The Passport Photos My Dad Took

Kim McKinney

Photo by Amanda Bartel on Unsplash

“When you look like your passport photo, it’s time to go home.” Erma Bombeck

I get nervous when I realize my passport is ready to expire in the next year. Even in COVID times.

While I am a procrastinator who often misses deadlines in her personal life (such as my car license tag renewal), I would never knowingly let my passport expire. You never know when someone may say “Hey, do you want to go to Antarctica?” and you must be prepared to say “Sure!” (That is the only possible answer, from where I sit. Well, once again, COViD complicates, but if it’s up to me that’s the answer.)

I was waiting in line at CVS, where all of the passport photos of my adult life have been taken, and I remembered a Dad story. My Dad died in 2016 and there have not been many days of my life since he has been gone that something hasn’t brought him to mind.

Dad was almost always calm, cool, and collected - and seldom wrong. He also was a bit thrifty. (I may have inherited that particular trait.)

It was time for Dad’s passport to be renewed and he thought “Why should I go out and pay someone else to take a passport photo of me? I’m a pretty good photographer.”

Dad read all up on all the requirements - an engineer, he was the type who would not miss a detail (I did not inherit this trait.) He knew the backdrop he needed, he knew the size his head needed to be, he had each and every detail down.

He set up a white sheet with a chair in front of it, set up the tripod, and started the process of taking his own picture. He found it wasn’t quite as easy as it looked.

Keep in mind this was way back in the days of film, so there were film costs and processing fees that needed to be considered. Dad kept making adjustments and taking more photos until the full roll was ready to be developed.

When Dad got the pictures back, there wasn't one that was usable. The pictures were hysterical. Sometimes the timer took before he was seated. Sometimes he was leaning one way or another. Sometimes you could see the sheet draping and other times wrinkles in it. Yes, we laughed until we cried. Dad wasn’t around when we saw them. He had left them on the counter, so how could we not look? And yes, our mom was the ringleader. (He wasn't fragile and our laughter wouldn't have bothered him a bit. OK, he may have gotten a little annoyed after a while.)

That did failure did not stop him. It just gave him more data to make sure he got it right. He finally got his picture. Did he save money? I doubt it. But it was evidence of who he was as a person.

CVS has always been my passport place because I learned from Dad how I didn’t want to do it.  Even after all he had gone through, and knowing my inability to do anything crafty, Dad would have still told me I could do it myself. Most who know me, know better. I certainly do. Sometimes his faith in me was misplaced.

I wanted to hug the young guy who took my picture when he handed it to me. This warm feeling was not because the picture was so great, it was far from it, but because the process was so much fun. He would remind me “You can’t smile like that” - which made me purse my lips in a way that makes me look a bit suspicious. We laughed after he took it and I really had to laugh when I saw it. I may be patted down or strip-searched in my future, because of that strange look on my face. I looked at the guy and said "Really? This is what you come up with?"

My photographer was proud of his work, however. He didn't consider taking another shot. He said, “They do call them mug shots. And they’re the ones who say you can’t smile, wear glasses, or have your hair in your face.”

I rolled my eyes at him but then acknowledged “I’ll be traveling. If I looked too good they wouldn’t recognize me.”

I found a $2 coupon online when I checked to make sure CVS still took passport photos (since it had been 10 years), so I didn’t pay full price. Just like Dad. And truly, as bad as my photo is, I know Dad’s were far worse.

Sometimes "Do it yourself” is not smarter or cheaper. But it does often lead to better stories. (I miss you Dad, but you left me inspiration!)

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I love the stories of people and places and enjoy telling these stories. I live in my hometown of Statesville, NC and love to show small town life is actually quite lovely and more is going on than may meet the eye. I also have a passion for justice and a special interest in accessible healthcare, including treatment for drug and alcohol dependency. I am a woman of faith, joy, laughter, adventure, and live life to the full. Follow me on Twitter at or my blog

Statesville, NC

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