Land and history

As I was reading an essay by Stephanie Coontz in Sunday’s LA Times, I started thinking about how the inequitable distribution of land is something that many in America–and beyond–are hesitant to discuss. Some, often the loudest people in the room or those shouting at viewers from the television screen (just turn on Fox News . . . you’ll see/hear them!), believe that anything that stirs “discomfort” should be left out of conversations, school curricula, reminisces about the past.

But as Coontz reminds us, “discomfort” and “cognitive dissonance” are the spaces in which we learn, in which we discover that something isn’t–or wasn’t–as it should be. Only by “telling the full story” of both the “good” and “bad” men and women who made life better or worse can we build on past strides against racism, sexism, and other varieties of devaluing human beings while doing all we can not to repeat the unsavory moments.

Recently, I’ve been making my way through Simon Winchester’s thick history titled Land: How the Hunger for Ownership Shaped the Modern World. The story of how and why we came to possess land is fascinating and points to plenty of discomforting chapters in history.

In his dedication, Winchester provides a picture of Chief Standing Bear, telling readers that “In 1879, the U.S. government declared this Ponca chief to be a ‘person’ under the law. But they still took away his lands.

Winchester dedicates his book to a man who never “owned” land in America.

Both my Donovan and Ryan ancestors sailed from Ireland to America in the latter half of the 19th century. Fleeing a less than optimal economic and political climate in counties Tipperary and Cork, in America they discovered opportunities to work and purchase land. To avoid waxing nostalgic, it’s important to mention that they also faced a whole lot of prejudice and hardship on this side of the Atlantic for being Irish and Catholic.

In several of the fields my parents farm, evidence of previous inhabitants has been uncovered. One tract, what we call the “terrace farm” for Dad’s efforts to reduce runoff, revealed an assortment of artifacts when Dad walked the fields after buying the property (arrowheads, fragments of pottery, etc.). He called in a researcher from the University of Illinois to take a look. While the researcher didn’t think Native Americans lived there, he did think there was ample evidence to suggest that the land was used as a camping ground as tribal peoples traveled from one place to another. In modern terms, the land served as a rest stop for weary travelers in search of a better place to settle.

I often think about those people and marvel at the stories that lie beneath the soil. They are stories that we can know only in bits and pieces, strung together through a contemporary lens.

Winchester’s book has gotten me pondering larger questions as well:

  • When did human beings decide that we could “possess” land, that it was ours for the taking?
  • Who was displaced from purchased land because they held no official deed and how did buyers justify this displacement?
  • When and how did human beings determine which land was best, and therefore, who should occupy it? I’m reminded of the conditions, largely influenced by placement of housing and jobs, in which the wealthy and the poor dwell.
  • In the story of the land, who were/are the heroes and the villains?

The answers to these questions are complex. As a landowner, I think they are questions worth asking and discussing, despite the discomfort they might create.

See Coontz’s full story in the LA Times below:

American history is a parade of horrors — and also heroes

WORTHY HEROES: The evangelical abolitionist John Brown, depicted with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other; Frederick Douglass; and Sojourner Truth.


As a historian in the age of the 1619 Project and the debates over “critical race theory,” I find many of the audiences I address fall into one of two camps. Some celebrate American exceptionalism and resist dwelling on horrors like slavery or settler colonialism. Others primarily see a centuries-long saga of white supremacism and oppression.

The shameful institution of slavery must loom large in any honest account of American history. But so should the struggle of both Black and white abolitionists to end that institution. Recognizing those who fought from the very beginning to extend the ideal of equality beyond white men is essential to understanding the American story. We shouldn’t be afraid of schoolchildren learning why our nation needed those heroic reformers.

And yet, since January, legislators in more than half the states have introduced bills forbidding schools from teaching that America’s founding documents had anything to do with defending slavery or from discussing any other “divisive concepts.” Typical is the wording of the Florida and South Dakota bills, which prohibit use of material that makes anyone “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress” on account of “actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, sex, or national origin.”

This is a new twist on old efforts by political demagogues to stoke white racial anxieties. Over the last 100 years we have heard that “they” are coming to rape “our” wives and daughters, take “our” jobs, waste “our” tax money, steal “our” wallets and murder us at random. Now, it appears, they’re coming to hurt our feelings!

