The Child I Was


The child I was had
long blonde hair (combing optional)
freckles that multiplied in the summer
dirty fingernails from playing in the mud
scabs on her knees and elbows
baby dolls and a green bicycle and a room of her own at the top of the stairs
a grandmother who taught her to sew
a grandfather who taught her to hammer
a mother that loved her with all that she had in her
and a daddy-sized hole in her heart

divorce wasn’t talked about
support groups for single moms didn’t exist
and unfeeling teachers forced me
to make cards for Father’s Day
filled with words of love for a man I didn’t know
cards I wanted to save for someday
when I met him
cards I would throw in the garbage
on the way home from school
before my mother could find them

long before I learned about genetics
I wondered what parts of him
made up what parts of me
and why just being me
was never enough

when people ask me how I came to be a writer
I often tell them it’s because I had no father
and all my life I’ve been making up stories about who is
and why he never came back for me
pretending he was off adventuring
pretending he would someday return to claim me
righting my upside-down world
pretending anything
was easier than accepting that maybe
he was never coming back
because he never wanted me at all

the child I was
wanted so much to believe
that anything was possible
that all fathers love their daughters
that all families belong together
but fairy tales don’t often come true
and little girls grow up to learn
that some holes are best left alone
before they swallow you whole
and you lose yourself
to what you never knew
and forget
who you have become

@copyright Susan Taylor Brown 2010
All Rights Reserved

Finding My Father

If you’ve read my blog for any length of time you’ve probably learned a few things about me.

1. I love writing poetry and books for kids, my dog, my native plant garden, Santa Cruz, and chocolate.

2. A little over a year ago I was laid off from my day job and have spent the last year adjusting and enjoying being a full-time writer.

3. I’m filled with all kinds of doubts and insecurities about who I am, what kind of a writer I’m supposed to be, and if I am ever good enough whatever task is waiting right in front of me. (In other words, I worry a lot about things I should quit worrying about.)

But probably the single thing that tells you the most about me is that I have never known my father. His name, yes, but that’s all. I’ve never met him or anyone in his family. The only pictures I’ve ever seen were of him as a gawky young man in a white suit at their wedding. He was gone before I was born.

As I kid I used to bug my mom all the time for information about him but she never really said much. No one in the family talked about him and when they did, they never painted the prettiest picture. But here’s the thing, I didn’t want them to tell me whether the picture was any good or not. I wanted to see for myself. Still families do what they can to protect what they feel needs protecting and by the time I was in the 4th grade and someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I said no, without hesitation. I had been trained well.

When you have a hole like that in your life it’s like a scab you can’t let heal. And people who don’t have the same kind of hole often find it difficult to understand why just can’t leave it all alone and move on. I can’t explain the why. I can only claim the hole. It’s grown smaller over the years but it’s still there.

Last week I wrote about the distance we need between real life and our stories before we can write about them. In the past I’ve written about feeling safe enough to write the truth of your story. I believe we should always strive to write with emotional honesty, even when (or especially when) that seems like an impossible task.

That’s where Flyboy comes in. Every question I’ve ever had about my father, about my worth as a person, about how I felt something missing when there was no reason to feel that way because my life was just fine the way it was….all of that has been pouring into Flyboy for, well, over 25 years now.

Characters and plot, I’ve got them. But to take that emotional plunge into the ice water of my past…I just couldn’t make myself do it. I give myself a lot of sleep suggestions about my books, hoping my subconscious will take me where I need to go.

Four years ago I had a dream about my father. In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking. Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up without opening the box.

Last week for some random reason I decided to check for my father on Classmates.com. I knew where he had gone to high school so I kept hoping that he might show up there. It was a far-fetched hope since people in his generation aren’t as into the Internet as I am. Once I had gone there and found nothing I went through my normal little routine, putting in his name, the town he went to school in and the state where he was born. I’d never gotten anything back with that combo before but it was a familiar search I had done many, many times.

This time was different. This time an obituary popped up. I read it and burst into tears then almost as quickly I chastised myself for crying over someone who had never wanted me.

