. He loves it. Bedtime is his favorite time of day. Clare never liked her crate and whined a lot, teaching my parrots annoying noises.

  22. Love this post, love dogs…speaking of crates, if dogs are used to their crate at night and when their owner leaves they find it a very secure place to be. I wouldn’t want to leave mine in a crate too long and now he does have one, but in the beginning when he was new, he loved his crate and went there whenever he was tired or afraid.

  23. I’m sure you made Dina happy, even if she expressed it in some odd ways. We know our dear friend Honey has had a chequered past, and there are scars, but she is happy, nonetheless. Dogs are so resilient, aren’t they? They mould themselves into almost any shape they think we want, even if sometimes they get it wrong. p.s. I’m glad you didn’t inherit your father’s beard…

  24. I look my mother, more Asian but taller, and my sister doesn’t really look like either of my parents (very Eurasian) — but when she smiles, she does look like my dad’s sister a bit. Genetics are funny!

  25. Hi Rachel, I have a new friend Digby now so we are lookalikes too. Both white adn fluffy, Woofs from KoKo


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