But although studying the history of slavery and settler colonialism ought to be disturbing, it doesn’t have to be demoralizing. We need to tell the full story of slavery because without doing so there is no way to understand the heroism of those who fought for equal rights. The only people who should feel “discomfort” in learning American history are individuals who refuse to build upon the efforts of those early visionaries. A case in point is the difference between today’s White evangelical leaders and their forbears, who actually did believe that Black Lives Matter.

In the era when our nation was founded, it truly was revolutionary to claim that all human beings had the right to be treated humanely and equally. For most of history the morality of slavery was never questioned. People resisted being enslaved, but they did not condemn the existence of slavery. And because people believed it was perfectly acceptable to kill or enslave those they conquered, they felt little need to claim their victims were inherently inferior. Subordination was the way of the world, with citizens subject to kings, wives to husbands and slaves to masters.

Profit, not racism, was the primary impetus for the expansion of the African slave trade and the establishment of an African labor force in the Americas. But racism gradually became the primary defense of slavery.

Slave owners responded to an emerging global market by combining the ruthlessly impersonal profit calculations of mass production with the cruel intimidation required to extract maximum effort on exhausting tasks while forestalling resistance by enslaved people, who vastly outnumbered overseers and owners.

But at the same time, the rise of capitalism and the overthrow of autocratic rulers challenged traditional justifications of social hierarchy. More and more people asserted that “the whole human race is born equal.” Some would go on, for the first time in history, to build a movement to abolish slavery, not merely to emancipate an individual or a specific group.

When American revolutionaries claimed an “inalienable” right to liberty without demanding an end to slavery, many people pointed out the contradiction. In 1774, an anonymous “Son of Africa” challenged the rebel colonists to “pull the beam out of thine own eyes.” Caesar Sarter, who was once enslaved, urged the revolutionaries to liberate all slaves as “the first step” toward freeing themselves.

Some white Americans rose to the challenge. Vermont abolished slavery in 1777, giving Black men the vote. In 1781, two Massachusetts slaves, Elizabeth Freeman and Quok Walker, sued their masters for freedom. Both managed to convince white jurists that slavery violated the state’s constitution, which stated that “all men are born free and equal.” Antislavery sentiment became widespread during and after the American Revolution.

But there was an ironic backlash. Once revolutionaries articulated mankind’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” those who supported — or just tolerated — the subjugation of other human beings were put on the defensive.

Very few people like to admit it when we put selfish interests ahead of moral convictions. Patrick Henry, the famous orator who supposedly once declared “Give me liberty, or give me death,” strikes me as an exception that reveals something important about the psychology that helped create American racism.

In 1773, a Quaker abolitionist sent Henry an antislavery pamphlet. When I first began reading Henry’s answer, I thought the pamphlet had done its trick. In line after line, he describes slavery as an “Abominable Practice … a Principle as repugnant to humanity as it is inconsistent with the Bible and destructive to Liberty.”

So I was shocked when Henry goes on to admit that he himself owns slaves and has no intention of freeing them, due to the “general inconvenience of living without them.” He labels his conduct “culpable,” saying “I will not, I cannot justify it.” At his death in 1799, he still owned 67 slaves, whom he bequeathed to his wife and sons.

Very few people can live with that level of cognitive dissonance. Racism offered one way to resolve it.

In the late 18th century, and especially in the first half of the 19th, a sustained campaign was launched to explain away the contradiction between the rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence and the reality of a Constitution that tolerated slavery. Black people, Indians and other non-European groups began to be described as less than fully human, incapable of exercising the responsibilities of liberty.

So even as abolitionism gained momentum, racist invective, which historian Van Gosse notes had been “episodic prior to the 1810s,” became far more common and considerably more vicious. In the South, free Black people faced increasing restrictions. Violent riots against them flared up in the North, reaching a high point in 1863, when demonstrators against the Civil War draft vented their fury on Black neighborhoods.

But to my mind these terrible trends make the resistance to such behavior by a courageous minority of Americans all the more inspiring. And resistance there was. Two recent books, “The Slave’s Cause” by Manisha Sinha and “Standard-Bearers of Equality”by Paul J. Polgar, describe how a “radical, interracial movement” consistently advocated for racial equality from the 18th century onward, gaining support even as racism hardened and slaveholders pushed their interests more aggressively.

