I’m at odds over my need for approval.
Yesterday morning, at my local coffee shop in Washington, DC, I held the door open for two female joggers. Well-coiffed, immaculately dressed, both in my age-bracket, they breezed by me as if it was the Hay-Adams Hotel and I, an invisible doorman.
I mumbled, to myself, “You’re welcome.”
Not a big deal. Drinking my coffee, I dwelled on it. Was I irked over their rudeness, or because I needed my chivalry acknowledged?
Is there even a difference?
In 1972, when I was thirteen, inspired by the Munich Olympics, I practiced diving at the Jewish Community Center. No flips. No pikes. Just jack-knifes off the low board.
I caught the diving instructor’s attention. He commented I was pretty good and should consider trying out for the team.
Later, I excitedly told my father. He rolled his eyes and said, “So now you’re going to talk about diving for a couple weeks until you realize it takes hard work, and quit?”
He was peering at the dusty drum kit in my bedroom. Or perhaps, the half-filled coin and stamp albums strewn on the floor.
It sounds harsh now, but it was spot-on accurate. Already diagnosed as “hyperactive,” I tended to attack new pursuits with gusto before quickly growing bored.
Did being “spot-on” justify my father’s frank observation?
I doubt he understood how soul-crushing he had been. I certainly didn’t have the ability to articulate how I felt in real-time, at that moment.
Nor could I comprehend the significance of what he had said.
My father died nine years ago and I continue to miss him. We had a healthy relationship. As adults, we were good friends. I valued his opinions, and his company.
I also recognized my father’s flaws, but none were deal-breakers. He meant well and had a good heart.
In one of my first posts, Nail Biting Suspense, I wrote about the difference between blaming my parents for my life versus understanding their roles in who I am. This is a great example of that important distinction.
Am I suggesting my desire for validation stems from one single incident? No.
Do I believe my father’s history of frankness, coupled with my inability to express my feelings, contributed to my hunger for approval? Yes.
Do I envy people for whom validation is icing on their cakes of self-worth? Absolutely.
Perhaps most important, however, as a father myself, I have strived to balance criticism with encouragement while we raised, and continue to nurture, three healthy daughters.
Though I still struggle with validation, I am in the process of more objectively understanding, and building my sense of self worth. In that process, I take immense comfort knowing that I didn’t pass my compulsion for approval to my daughters.
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P.S. It took me a couple looks at the Swimming Lessons poster to notice that the artist had segregated the children. Not germane to the topic but I found it interesting.