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What Happened When I Stopped Searching for Validation From Others

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Deep in the confines of my mom’s drawers sits the baby book she made by hand, assembling the many pieces of information, photos and other memorabilia she collected about me through my nearly 33 years of life. A now tattered story ripped from the newspaper also sits stuffed into that very book, detailing the road to my performance at a children’s talent show hosted by the local library. At the time, I was the tender age of 3, bubbly, excitable and filled with a love of singing, dancing and music. In fact, there are countless home videos of my older sister and I singing and dancing along to the music of New Kids On the Block and Mariah Carey. My love of singing and performing often leads my mom to sign me up for various talent shows and auditions and so my performance at the library that particular day was nothing out of the ordinary. Though what transpired was ultimately indicative of an action and set of choices I’d continue to employ as both a teen and adult.

The newspaper article detailing the library talent show begins with a brief synopsis of the show and what it entailed, but goes on to focus upon the actions of none other than myself. It describes the show was slated to begin at a certain time and all the performers were ready, except for me. Me? I wanted to wait; wait for the arrival of a man who at the time I believed was my hero. The person who I didn’t spend much time with due to his work schedule and perhaps other personal issues, but coveted for his attention. All I wanted back then was his time, attention and to be seen.

A retail pharmacist and manager at a large pharmacy chain, my father’s hours were long and arduous. Sometimes, days would go by without me seeing him at all, given the late hours he would arrive home. His days off were typically different each week, but as a child, those days were some of the best and the ones I longed for the most. The day of the talent show, he worked, but was still scheduled to arrive in time for my performance, so naturally, I wanted to wait. To me, it didn’t matter if the others were primed and ready, or if only a certain time was allotted for performances; if my dad couldn’t be there to see me, then I wouldn’t perform. Back then, I was certain of what I wanted, despite being so young. Confident in my beliefs and choices, I was firm in waiting and refused to budge. Surprised and even impressed by my firm and confident choice, the library staff and fellow performers and their families, obliged, hence how I became the leading focus of the newspaper story.

The story describes how the show was slated to begin, “but not for Melissa Kaufman, 3. She wanted to ‘wait for Daddy.'”

Eventually, my father arrived and there I went in front of the crowds, donning a floral, Spring dress and a floppy white hat, belting “Tomorrow” from the musical, Annie. The song, at the time, was my go-to, and I sang it with conviction, confidence and excitement, proud to see my dad in the audience and to have his focus.

Newspaper clipping detailed by contributor

Looking back on this occasion and my life in general, I see it as a recurrent theme; me, vying for my father’s attention, a man with a turbulent personality and his own set of emotional challenges and dark days. Many years later, in the deep throes of my eating disorder and depressive states and was in an unstable physical and mental state, the man I believed to be my hero sat at the kitchen table, ignoring my wails and words, spooning into cereal and readied himself for his work day. It was only when my mom rushed home from work after receiving my pained and desperate call when I realized the man I believed to be my hero didn’t even see me as someone worth rescuing.

Years later, I look back and instead of feeling angry towards my father, I feel an undeniable and unwavering sense of sadness; I see now that in order to rescue someone else, we first have to rescue ourselves. For me, it was always a recurrent theme, waiting for my dad. Waiting for him to see me, waiting for his help, waiting for his recognition, his validation, his acknowledgment, his nod or seal of approval that I am worthy, that I am deserving of life and of success. Though, I now know, no matter how hard it may be on some days to believe it, his validation and acknowledgment is by no means necessary or required for me to believe in myself, for me to be deserving of love, success and all I aspire to. The only person whose acknowledgment and validation I need is that from myself.

There is only so much waiting in life someone can do until it starts to serve little, if any purpose. When in college I struggled to keep up due to physical and emotional challenges, but persisted no matter my father’s callous words to me. I stood proudly, looking out to the sea of supporters, including my mom and sister, and accepted my diploma, refusing to need or want my father’s acknowledgment or presence at that ceremony. No longer would I wait and no longer did I want to wait for something that most likely will never come. He does not need to accept or validate me, I can do those things for myself; as we all can, we only need to believe it, which in itself can surely be challenging, but not impossible.

If there is something you want or need to say, something you want or need to do, from what I’ve learned, everything we ever needed is within us and no amount of waiting for others will bring it. In the words Maya Angelou, “You alone, are enough; forgive yourself for what you didn’t know before you learned it.”

Image via contributor

Originally published: April 6, 2021
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