Black social reformers like Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth and Sarah Parker Remond rallied huge followings of white and Black Americans in support of racial equality. By the 1840s, legislators in Massachusetts, Maine, Vermont and New Hampshire were routinely defying racially exclusionary federal regulations. In the free states, interracial crowds spontaneously formed to rescue men and women caught up by slave catchers. The 1840s and 1850s saw interracial rescues in nearly every free state, with dramatically large turnouts in Chicago, Syracuse, Detroit and Buffalo. When a fugitive captured in Boston in 1854 was returned to slavery, 50,000 protesters lined the streets shouting “Shame! Shame!”

Then the war itself turned many skeptical white Northerners into strong supporters of abolition and equality. Union soldiers’ diaries and letters show this transformation occurring as young Northern men saw slavery up close, while fighting alongside Black comrades.

Legislators who worry that schoolchildren who learn an unexpurgated version of history will “denigrate” our founders are probably right to fear that youths who discover Patrick Henry’s choice of convenience over conscience will be unimpressed by his “liberty or death” oratory. But there are plenty of other heroes — Black, brown and white — to take his place. In fact, many young white people will find some groups of their ancestors more worthy of admiration than their modern-day counterparts.

During the first half of the 19th century, for example, many white evangelicals were ardent abolitionists who would have been horrified by the recent migration of prominent white evangelicals into the camp of white Christian nationalism.

Jonathan Blanchard, founder of Wheaton College, the preeminent Christian evangelical college in America, spent a year in Pennsylvania working as a full-time “agitator” for the American Anti-Slavery Society. He called slave-holding “a social sin” that could be addressed only by immediate abolition.

And then, of course, there was John Brown, the devout Reformed Evangelical whose militia battled slavery proponents in the Kansas territory and who led an attack on a federal armory in Virginia in 1859 in an attempt to arm slaves for an uprising. He was tried for insurrection and hanged. Yet his stand against slavery inspired later Union troops to march into battle singing “John Brown’s body lies a-mouldering in the grave, but his soul goes marching on.”

Evangelical abolitionists opposed other injustices as well. In 1838 several white Baptist and Methodist preachers not only protested the forced relocation of the Cherokees but also marched with them along the Trail of Tears. Others joined the Liberty Party, which opposed the war with Mexico and condemned the exploitation of Native Americans and Chinese, Mexican and Irish laborers. Many evangelicals were early supporters of female equality.

If our histories refuse to acknowledge the extent and brutality of the injustices that accompanied our nation’s founding, how can we or our children honor the idealism and courage of those who struggled to implement and enlarge the revolutionary demands for equal rights? And if we don’t understand the way people’s belief systems can change, how can we hope to build on the best parts of our heritage and rise above the worst? That’s why an unflinching account of American history can actually give us hope for the future.

Stephanie Coontz, a professor emerita of history at Evergreen State College in Washington, is the author of the forthcoming book “For Better AND Worse: The Problematic Past and Uncertain Future of Marriage.”

A summer of Illinois fields and painted gnomes

Helena and I recently took a trip to central Illinois to visit the farm and attend the Donovan reunion held the first Saturday of August since as long as I can remember.

While in Illinois, Helena and I took a pic in front of the corn growing high on the west side of the farmhouse.

Another crop and another generation of Dewitt County farmers.

When we returned to Birmingham, Helena had one more job to do before heading back to Auburn for her senior year: finish painting the gnomes for G’ma’s room at the nursing home. Throughout the summer, Helena has painted one gnome at a time while G’ma advised her color choices. Now that the family of gnomes is complete, I’m responsible for setting up an inside garden for them to inhabit!

Mom was beaming when the last gnome got its colors!

Michael Collins in Clonakilty

My friend Philip Joyce sent along an article he recently published about the connections between Michael Collins, famed fighter in the Irish War of Independence, and the spirited coastal town of Clonakilty. The piece is timely, since August 2022 marks the 100 year anniversary of Collins’ death.

Published in the Irish Country Living section of Irish Farmers’ Journal on August 4, 2022, Philip’s article explains Collins’ numerous ties to this lovely west Cork community, the same vicinity from which my Donovan ancestors hailed.

