A Love Letter: Father to Son

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33df5bc252fa59b399e65b9437c5af8dMy sweet friend Courtney sent me to Cup of Jo’s blog to read the letter below.  I loved it so much, I had to repost.

In 1958, John Steinbeck, author of East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, and Of Mice and Men, received a letter from his teenage son Thom, in which Thom confessed that he had fallen desperately in love with a girl named Susan at his boarding school.

Steinbeck wrote this wise and wonderful letter back to him the same day…

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.




(Via Letters of Note.  photo of Steinbeck with his sons John and Thom in 1954, the letter originally appeared in this book. Images songofstyle and lettersofnote.com)

Aside from endearing, this letter reminded me what a tremendous role fathers can play in how we give and receive love.  What has your dad taught you about love? Are you a dad? If so, how do you have that conversation with your kids?

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8 responses to “A Love Letter: Father to Son”

  1. Courtney says:

    yay! love you cindy!!

  2. Bree says:

    Because today is my dad’s birthday, I thought I’d post about what he’s taught me about love. He’s UBER practical and not at all into the mushy loves stuff, but what that taught me was to not get too swept up in the emotional side of love. In fact, when I was in those types of romantic “I’m in love in two weeks” relationships, he was pleasant, but not engaged with the guy. And then there’s my husband – the two were chatting it up in Haiti long before we started dating. There’s more sustenance and staying power to the ones that have the relatable practicality and well-roundedness with a healthy dose bit of the mushy love stuff. That’s proven true in my life. Slow and steady (and not too mushy) wins the race. :)

    This letter was incredible. So into it.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Bree! I love how dads, and men in general, are often able to come at things in a more practical way. Obviously, that doesn’t include every male or female, but for sake of argument, I love how God wired us differently and in doing so we find a balance.

  3. I like the last line, too. Don’t Hurry — nothing good gets away. So, one of the things my dad taught me is patience. He was/is an incredibly patient person. When I say “taught”, I guess I really mean “modeled” because I’m not sure if I’ve been a good learner!

    • Thanks for sharing! Patience is so hard…especially in the game of unrequited love. A long term perspective is helpful for me when I’m tempted to rush and take control. I’m glad your father modeled it for you. What a wonderful gift.

  4. this was amazing!! I LOVE John Steinbeck, first off, and this letter was just so sweet and perfect. My dad taught me to be strong in love and not let it take over my life in a negative way. He also taught me to treat the person I love with respect. Way too many things to write on one blog response… but of course, most girls probably feel that way about their dad’s advice!! :) Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for sharing, Melinda! Those are crucial lessons your dad passed on. Not that I really know from experience per say, but in everything I’ve read, the issue of respect comes up a lot. I also love that he taught you to keep your life. Makes sense since all four of you girls have such amazing personalities, interests and dreams of your own!

  5. […] lives and it all worked out when it was supposed to.  Like the letter from Steinbeck said, “Nothing good gets away.” In dating, it can feel  like everything is super fragile and crucial.  Lunch with Art and […]

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