I’ve pieced together a story from my mom over the years. My father Tommy Webb was born in Arkansas and went to high school in Vallejo, California. His family eventually moved to Concord, to Bonifacio Street, into the little duplex across the street from where my mom lived. He worked at a service station in Walnut Creek, back when they had guys who pumped the gas for you. My grandmother’s name was Tina. She was pregnant with my uncle Robert at the same time my mom was pregnant with me. I had an aunt Kitty who was two years older than I am. There was another aunt Janette. That’s about it. Except for the not so pretty stories that I’ll keep to myself because, as my mom told me today. He could have changed. Turned his life around. People do it all the time.

My father died in Missouri. In January. This year.

In January I was still recovering from being laid off, trying to piece my new life together, trying to figure out how to create a life that nourished my creative soul. I was whole but with rough edges that still needed smoothing. I think if I had found him then it would have been too much. Much too much. Sometimes distance is a good thing. Even if it means we never get the chance to say goodbye.

His obituary mentions my aunts and my uncle. Where they live. It also says he has two sons and a daughter. My half-siblings. And lots of grandchildren. Aunts and Uncles. Bothers and Sisters. Nieces and Nephews. Family or not. It all depends on your point of view. The kind of picture you want to paint.

The obituary does not, of course, mention me.

I keep thinking about that dream I had. How odd to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift I’ve always wanted. Answers to questions that have haunted me for years.

The Internet makes things easy sometimes. Really it took no more than a few hours of searching to locate most of the family. They’re not active online. No websites or blogs or Facebook profiles. But mailing addresses. Phone numbers. I have some of them now.

It’s a chance. A chance to see at least part of the picture for myself.

Monday, November 9, 2009|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , |41 Comments

memorable mothers and fathers in children's literature

I am working on a couple of booklists, similiar to the 175 Cool Boys from Children’s Literature and 200 Cool Girls from Children’s Literature put together by uber organized Jen Robinson and could use some help building up my lists.

Here are the lists I am putting together:
Mother’s in Children’s Literature (if someone has already done this master list, please let me know.)

Fathers in Children’s Literature (yes, I have a list of fathers and daughters in kidlit but I’d like to broaden the list to all sorts of fathers in children’s literature.

And what the heck – grandparents too!

Here is the list so far:

The mother in The Runaway Bunny (Margaret Wise Brown)
Homily Clock The Borrowers (Mary Norton)
The calico cat in The Underneath (Kathi Appelt)
Marmee from Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
Mrs. Frisby of Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert C. O’Brien)
The mother in Are You My Mother? (P. D. Eastman)
Sarah in Sarah Plain and Tall (Patricia Maclachlan)
The mother in Love You Forever (Robert N Munsch)
Mrs Walker from the Swallows & Amazons books (Arthur Ransome)
"Moms" from the Trixie Belden books (Julie Campbell and Kathryn Kenny)
Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter books (J K Rowling)
Mrs. Sowerby in The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
Caroline Ingalls in The Little House on the Praire (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Katherine Krupnik from the Anastasia series (Lois Lowry)
Mrs. Murry from A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
Mrs. Darling  from Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
Mrs. Milton from Spud (John Howard van de Ruit)
Mrs.  Quimby  from the Henry Huggins and Ramona series (Beverly Cleary)
Mrs. Tillerman from Homecoming (Cynthia Voigt)
The Other Mother in Coraline (Neil Gaiman)
The mother in So B. It (Sarah Weeks)
Mrs. Coulter in His Dark Materials series (Philip Pullman)
Mrs Connor from Evolution, Me and Other Freaks of Nature (Robin Brande)
Mama from the  "All-of-a-Kind-Family" series (Sidney Taylor)

