My father was not a demonstrative man. Raised by cold and distant parents, virtually on his own from the age of thirteen, he learned early on to be self-sufficient and contained. He rarely exhibited anger (though, believe me, we kids got him there on occasion) but also rarely did he exhibit overt love or tenderness. He was gentle while being stern, but he never doted on us, and thus he was particularly hard to read.
On one particularly sunny day in my early adolescence, I was consumed with the suspicion that I’d disappointed my father. I had really screwed up at something — though today I can’t remember what it might have been —and I was sure this failure removed every chance that I might someday make my father proud. Trembling, I stood before him, the sun hot upon my hair, my brow bound by worry, and confessed my fear. In answer, he said:
“Don’t worry about the level of your accomplishments. Just be happy. As long as you’re happy, I’m happy”
The immediate release these words provided was so profound that they stuck in my psyche. They told me that neither by my successes nor by my failures would my father take my measure. At times, I have forgotten this lesson and worried if I’ve failed him, but eventually I do remember and in doing so I realize that doubting his approval is the one thing most likely to displease him.