Well done, Philip!

Another kind of advertisement

In today’s New York Times, author Rachel Swarns writes about one way emancipated African Americans searched for their parents, siblings, and children–through 19th century newspaper ads.

Separated through slavery, many Black families had few options to locate kin who had been taken from them. Human beings were traded like land and cattle, and those who escaped their masters before they were freed understandably sought to evade their captors and a return to slavery. Following Emancipation in 1863, former slaves often changed their names in pursuit of a new identity of their own making rather than maintain the names given to them by the men who once owned them. It’s easy to see why tracking down loved ones was such an arduous task.

When I read Swarns’ article, I was reminded that many Irish families divided by the Great Famine also turned to newspapers in search of their own. Oftentimes, one or a few family members left Ireland for America (or another destination like Australia or Canada) and were either never head from again or maintained communication for a period of time until the letters suddenly stopped coming. Occasionally, ads were placed in newspapers in an effort to reconnect families who had all immigrated but lost touch in the new country. Sometimes, these advertisements were pleas for information about whether a loved one was still living or had perished without the family knowing.

For far too long, scholars ignored the importance of everyday artifacts to understanding the ways in which people lived and died in a particular period. In fact, messages conveyed through public outlets and in popular vernaculars can offer significant insight into the past.


After returning from Ireland in early June, I began noticing some significant changes in my mom who suffers from late-stage Alzheimer’s Disease. Behaviors that not long ago were a welcome distraction for Mom as she went about her day are now troubling. And sad to those of us who love her and miss the person we knew who is fading away before our eyes.

My 85-year-old mom was a teacher, a reading specialist who worked in the public schools and tutored children for years at the public library in our small rural community in central Illinois. For as long as I can remember, she gravitated towards arts and crafts that the kids she worked with would also enjoy. She could stay engaged in a book or DIY project for hours.

As a kid, I watched Mom embark on one embroidery or needlepoint task after another–many of which now appear in finished form on the walls of my home. They serve as a special reminder of Mom’s love of stitching together beautiful works of art.

One of Mom’s embroidery pieces that sits in a place of importance in my dining room.

In her later years, she took up card making and coloring for pleasure. I’d be hard-pressed to remember a time when Mom simply sat at the kitchen table or in her favorite green-upholstered recliner without something on her lap to keep her hands occupied.

As my mom has aged and her eyesight and motor control have declined, she has given up more intricate activities in favor of simple word search puzzles and coloring books. At first, I hunted down options appropriate for seniors, but during the past six months, I’ve had to opt for materials developed for children. I buy holiday-themed activity books with big pictures and no more than a few words on any given page. Slender writing tools have given way to thick crayons and pencils that are easier for Mom to grasp.

Both word searches and coloring have, unfortunately, become a source of frustration and agitation for Mom during the last few weeks.

Mom insists that the words listed are nowhere to be found in the corresponding puzzles. When I visit her at the nursing home, I sometimes discover Mom crossing off words appearing in the list itself. She notes some satisfaction over being able to find them there rather than in the jumbled up rows of letters that according to Mom “are missing the words” altogether. I am happy to see Mom feeling some degree of accomplishment and nod along and sigh accordingly as she criticizes the creators of the word search book for misleading people.

It’s difficult to describe Mom’s latest response to coloring, probably because I don’t understand it. Mom believes that coloring is a “job” that she has to do. Lately, when Bruce, the girls, or I walk into her room at the nursing home, Mom doesn’t look up or engage with us in any way. Instead, she remains focused on coloring every inch of a page, oftentimes adding color on top of other colors, repeating phrases like “this isn’t any good” and “this color isn’t right” and “I’ll never get this done” and “these crayons aren’t the color they say they are–I mean, they are but they aren’t.” She is driven, flustered, and increasingly irritated that she can’t finish a task that she believes at her core must be done.

“Why don’t you take a break, Mom?” I suggested a week ago. Mom’s lunch tray had been delivered, and I thought that a meal might offer a good excuse to shift gears.

“I can’t!” Mom snapped back, raising her voice in indignation. “I don’t have time for a break!”

She’s stopped participating in activities with other residents and turns away the stylist who comes to her room on Mondays to retrieve her for a wash and set. And she gets very, very angry with anyone who offers to help her get through the coloring pages or suggests that she turn her attention elsewhere.