Pod Clock The Borrowers (Mary Norton)
Charles Ingalls in The Little House on the Praire (Laura Ingalls Wilder)
Ted Walker from the Swallows & Amazons books (Arthur Ransome)
Peter Belden  from the Trixie Belden books (Julie Campbell and Kathryn Kenny)
Arthur Weasley from the Harry Potter books (J K Rowling).
Mr. Melendy from the Melendy books (Elizabeth Enright)
Mr. Darling  from Peter Pan (J. M. Barrie)
Mr. Murry from A Wrinkle In Time (Madeleine L’Engle)
Mr. Milton from Spud (John Howard van de Ruit)
Mr. Quimby  from the Henry Huggins and Ramona series (Beverly Cleary)
Myron Krupnik from the Anastasia series (Lois Lowry)
Fenton Hardy from the Hardy Boys series
Carson Drew from the Nancy Drew series
Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
Elrond in Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
King Theoden in Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
The preacher father in Because of Winn Dixie (Kate DiCamillo)
Pa Faulstich in Just Juice (Karen Hesse)
Henry Swann in Protecting Marie (Kevin Henkes)
Jakob in Family Tree (Katherine Ayres)
Mr. Penderwick in The Penderwicks (Jeanne Birdsall)
Mortimer Folchart in Inkheart (Cornelia Funke)
Isaiah Goodspeed in The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed (Heather Vogel Frederick )
Mr. in  Mr. And Me (Kimberly Willis Holt)
Mr. Peck in Boston Jane (Jennifer L. Holm)
Bill Casson in Saffy’s Angel (Hilary McKay)
Ben Sills in Words By Heart (Ouida Sebestyen) 
The father in Hugging the Rock (Susan Taylor Brown)
Saul Naumann in Bee Season (Myla Goldberg) 
The father in Tender (Valerie Hobbs)
Whip in One of Those Hideous Books Where the Mother Dies (Sonya Sones) 

Mrs Oldknowe (sp?) from the Green Knowe books (Lucy M Boston)
Abigail Tillerman from the Tillerman books (Cynthia Voigt).

Sunday, March 8, 2009|Categories: Books|Tags: , , , |55 Comments

June carnival of Children's Literature – Fathers in Children's books

Welcome to the June 2008 Carnival of Children’s Literature. The theme of fathers in children’s books brought posts of the good, the bad, and even a bit of Dr. Seuss.


To get us in the fatherly mood, a pair of special daughters give us a glimpse of what it was like to grow up with a pair of special dads. Terry at the Reading Tub shares thoughts on her dad and books and Kelly Herold tells us what it was like Growing up with a Rockstar.

Susan Gaissert presents Hop on Pop: A Critical Analysis.

Jen Robinson posts about the five best and five worst fathers from children’s and young adult literature that she’s read about this year.

I share Erica Harrington’s post about my book, Hugging the Rock, in which she suggests that maybe the father wasn’t such a rock after all.

Jeannine Atkins talks about The Power of Absent Fathers and Becky Levine ponders the absence of fictional fathers on her own bookshelf.


Joyce Moyer Hostetter shares some thoughts on fathers in children’s literature as well as a sneak peak into the sequel to her novel BLUE.

Libby at Lessons from the Tortoise presents a potpourri of ideas about fathers in books.

In a comment in my blog, Annie Mitchell shared her thoughts about the fathers in Bridge to Terabithia.

Fran Cannon Slayton talks about Sounder and the grandfather she never met until she wrote her book, How to Stop a Moving Train

Jules at 7 Imp give us Father Knows Best, a review of How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevtiz

Becky’s Young Readers reviews Happy Father’s Day by Dan Yaccarino.

Because I Love You by Max Lucado is reviewed at Quiverfull Family Blog

Nancy Arruda writes about the  Hello, Goodbye Window by Norton Lester.

Becky’s Book Reviews presents Going for the Record by Julie Swanson.

Franki and Mary Lee at A Year of Reading offer the Author Interview: Shelley Harwayne.

Mary Burkey points us to her Audiobooker blog, featuring the Odyssey Award, which was won this year by the producer of the audiobook of father-and-son team Walter Dean Myers & Christopher Myers’ book Jazz. The Myers are also featured here and here.

Book Moot, reviews Miracle on 49th Street by Mike Lupica in Audio Books That Charm.

Kelly Herold reviews Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce.


Daddy Dialectic
The Friendly Book Nook
Book Buds reviews books about dads
Peter at Collecting Children’s Books
Fathers and Daughters in Children’s Books at Susan Writes
Mitali Perkins:A Baker’s Dozen of Father Daughter Books

Thank you everyone who submitted to this carnival!

Would you like to host a future carnival? Click here for all the details.

Monday, June 23, 2008|Categories: Books|Tags: , |23 Comments

Fathers & daughters, take 2. The full list

Thanks to everyone for suggestions about books and movies about fathers and daughters. For those who are interested, here’s the mostly full list. If you suddenly remember something that should be on here, please let me know. And none of these are listed in any particular order.

Middle Grade

Young Adult and up

Picture Books


Sunday, February 12, 2006|Categories: Books|Tags: , , |5 Comments

Fathers and daughters in literature and …?

