Good News and A Promise to My Father

The past few weeks have been crazy for me. I spent another week in NC, tending to my parents; I returned home to find over forty manuscripts waiting in my pile of mail to be sorted and distributed to the proper agent or editor; and I had a slew of NJ SCBWI raffle donation emails to respond to.

I also held a secret—a secret I had learned two days prior in the presence of my father.


After an afternoon of doctor appointments, my father sat in his wheelchair in the living room. As tired as he was, we needed to discuss his wishes. The topic: when parents age, what becomes most important is quality of life, not quantity.

“I want to write and spend time talking to and being with my family,” he said. “That’s all. No more hospitals.”

“Okay, dad. No more hospitals,” I said, knowing what that meant. Yet, I understood his deep desire to write, and his need to feel up to doing so.

He, in turn, understood my mixed feelings about his decision. Instead of taking a much-needed nap, he wanted to help me. (At that moment, I knew why I am the way I am.) I am proud to say I am my father’s daughter.

Even in pain he reaches out to us. He supports my writing and relishes in my small successes. Every day, his attitude inspires me. Recognizing my struggle with his decision, he began to tell me his wonderful stories. He talked. I listened and laughed, while arranging books in the living room. (I had just purchased two tall wooden bookcases for the apartment.)

I want my father to get better, but he needs to be able to write. Just as I need to write. Like I need to breathe, eat, and sleep. This is when we are at our happiest.

I am certain the seed for this desire came early in my life, planted by my father—a lifetime writer, and my mother—a lifetime reader who studied children’s literature at Bank Street.

Looking over at him, I thought about this, when my cell phone rang. I had won the 2011 New Voices in Children’s Literature Tassy Walden Award—middle grade category. My entry: Savannah’s Mountain.

My dad stopped telling his stories. He sat in his wheelchair and listened to me. He listened to me be astounded and humbled.  He listened to me cry.

Being in his presence when I received the news is a moment I will cherish forever.

After I shared the secret phone call with him, he asked how my writing was going.


I can’t write right now. I have to take care of you and mom. There is too much going on.”

“Then do something else creative to fuel your writing. To help you relax.”

“Okay, dad, I’ll go outside and take more pictures—only if you promise to rest.”

He stared at me in the way that lets me know he is thinking, so I waited until the words came. “The ability to write is a gift, never to be taken lightly.”

“I know, Dad, and I don’t.”

“You must love the gift. You must care for the gift. But most importantly, you must feed the gift.”

“Feed the gift? Is this another ploy to get more Skittles?”

“No, I have some left, but if you’re going out later . . .” He reached into his shirt pocket and took out a package of his favorite candy. After eating one piece, he continued. “You feed the gift by writing as much as you can. Wherever you can, even when life throws hardballs at you, one after another.”

“Like now?” I asked.

“Exactly like now. Life will always throw challenges at you, and there will be times when the world seems ruthless and unforgivable, but you can’t let that stop you from doing something you love. You have to make yourself a promise.”


Savannah’s Mountain involves promises, and the need to keep and honor a promise. So it seems fitting that before my dad headed for a nap, he asked something of me. “Promise me you will keep writing, even when I’m gone.”

I can’t imagine a world without him, without being able to pick up a phone to call him, or see and talk to him on Skype. A world without his humor and Skittle seeking schemes is a world I don’t want to imagine, not now, not yet. But my father asked me to make him a promise, so I did.

“I promise, Dad. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll continue to write.” I pushed him to his bedroom, gave him a kiss, and headed outside with my camera on my shoulder. After I took some of the photos I am sharing in this post, I found a quiet place overlooking bird feeders, blooming iris, and a family of deer.

I did as I promised. I wrote for my dad. I wrote for me. I wrote for the sheer joy of writing.

13 thoughts on “Good News and A Promise to My Father

  1. This was so moving, Betsy! Thanks so much for sharing this. Keep writing and enjoy your time with your dad. He sounds like an amazing man.

    And congratulations for your award. Couldn’t have happened to a lovelier, more talented lady.

    HUGS! Wish I could be at the conference this weekend to give you an in-person hug.


    1. Thanks, Lena! I plan to head back to NC once all the conferences are over. Hope to see you at the NE SCBWI conference!

  2. It was wonderful to see you at the NESCBWI conference, Betsy! I have high hopes that you will be able to share even more amazing news with your father very soon. He’ll be very proud of your first contract, but I’m sure he’s even more proud of all the work you’ve been doing leading up to it.

    1. It was wondering seeing you, Faith.
      I hope to share good news with my father soon, though as long as I am writing every day, he is happy to hear about that, as you say. My time spent writing is very precious to me, but any remaining time I have with my father is even more precious. I take nothing for granted. Thanks for your kind words! Betsy

  3. Betsy, I clicked on your link in Kathy’s blog, expecting to read about the NE conference. Instead, this is what I came upon first. Oh, how glad I am that I did!

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–you are an amazing writer, whether it’s first pages, anecdotes or the novel I hope to hold in my hands some day.

    From the moment you mentioned your “secret” and the WAY you mentioned it, I knew I was going to be moved—and I was. Brought to tears through the last word. My father, unlike yours, doesn’t pass on words of wisdom in the way yours does (mine is much more critical; he “knows everything” and we “know nothing”), yet I still love him and don’t want him to leave us. There would be a huge void.

    You’ve been blessed having him in your life, and I hope he lives longer than anyone expects, but however that turns out, he’s left YOU with the greatest gift, and not just that of “writing,” but of his love. How bittersweet 🙂 🙁

    Thank you for sharing such a precious moment, and your father’s words of wisdom. He’s SO right! Please thank him for me!

    1. Thank you, Donna,
      Your comment meant so much to me. (The post on the conference will be up today–I admit to falling asleep, exhausted, and not setting the right date for it to post.
      As for growing up with a writer, what we lacked as a family in terms of finances, etc., we more than made up for it the constant love and support given to us by our parents. Despite the hard times, I would never choose to have grown up any other way. My childhood made me who I am, and it enriches my writing. I am thankful for this. Every day. (I will share your response with my father–thank you.)
      Hugs, Betsy

      1. Betsy, I agree that, though life can be difficult in some ways, it ultimately serves us well in the end if we see these things as gifts also, in their own way. So much to be grateful for! 🙂

        1. Yes, it does. I believe we go through experiences for a reason. It is our job to understand why and embrace the reason with gratitude. A life-changing injury I sustained nearly ten years ago is what forced me to face–head-on–my deep seeded need to write. I am thankful to have gone through the experience, as difficult and painful as it was. It led me, or rather forced me, to change my profession and find the bravery to follow a passion.

  4. For me, too. When I became officially disabled, it actually allowed me the time to “go there” with my creative “writing brain” and, though the road’s often been difficult and littered with obstacles, they’ve all led to this place in my life within this world. It’s the obstacles that force us on detours we otherwise wouldn’t have taken, and often times, the scenery and destination turn out SO much better than anticipated 🙂

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