Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 9, 2008

Loving E.B. White

A student wrote a paper on E.B. White who I adore, and now I love his father, too. Apparently E.B. White had a wonderful childhood in the country, a doted-upon youngest child, but he struggled with depression through his life. After graduating from college, he took off with a college buddy to go cross country in a Ford Model-T. (which also happens to be the dream of the college senior who wrote this paper, though with different car.) E.B. White wrote a letter to his father, apologizing for his lack of ambition.

And do you know what this generous and imaginative dad wrote back?

“If you feel that you are lacking in ambition, be assured that meditation and contemplation, of which your letter is full, is a more certain joy in life. Anyone can indulge in ambition; only those who have the spirit can revel in passive enjoyment.”

I thought this was stunning. So did my student. Although I mentioned the letter to a friend, who is the parent of child heading into the world of work, and she said, “Yeah, that’s what he wrote. We don’t know what he also might have said.”

I suppose there could have been some kind of addendum, “Get a job, slacker.” But at least he had the grace to try to see his talented son for who he was, too.



  1. That’s all we can ask of a parent right, to try to see the child for who they are, not for who we wish they would be.
    I never had that but I hope I did better with my own kids.

  2. I’m sure you did, Susan.
    And I bet you, like me, like being part of a writing family where we try to see each other the way our own parents could not.

  3. I’d like to think so, with regard to my kids, though they might think differently. 🙂
    And yes, the writing family helps. I like knowing someone else out there has been through the same thing, who can see the struggle I am having with something and understand that it is a worthy struggle and not belittle it.

  4. I love that his father offered him support. And I prefer to think it was whole-hearted and real. Seeing your kids for who they are, and not who you want them to be, is a great gift, methinks.

  5. It is a great gift, and one I strive for. This was a good reminder for me.

  6. This reminds me of some of Robert Louis Stevenson’s quotations about travel and life. I learned more about him at The Writers Museum in Edinburgh, and now I have to read more!
    By the way, I’ve tagged you for a meme:

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