I’m building a list of books (preferably MG and YA), myths, (maybe movies even) about fathers and daughters.

Anyone? Thanks in advance.


Thursday, February 9, 2006|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , |22 Comments

Well duh – if my main character is me then

it all makes perfect sense.

When a good friend reminded me years ago that my main character, DC, feels the same way about planes as I do about writing I agreed and then let it go. But this week as I have been trying to do as much pre-writing and prep work as I can on the book I am learning how I know tons of stuff about everyone else in the book EXCEPT the main character. I know the main character wants to know about his dad. I know all the bad guys. I know what a father is willing to do for the son he loves. I know that some people don’t make good parents and that the best parents aren’t always those you’re related to by blood. I know who’s willing to help the MC reach his goal and who will throw up the blockades. I know the very blackest moment, though I’m not sure what the reaction will be. But I still hardly know the main character.

Then I realized that if DC and his love of planes is a mirror of me and my love of writing, then DC is standing for me in some way and for some reason I am afraid to acknowledge that part of myself. All that therapy gone to waste.

I shared that thought with a friend who came back with an answer that had me doing the “duh” and forehead slapping routine. She pointed out that I have always had a desperate need to know my father but because my mom doesn’t remember/won’t talk about it, his memory is lost to me. It’s over. Done. And there’s not a darn thing I can do about it.

And there’s the difference between me and DC. I have to get in touch with that part of me who screams for the truth, but may never get it. DC will keep searching and fighting until he DOES find the truth.

It will be total jealousy and grief when DC gets his answer, and I don’t.

Thursday, January 12, 2006|Categories: Writing Process|Tags: , , , |0 Comments

Dreaming our writing

One of the things I believe is most important in our writing is to write with emotional honesty. For me that means finding something in my own life that somehow will connect itself with the main character so I can use my emotion to fuel the character emotion. I’m not talking about an exact match in the event that causes the emotion but a matching emotion that can drive more events. So far it’s missing in Frankie’s story which means I think about it a lot. For me the emotional connection between my life and my character’s life makes the difference between a book with voice and just a bunch of words on the page.

I read a recent interview with Deborah Wiles that she did for The Institute of Children’s Literature. In it she said, “When I say I start with a voice, I think I’m also saying that I start with a feeling. And that’s how it works for me that I get my life into stories. It’s a voice, yes, but it’s really a feeling that I want to make manifest, if that makes any sense. I don’t even understand it myself all that well. I just know that when something is bothering me, or making me particularly joyful, it can find a voice in story.”

That resonates with me, most especially with Frankie. I know he is in pain and I know he hasn’t had an easy life. I don’t know the details but I know that he doesn’t believe his life can be anything different than what it is right now and that somehow it is my job to help him think differently. I try to use my dreams as a way to help me with my writing. I often give myself a sleep suggestion to let my subconscious work while I rest. Of late it has been the same suggestion: “tell me more about Frankie and his story.” Most mornings I wake up and remember very few dreams but sometimes they are vivid like one I had just the other night.

In my dream I went to answer the front door and there was a man there, kind of old, his short beard was gray but he had some black hair on his head. He wore a bit a suit that had seen better days. He handed me a box, a white box, like one you might get clothes in or a little bigger. It was tied with string, not a ribbon. I asked him what was in the box. He shook his head. I asked him again to please tell me what was in the box. Nothing. I don’t know why I didn’t just open it myself but I didn’t. Then he walked away. I asked him to wait. He kept walking.  Then I asked him who he was. He turned around and said, “I am your father.” And then I woke up. And I have NO idea what was in the box.

No, this is not a Star Wars connection. I haven’t seen that movie since it came out and am not a big fan. And here’s the thing, I don’t know my own father. I’ve never met my dad or anyone in his family. In my 47 years I’ve only seen the few wedding pictures of him from when he was a gawky 18-year-old in a white suite. He was gone before I was born and I have heard little about him. What little I did hear wasn’t good. In fact, it was so bad that back in elementary school when someone asked me if I was Tommy Webb’s daughter I automatically said no, so conditioned was I to hiding the truth.

So it is odd and maybe a bit scary to think that my father, who never paid a dime of child support, might give me a gift, perhaps even what I need. And it is sad to think I don’t know what is in the box.

Saturday, August 20, 2005|Categories: Writing Life|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments