On Husbands, Fathers, and Seeking Approval

May 12, 2022 § 27 Comments

By Melissa Fraterrigo

When I published my nonfiction piece, “The Night of the Fire,” which details a kitchen fire we had growing up, I sent the link to my husband. A few days later, I wanted to ask him what he thought. But I already knew the answer: he hadn’t read it. And writing these words even now, my stomach turns.

The rational part of my brain speaks up, says: You have to believe in your work above all others. Exactly what are you hoping for him to say about your piece? Why is it so important that he reads your writing?

I don’t have a definitive answer, just a number of hypotheses.

Hypothesis #1: You are seeking his approval.

It’s true. I didn’t come from an artistic family. My dad took me to the library on a weekly basis, but once I was in high school and talking about college plans, he made it clear that writing was not a job. Nursing—like my mom—would be a much better choice. Dutiful daughter that I was, I went along with his advice until I shattered a beaker in the middle of a chemistry lab and 24 pairs of safety goggles bore down on me, their looks saying the one thing I’d been thinking since our first day of class: You don’t belong here.

Hypothesis #2: I’d like for him to understand what I do.

It’s true that even now at extended family gatherings few ask about my current projects—and I don’t offer. I wish I was the kind of writer who didn’t need the support of her family, but I crave it now as much as ever. I remember once many years ago, during my first fiction writing class, I handed my dad my first story and asked him to read it. It was about a woman who worked at a factory naming shades of lipstick. She hated her job and I recall spending a fair bit of time coming up with exotic names for her to assign to each new lipstick color. I remember asking him later what he thought. “It was good,” he said.

I took the typed copy back to my bedroom and flipped through the pages looking for any sign of what he’d really thought—a bent page, maybe a smudged word. I was looking for him to tell me if I was on the right path. If I could write and if he thought I should keep going.

Twenty-some years later it seems I’m still seeking the answer to this question.

I have a new writing group. Once a month we gather for two hours over cheese and crackers and write. We take turns hosting at our kitchen tables and offering a prompt. Last week L brought a box of old children’s books. The month before, K piled the table with art books and encouraged us to find an intriguing image. I found a picture of a Norman Rockwell print of a preadolescent girl sitting in front of a mirror in her slip, chin in hands. In her lap was a glossy tabloid with an actress on its cover. Will I ever be pretty? the girl’s expression seemed to ask. We had the identical print framed in the basement of my childhood home. After everyone had tired of The Brady Bunch or Eight is Enough, and went upstairs, I’d stand there in our wood-paneled basement looking at the girl, feeling her ache, and matching it with my own sense of inadequacy.

The power of this new writing group is that we write. There is no critique. Sometimes we’ll share generally what we worked on, but the reverberations of sitting at a table and writing in concert with fellow writers lasts for days.

I have always been a people-pleaser. A rule follower. A box checker. And yet writing pushes against this time and again. I am compelled to write through my own determination. There’s no grade involved. No one knocking on my door asking to see the pages I worked on that morning.

I’d like to be the kind of writer who just writes for herself and doesn’t need anyone else’s approval—only I don’t know if I’ll ever get there. Maybe it’s the drive to be seen that keeps me going.

In a culture that is not focused on literature or the creative arts, I’ve created an environment where I feel accepted and at ease. The process of making such a space has been life affirming: each time I meet with my writing group, I am saying I chose this. And this and even this. And that won’t change no matter who reads my work.

Melissa Fraterrigo is the author of the novel Glory Days (University of Nebraska Press), which was named one of  “The Best Fiction Books of 2017” by the Chicago Review of Books as well as the story collection The Longest Pregnancy (Livingston Press, 2006). She founded the Lafayette Writers’ Studio in Lafayette, Indiana, which offers live and virtual classes on the art and craft of writing. Coming June 23: You + The World: Expanding the Scope of Your Memoir with E.B. Bartels, a virtual workshop on writing and planning your hybrid memoir.

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§ 27 Responses to On Husbands, Fathers, and Seeking Approval

  • aklotz2014 says:

    How I loved this piece–thank you!

  • Vickie says:

    Thanks for expressing a lot of what I think. Recently, I said to myself, I can’t be the only one who feels this way. I get the family part of this because no one in my family is a writer.

  • dennyho says:

    Like anyone else we know, writers also enjoy talking about what we do or how we spend time. I have observed that those who don’t write or have a flair for the arts don’t understand the craft of writing or appreciate the work we do. I am not throwing shade, just stating my observations. You have found your writing group and these peers will give you what you, we crave…and will do so with enthusiasm and support. I miss my writing group and wonder if it is time to build another?

    • Hi Denny,
      I hope that you find a writing group or your own place where you can be with writers who not just enjoy writing, but who WANT to understand it beyond the page. You should check out the classes with the lafayettewritersstudio.com. Many of my students become one another’s biggest advocates. Good luck!

      • dennyho says:

        I did enjoy a writing group for many years, we melded well. Over time we naturally grew apart, and I now enjoy the solitude of writing for me, spur of the moment or hours a day. Thank you for your thoughts Melissa.

  • I am glad for you, Melissa, that you found a supportive writing group. It a personal failure that I have not, not even through my MFA.

    • Jan,
      I think it takes time to find a good group. Are you taking any classes or do you belong to any groups–online or in person? Even a good book group can offer the sort of support and creative challenges writers require. I’m rooting for you! Best, Melissa

  • There’s so much here to relate to, Melissa. I’ve always been a people-pleaser, too, and writing my memoir (in part about my people-pleasing) has been a force in helping me find and speak my truth.

    • Hi Karen,
      Thanks so much for reading–and relating, even if that isn’t a comfortable experience!
      I’m so glad that your memoir-writing has allowed you to become closer to the person you want to be. That is such a gift.
      Write on!
      Melissa

  • A complex issue: who are you writing for? Will anyone read it? A friend , who had self- published a novel, told me she was going for an MFA because she wanted to be a writer like me.. I said, “you mean one who spends a zillion hours perfecting a story , sends it to 45 literary magazines, and finally one accepts it ,and sends you ‘payment,’ a single free copy,” “yes!” she said and got the MFA, not altogether a great experience for her, though not terrible either. As a graduation present I gave her a copy of my most recent publication, a beautiful looking journal. ThE extra copy cost me $15. She never read it– a very short story, maybe 1500 words. After asking a few times if she’d read it yet I decided to try to forget about it, and appreciate those who did read the story. But I don’t feel the same about the friendship with the non-reader..

    • I am so sorry about this experience, but you are not alone. And KarenHope, when I gave my novel to my mother to read, she said unless there was “going to be a murder or something” that she could “not be bothered to continue reading” after the first few pages. I closed my blog last month, which my husband faithfully read, but none of my other family or friends has noticed.

      We must write for ourselves. We are our most faithful readers.

    • Dear Vicki,
      I am so sorry this happened to you!! My heart tells me that there are many writers (myself included) who have experienced heartless words and actions by other writers. That might be another post altogether. I want to say something positive, and perhaps the only takeaway is that you don’t know what happened to your friend during her MFA. Maybe someone did something truly devastating to her. You’ll never know. But you DO know where this friendship stands with you and that’s something.
      Wishing you all best,
      Melissa

  • I have dealt with this same issue for most of my life, starting when my mother laughed when I told her the plot of a story I was writing when I was in 7th grade. Husbands, boyfriends, children… none of them have any appreciation of what I write. Some 55 years on, I finally write what I want when I want without seeking approval from anyone. Well, most of the time I don’t need validation. However, every now and then, that monster raises its head and laughs at me, again.

    • Karen,
      I am so glad to hear that you’ve found a way to write what you want, when you want–without regard to anyone’s approval. I believe this will be a lifelong process for me. I can learn from you!
      Yours,
      Melissa

  • Oh how I needed to read this today.

    “I’d like to be the kind of writer who just writes for herself and doesn’t need anyone else’s approval—only I don’t know if I’ll ever get there.”

    Yes. But I must keep pushing forward.

  • Di Brown says:

    Hypothesis #3: Your writing is a significant part of you, and you’d like your partner to be interested in, understand, and relate to that part of you too.

    It’s not “needy” or “unhealthy” to want your partner to be interested in the things that matter to you. 🙂

  • […] On Husbands, Fathers, and Seeking Approval […]

  • stacyeholden says:

    Diarists write for themselves, and historians may or may not read what they write 100 or more years from now and use it to support their own reflections. Writers, however, inherently want to communicate with readers, so there is an element of outreach in the work we choose to do. We should embrace the fact that choosing to be a writer means choosing to be read by others…not necessarily liked but always engaged.

    • Stacy,

      Good point that writers write for varied reasons but ultimately we want to communicate with readers–the trick is figuring out the path forward when the ones we want to engage with aren’t keen on participating.

      Thanks for reading and writing!
      Melissa

  • lgrizzo says:

    Thank you for this. I’m sure most of us have similar conflicts. Even so, we need to keep writing.

  • Thank you for this! I can relate to so much of what you’ve written. My brothers aren’t curious about my writing. Thank goodness my sister is supportive. I’ve only had a handful of publications and at 67, I’m not expecting that to change much, although I keep trying. Like you, I’m a people pleaser and do want approval. It takes a lot to keep writing anyhow simply because I like to write and enjoy the process.

    But when I look at your bio, I think you have a lot to be proud of–starting the writing studio and publication. Keep the faith!

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