Yesterday afternoon, my daughter Helena and I visited Mom. While Mom looked up and recognized us when we walked into her room, she immediately turned her eyes back to the page she was coloring and became engrossed in her work.

At one point, Mom began to drift off to sleep. Thinking that she’d finally allow herself to rest, Helena and I were quickly proven wrong. With her eyes closed, Mom’s left hand continued to scribble furiously, pausing no more than a few seconds when sleep began to coax her away from what has become an arduous task.

Brick and Mortar and Books

Wherever my travels take me–India or Africa or Korea or Poland or Ireland–I can always find my way home through books.

As a kid, my mom took me on weekly adventures to our town’s public library. I attended story hours, signed up for summer reading programs, and learned to love the feel of leaving with a carefully-selected stack wrapped beneath my arm. I knew that once I cracked open each book cover, I’d become immersed in a world of a talented writer’s making.

I still frequent the library. These days, I visit the university library shelves to pluck a title or two that’s relevant to my latest research project. And on weekends, I head to the public library to pick out a novel or memoir to while away the hours from my back patio. At 58, I still feel like a kid every time I find a book that promises to expose me to new places and people and ideas. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that I became an English professor who teaches others how to craft worlds of their own at the same time I rise each morning to do the same.

Though my parents didn’t take me to many bookstores during my youth, I took my daughters there on Saturday mornings to participate in story hours and sip hot chocolate before bringing them along on trips to the grocery store or other errands. Occasionally, I let the girls pick out one book each to buy and take home. More often, we browsed the shelves, sat together reading stories, and noted titles we’d look for on our next trip to the public library. I hoped to instill in them the same fond memories of reading that I experienced growing up–alongside the knowledge that words can transport readers anywhere, introducing us to lives and possibilities that reach far beyond the here and now.

During the pandemic, libraries were one of many places closed to the public. Many of us, myself included, continued to benefit from their services by requesting books online and retrieving them from designated pick-up spots. But for far too long, we lost the privilege of walking inside and surveying the spines of books on the shelves up-close.

Many bookstores, both small independent book sellers and big chains like Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million, struggled during the pandemic as well. They closed, as steady customers gave way to isolated bookworms ordering reading material from Amazon from the comfort of their couches.

Tish Harrison Warren laments the passing away of brick and mortar bookstores and the richness they contain:

I have to agree with the author. Pulling up Amazon’s website and searching for titles of potential interest just isn’t the same as entering a physical space filled to the brim with books.

Beyond choice, on both sides

Sarah Milov, an associate professor of history at the University of Virginia, takes on problematic assumptions in the debate over who’s responsible for the millions of people around the world who smoke tobacco products and suffer ill health as a result.

For decades, polarized beliefs have influenced the debate. Big Tobacco points the finger at smokers, the people who purchase their products and make a conscious choice not to heed the warning label outlining the risks of inhaling a host of simmering chemicals. Anti-smoking groups aim to curb the habit among smokers while calling out the companies that pack ever-increasing amounts of addictive substances into each and every puff.

Of course, it’s not a matter of either/or. Individuals do make choices about their bodies that affect their health. And corporations do manipulate their products and create enticing marketing campaigns to reel in as many consumers as they can. Better yet, reel them in and never let them go.

But the debate over Big Tobacco is far more nuanced. It’s important that we couple legislation over the availability of smoking products and the content of those products with research into the socioeconomic conditions and psychosocial factors that influence consumers to pick up their first cigarette or Black & Mild or JUUL or tub of Skoal. Poverty. Feelings of exclusion, anxiety and depression. Unrealistic social expectations for the body–I’ve known plenty of young women who turned to tobacco to control their appetites. Mixed messages about all of the above, and more.

Milov makes some excellent points in her op-ed. But the conversation is larger still.


While in Clonakilty, I met a lovely woman named Jacqueline Maguire. As we sat around a breakfast table at O’Donovan’s Hotel sipping tea, Jacqui shared some details about her life and work with me.

Jacqueline near the Marian Holy Well outside Clonakilty.

