John Steinbeck Letter to Son

I read good reviews of John Steinbeck’s letter of fatherly advice to his son and finally found it HERE .  I was surprised to see that it was written on my 13th birthday. His son Thomas was born in 1944, a year before me and was raised in boarding schools, as was I.

I have read most of John Steinbeck’s works and they always move me. Too often they make me sad because many of his stories are set in depressed times. He was born in 1902. He had survived World War I, the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, American Isolationism, World War II (War Correspondent), the Cold War, and McCarthyism .The Viet Nam War (1955-1975) and the Civil Rights Movement (1954-1968) were in the news when he wrote this letter at the age of 56.

New York
November 10, 1958

Dear Thom:

We had your letter this morning. I will answer it from my point of view and of course Elaine will from hers.

First—if you are in love—that’s a good thing—that’s about the best thing that can happen to anyone. Don’t let anyone make it small or light to you.

Second—There are several kinds of love. One is a selfish, mean, grasping, egotistical thing which uses love for self-importance. This is the ugly and crippling kind. The other is an outpouring of everything good in you—of kindness and consideration and respect—not only the social respect of manners but the greater respect which is recognition of another person as unique and valuable. The first kind can make you sick and small and weak but the second can release in you strength, and courage and goodness and even wisdom you didn’t know you had.

You say this is not puppy love. If you feel so deeply—of course it isn’t puppy love.

But I don’t think you were asking me what you feel. You know better than anyone. What you wanted me to help you with is what to do about it—and that I can tell you.

Glory in it for one thing and be very glad and grateful for it.

The object of love is the best and most beautiful. Try to live up to it.

If you love someone—there is no possible harm in saying so—only you must remember that some people are very shy and sometimes the saying must take that shyness into consideration.

Girls have a way of knowing or feeling what you feel, but they usually like to hear it also.

It sometimes happens that what you feel is not returned for one reason or another—but that does not make your feeling less valuable and good.

Lastly, I know your feeling because I have it and I’m glad you have it.

We will be glad to meet Susan. She will be very welcome. But Elaine will make all such arrangements because that is her province and she will be very glad to. She knows about love too and maybe she can give you more help than I can.

And don’t worry about losing. If it is right, it happens—The main thing is not to hurry. Nothing good gets away.



John Steinbeck (1902 – 1968) was an American author of 27 books, including 16 novels, six non-fiction books, and five collections of short stories. He is widely known for the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath (1939), East of Eden (1952) and the novella Of Mice and Men (1937). Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962 “for his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”.

Good Citizens

I believe that our republic was established to protect individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as granted by God (believed to be the beneficial but anonymous source of life) to each of us. Subsequently the governments within the republic were established to protect us; from infringing on the rights of other and from them infringing on ours.

As citizens we are supposed to respect those rights of all. We have corrupted that concept through the unwillingness of some to be good citizens. It doesn’t matter to me what someone does until it infringes on my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Laws that attempt to control our identity (race, gender, etc.) should be considered unconstitutional. Sadly that is not the case.

Racism: failure-to-evolve

Racism is the commitment to the opinion that every member of a race possesses the positive or negative characteristics observed in some members.  Thus a racist may consider one race superior to others.  In my personal experience that consideration is not true.  It is faulty logic like: all crows are black; crows are birds; thus, all black birds are crows.

Such an opinion of people may be based on a suggestion that our genetic basis influences our behavior.  All Mexicans are rapists, because we are aware of one or some Mexican rapists.  Some day we may determine precisely what characteristics are influenced by genetics, but currently genetics has not identified a morality gene.  Racism is, in my opinion, based on faulty logic.  Check out this page: .

We tried to correct the racist treatment of Negros with laws against discrimination based on race.  Then we tried to compensate those who had experienced discrimination with laws providing them with elevated privileges based on race.  Thus perpetuating racial discrimination and vulcanizing resentment in those who lost opportunities due to reverse discrimination.

There is no law that can alter how we feel or think.  Someone who has been injured by someone will be afraid of anyone who closely resembles the person who injured them.  We see this in folks who have experienced abuse or harm based on discrimination against their race or by some members of a certain race.  Also, some of us tend to be leery of the unfamiliar.

I have never eaten octopus and cannot convince myself to try it.  I’ve tried boiled okra and did not like it, and there may be some recipe for boiled okra that I will like but I probably won’t try it.  If there was a law that said that I must eat octopus and okra I would be a criminal, with a resentment against okra and octopuses [note] USAGE The standard English plural of octopus is octopuses. However, the word octopus comes from Greek, and the Greek plural form is octopodes. Modern usage of octopodes is so infrequent that many people mistakenly create the erroneous plural form octopi, formed according to rules for Latin plurals.Aug 7, 2010 [/note].  So it seems that a law can alter how I feel and think, but probably not as it was intended.