1969, July 23: Letter from Peter to G&H

Four months after the last letter, we had moved again, this time to Richmond. I’ve now updated the map of where we lived. This was at least the fourth time that we moved in my first 16 months of life.

This letter was typed, but I’m displaying it in regular font rather than trying to make it look typewritten.

Content warning for in-passing derogatory reference to sex workers.

1915 Mendocino

Richmond, Cal. 94804

23 July 1969

Dear Parents--

An idea came to me a week ago, and I've been thinking about it since then, I think it's worth consideration… see what you think…

A title for a much-needed book came to me, & I can think of no two people better-qualified to write it than you, with your broad experience in working with kids, Mother as mother, teacher, & social worker, & Father as father & teacher… the book would be entitled, "How to Help Your Children Become Juvenile Delinquents" --with chapters like "How to Help Your Daughters Become Prostitutes," "How to Help Your Sons Become Car Thieves," "How to Help Your Children Become Drug Addicts," etc. The idea is, I am sure that you have heard so many stories from the kids you've both worked with of how their parents (mis)treated them, & seen so many of the results of parental neglect & mistakes, that you could compile a whole book of such child-raising errors--hence the title… perhaps many of the erring parents aren't really interested in their kids' welfare, and many wouldn't read such a book even if (or especially because) they are prime perpetrators of the errors described therein, and then some who read might recognize themselves in the examples, but fail to do anything constructive about it… ("…and some seeds fell on stony ground… … He that has ears to hear, let him hear") but Ix feel that if such a book were to have a beneficial influence on even a few American families (I say American because it seems the delinquency problems are the most extreme here, but really all families, including the "family of mankind"), it would be more than worthwhile…

If it made a root-cause analysis of juvenile delinquency, such a book could become a standard text for young parents & teachers, for sociology, child psychology, & education courses, and for all people who genuinely care about the growth & development of the world's children… if you could organize your materials & begin to write this book, I believe you would be able to transcend much of your own bitterness & despair, through increased understanding of family dynamics & consequences of both hurtful actions & thoughtless omissions… (also, a useful by-product of publishing such a book would be the not inconsiderable royalties deriving therefrom…)

The single most difficult aspect of this endeavor, would be to attain to the most scrupulous honesty in your researches, not being afraid to discover some basic mistakes which parents make for fear of painfully recognizing them as having occurred in your own child-rearing days… on the contrary, you would have to analyze deeply and examine minutely your own hearts and memories and motives, to understand better why three of your sons (prodigeously prodigal) have gone through the changes we have, & also why one son never strayed from orthodox paths…

Another very difficult idea to convey might be presented in a chapter "How to Help Your Children Become Robot-Automata," showing the antithesis of neglect, & how overprotectiveness & overdomineering, overly authoritarian parents can stifle their kids' wonder & curiosity (and feeling & joy) and help turn them into one more soul-less & alienated number in the Computer-Machine…

Finally (and you might look into A. S. Neill's books for ideas about this), a chapter might be appropriate (after the reader wades through so many consequences of mistakes & ignorance, lest he despair of finding any positive suggestions) concerning helpful ways not only of avoiding all the tragic errors, but of actively helping children become wholesome, healthy, free (but not disrespectful of others’ freedom), educated, integrated (integral, whole), happy, fulfilled individuals, functioning as productive members of society and at peace with themselves, their environment, and their Creator…

Well, I hope you will carefully consider this proposal, and I think that its personal therapeutic value to you in writing the book would be small compared with the potential value this book might have in preventing such misguidance as is so prevalent during these changin' times… who knows, if you wrote it well enough, someday Cascadia might run out of 'customers'…!


Here, everything is going swimmingly…I had Moonday off, we took the bus down to San Jose to meet a beautiful doctor-healer…she's an M.D., about 63, she has travelled much in the Orient and has known (maybe was personal physician to?) the Dalai Lama… anyway, she examined us -- Marcy has a staph- and a strep- infection and I have a staph- (probably from the Harbinger swimming pool)--but Jed has a clean bill of health, except that he must be weaned because Marcy's milk is not good for him any more-- so we're converting him to raw goats' milk… Marcy has been feeling that she's pregnant, and the doctor concurred, so she probably is…!

Well, it's 1:00 a.m., I just finished baking five loaves of bread, and must get up at 7:30 for work--good night dear parents, may God bless your work,

handwritten: Peter, Marcy, & Gentle Jed (the Fierce)

Marcy was in fact about two months pregnant at this point.

…I can’t tell whether this letter was intended to be a subtextual criticism of George and Helen’s parenting. I feel like that wasn’t usually Peter’s style—I feel like he was usually pretty earnest and forthright, and I would guess that he really did think this would be a great book and that George and Helen would do a good job of writing it—but some bits of this letter do read to me as pretty harsh criticisms of George and Helen.

…One odd thing: Marcy’s father had died about two months before this letter, but there’s no mention of that in the letters I have. I wonder if they told George and Helen about that in a phone call, or didn’t tell them at all, or if there are letters missing, or … ?

Some other notes:

“A. S. Neill's books”
Neill was, as Wikipedia puts it, “known for his school, Summerhill, and its philosophy of freedom from adult coercion and community self-governance.” I suspect that George and Helen would have been appalled by Neill’s book Summerhill, but I may be giving them too little credit.
The Cascadia Juvenile Reception and Diagnostic Center, which I gather was sort of a jail-slash-treatment-center for teenagers. George had been teaching girls there since 1963.
The place had a fascinating and unfortunate history; it had previously been the Cushman Indian Hospital (connected to the Puyallup Indian Reservation, near Tacoma, WA), but the US government took it back and handed it to the state of Washington in 1961. For some further details, see my 2020 Facebook post.
“had Moonday off”
No idea whether Moonday was just a typo or was an intentional spelling.
…Also, this letter indicates that Peter was working a regular job, but I have no idea what he was doing.
“a beautiful doctor-healer”
I have a very vague memory of her from later years—possibly she was called Dr. Gale, or Dr. Gail? But I had forgotten all about her until I read this letter, and I may be completely misremembering, and this may be a different person anyway.

Facebook post for this letter.

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