To Love in Spite of Everything

Most of us have stories about our parents. When I get together with my brothers, we always call up funny incidents or their witty sayings.

The folks have been gone over 20 years, and I can assure you not all the events were rosy. These days, however, at a more than two-decade distance, we don’t care much about our old complaints.

Like water against the rock, they have been worn away.

Had you asked me about my early years a few decades back, I wouldn’t have spoken as often about the fun times as the dark ones.

They grew up in the Great Depression, and nothing about the economic survival of the Fabians (Jeanette Stein’s family) and Milton Stein’s home in the same period was easy. Nor did their parents win childrearing awards.

I was a therapist to people who still carried the psychological wounds of childhood. My understanding of their experiences sometimes grew out of my own youth. 

A number of my patients wished for different parents, a desire I never thought about but could grasp from the stories these women and men told me.

That raises questions.

Did you long for alternative guardians? Do you believe such a solution could have saved them from each other? Would it, at least, have prevented a portion of the emotional injury you incurred?

Of course, almost all of our caretakers did considerate things dumped in the same garbage can with the bad ones worth erasing.

What else would have lodged in the discard pile if the wish became real?

All your school friends, including a magnificent classmate met in fourth grade and held close to the present day. The games you enjoyed, especially those you won.

Remember too, the people who recognized the lovely voice you possessed, how fine your drawing was, and the teachers who displayed kindness or demanded more academic effort until finally, you gave it.

You’d never have encountered the next-door neighbor who played catch with you because he knew you missed your dad and the kindly owner of the corner candy store. He called you “son” and shared baseball stories. 

Don’t forget another adult who saw the goodness in you when the folks at home turned away in disgust.

In this imaginary vanishing of the elders, your first love departs, too, along with all the joyous, light, romantic dates with others.

These and 1000 other experiences — absent from your life.

Well, I hear you saying your life would have been even better with an alternative Mother and Father designed for each other and you.

Perhaps, but you’ve forgotten one missing ingredient to that superior life.


I’m speaking of your life itself because if the same imperfect pair hadn’t made love when they did, you’d never have been born. Imagine a different growing sperm/egg couple taking your place on the bridge to the world.

Your parents gave you life, a chance, even if the winning ticket didn’t seem worth the paper it was printed on. Since you are reading this, it means you’ve found value in the time and the opportunity.

Much as we curse the darkness, the door exists to seek the light.

Do you doubt this? Read or listen to the thoughtful short poem by Sharon Olds, I Go Back to May 1937.

If the author’s apparent autobiographical details are her own, she describes how she invented a way to manage despite her parents.

There are many ways of overcoming.

Take one.


The top image is Georges Braque’s Still Life with Ace of Hearts, 1914.

The first recitation of the poem includes the text as read by Guy Mulinder. His version allows you to read along with him or turn off the sound and read silently.

The second, by John Lithgow, is also very fine.