Born prematurely, so small that her sister referred to her as “the same weight as a pound of butter,” Jacqui has consistently defied the odds. She achieved Irish records in Track and Field and Swimming, earned a master’s in Theology at St. Patrick’s College Maynooth, and these days contributes her talents to the Irish Wheelchair Association in Clonakilty. In the short time I spent with Jacqui, I was inspired by her spirit.

Before we departed, Jacqui gave me a book of poems aptly titled ThisAbility. Verse after verse, authors reflect on their lives, both struggles and ambitions that keep them moving forward.

I was unsurprised to learn that Jacqui devotes much of her time to speaking about her life’s journey, inspiring others to focus on what they have to offer in this world. None of us should be defined by what might be perceived as deficits. Rather than focusing on “dis”abilities and what individuals are “un”able or “ill”equipped to do, we should be attentive to their unique perspectives. ThisAbility demonstrates the richness to be had by inviting diverse voices to the table.

In their eyes

This morning, I helped out a team from Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church taking their turn serving lunch at Grace Episcopal Church. Located in Woodlawn, Grace Episcopal sits in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Birmingham. A couple of years ago, my cousin Tim asked for my help with another meal at the same church. My daughter Helena and I made our way across town to hand out plates of spaghetti bolognese, salad, bread, and dessert. Today, the fare was hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad, and small bags of Birmingham-based Bud’s Best Cookies.

On their website, Grace Episcopal describes its community as “an Anglo-Catholic, fully inclusive, unconditionally loving parish,” a place “where street and altar meet!”

Grace Episcopal Church is located on 1st Avenue North in Woodlawn.
In the courtyard next to the church, a statue of St. Francis symbolizes the mission of love and inclusiveness.

On weekdays and Sundays, individuals from Woodlawn and across the city come to the parish hall for a hot meal. A table containing donated clothes, toiletries, towels, blankets, and nonperishable food items offers visitors something to carry back to the street after they’ve eaten. Outside the doors of the parish hall, the church provides a large thermos filled with fresh water so people dwelling outside day and night have something to drink. These gestures support the church’s commitment to inclusiveness and love, whatever an individual’s circumstances.

Today, I spent most of my time in the kitchen, one member of an assembly line loading food items onto plates that another crew rolled out to the dining area to serve. Once the crowd slowed a bit, though, I ventured beyond the kitchen to help with refilling drinks and cleaning up empty plates.

As I scanned the room, diners at some of the tables waved their hands or called me over. A few wanted to know whether they could take a to-go box of food with them. Others wondered if there was more lemonade. All were thankful for the meal.

“Have a blessed day!” one elderly woman said with a smile as she made her way towards the door. Behind her, she pulled a small shopping cart filled with random items confiscated from the streets and some old clothes for wearing or sleeping.

“We appreciate you!” a rail-thin man hiding his face beneath a baseball cap shouted, holding tight to a plastic bag holding an extra plate of food for later.

I thought about the irony of “them” thanking “us” for doing so little. Just a couple of hours spent on the “other side of town” before we returned to our big houses and our comfortable lives.

During the pandemic, it’s been remarkably easy to ignore the extreme needs of people in this city. I, like many of my neighbors, have clung to the safety of home, fearful to step into busy spaces where my life and the lives of my loved ones might be at risk.

But as I looked into the eyes of our guests, people who face violence and sickness and hunger every day, I remembered scenes that I’ve conveniently pushed to the periphery since COVID arrived in 2020.

I thought about the many hours I spent with my friend Edwina, a poor, Black woman with a tenth-grade education born in Ensley, another impoverished section of Birmingham, who faced breast cancer while living on the streets. Homeless and addicted, Edwina taught me how very privileged I am. Edwina’s passing in August 2021 gave me an excuse not to reach outside my comfort zone or volunteer my time to help others in my city who are less-equipped to navigate the health care system. I’ve spun a cocoon, self-isolating from people whose harrowing lives I can’t begin to understand.

In the eyes of the hungry, I also saw my only sibling, Joe, who has made a home on the streets and in shelters and rehab centers and prisons across the country while struggling with drug addiction and severe mental illness. Most days, I focus on the pain and suffering that my brother has caused my family and me. If he’d shown up at Grace Episcopal today and asked for a plate of food and some human interaction, I pray that I’d be able to consider the world from his perspective.

For a moment, at least, I like to think that I could offer unconditional love and acceptance.