Suppose you had a dream or a gift which somehow never saw its full promise in part because of the attitude of those around you. Meet Stephanie Long, who may have a gift which she gets from her father. A gift which he didn't develop because developing that gift was only important to him.
Stephanie Long watched anxiously as
her mother read thorugh the paper she
had written for school one early
spring day. She nervously brushed the black hair out of her eyes as her mother looked over this latest writing assignment, beaming inside when her mother smiled.
"Very good Stephanie," said Mrs. Long, handing the paper back to the slender 12-year-old. "You have such an imagination and put it into words very well for a girl your age. We'll have to show your father when he comes home."
Stephanie was grateful for her mother's praise for her writing, but whatever elation she felt quickly disapated at the thought of her father's reaction to her work.
Stephanie had written a paper on her family's trip to a railroad museum for a school assignment as a fourth grader and she had been writing ever since, earning an award for her story about a zoo train and its elephant conductor, who got all the animals home.
Everyone thought Stephanie did well as a writer and was going to be a good one.
Everyone, that is, except her father.
Mr. Long was a good person, but he thought it was a waste of time for her to try and write.
"I wish you'd devote as much time to your math as you did to that writing,"
he would snort. "Oh, I guess you might make it as a writer. After all, you're a girl."
Even when Stephanie was writing in her secret place in the attic next to her bedroom, she could hear her father constantly working with her brother Trevor on his basketball.
"Stephanie wrote a nice story," said her mother that night at dinner. "It was really fun to read."
"What was it about?" Mr. Long asked gruffly.
"It's a ghost story," said Stephanie, almost apologetically. "It's about some ghosts who borrow an old car from a museum and take it for a ride."
"A bunch of ghosts who steal a car?" Mr. Long growled. "Where do you come up with this junk?"
"I found it with some things in the attic," said Stephanie with a bit of a stammer. "And they don't steal the car, it was theirs when they were alive. It's like Casper."
"A 12-year-old girl who still watches a cartoon ghost and then writes a story about him stealing a car," Mr. Long said.
"Steven!" Stephanie's mother snapped at him. "Stephanie wrote a nice story and the least you could do is read it."
Stephanie's dad read the story after dinner and growled about how sloppy the handwriting was and how foolish the story was. He never once acknowledged the "A" across the top of the paper or the teacher's glowing comments about it.
"A ghost story!" he snapped. "Can't you do better than this junk?"
He threw the paper back at Stephanie and turned to the basketball game Trevor was watching on television. Soon he was immersed in the game and was peppering Trevor with questions about the game and was pointing out things he could pick up from the players.
Stephanie glumly slouched upstairs, shuffled into her room and threw herself down on her bed. She rolled over and stared out the window.
A short time later, Mrs. Long poked her head into Stephanie's room.
"Still upset, Honey?" she asked.
"Why does Dad hate my writing so much?"
"Your father doesn't hate your writing," Mrs. Long said. "At one time, he wanted to be a writer. Before we were married, he wrote some lovely poetry for me."
"What happened?" asked Stephanie. "Why did he give it up?"
"It was just one of those things," her mother replied. "You talked about the attic tonight at dinner. That's where you went to write?"
"Yes, mother," responded Stephanie. "But I'm not bothering anything up there, honest. I'm just looking at stuff and putting it back."
"Well, all right," Mrs. Long said. "But be careful up there."
Stephanie only went into the attic when someone else was at home and always told her mother before going.
One day, she and her brother stumbled across a box in the attic.
The box contained a pair of comic books, two old magazines, a toy gun, a toy car and a page torn from an old school yearbook.
It was one of their parents' classes, and they chuckled at the picture of the boy with the slicked down black hair looking back at them.
They also giggled at the crude red hearts with an arrow through them drawn around the pictures of two girls, one of whom resembled Stephanie.
There were also several yellowing, handwritten essays in the box, the work of the young boy.
After that, Stephanie often stole upstairs to read her father's boyhood writings and used them for her own efforts.
But she couldn't figure out why they were all marked up. What was wrong with them?
"'The Dark Island Affair'" read Trevor one day. "What's an affair?"
"Some kind of fight or something," said Stephanie. "I don't know. Why?"
"Aw, it's one of Dad's old stories," answered Trevor. "Here. It's really weird."
Stephanie read through the sixth-grade manuscript and grinned. She read through it again and then picked up her dad's old spy gun. She aimed it away from Trevor and pulled the trigger.
"This is a secret agent story," she said. "These kids are secret agents on this island fighting the bad guys.Boy! Dad had quite an imagination when he was a kid."
She looked at the class picture and saw the shots of her mother and another girl, both designated by hand-drawn hearts and started developing her next story.
For the next few days, Stephanie spent her time in the attic, armed with her school spelling book, paper and pens, she slowly developed her story.
She often became pretty involved in her writing, sometimes leaping to her feet, grabbing the toy spy gun and firing at the shadowy villains lurking in the artificial Christmas tree boxes.
Another time, she started doing a series of karate kicks at the air.
She even dressed up in her black sweatshirt and jeans, prompting a few snide remarks from her father.
"Okay, Catwoman, time for bed," her Dad said one night. "What are you doing up there, anyway?"
"Oh, writing a story," responded Stephaie.
Finally, the story was finished. The beautiful and mysterious Patti B. and her boyfriend, Jeremy Lowe, brother of the world's youngest superspy, had rescued a young princess from the clutches of an evil nobleman on an island in the Pacific, speeding away from the island on a very fast boat as a squadron of Navy frogmen closed in to capture the nobleman and his henchmen.
Stephanie blushed a bit when writing about how Patti and the princess looked at Jeremy and reminded him that "somebody has to kiss the girls."
Stephanie couldn't wait until she got her paper back in school.
She beamed as her mother read her teacher's remarks, calling it one of the budding young writer's best. She giggled as Trevor read it, his eyes bulging and hair standing on end as he read it.
She even took out her father's original, red marks and all, hoping to show everyone where she got the idea from.
She could have almost predicted what her dad's response would be and it didn't surprise her.
"Girl, where did you come up with this malarkey," he snorted.
"From some of your old stories," Mrs. Long snapped back.
"My old stories!" screamed Mr. Long. "I wouldn't come up with anything this dumb. Look at it! It's a mess! I can't believe you spent all week working on this garbage. It stinks!"
Stephanie grabbed the paper out of her father's hands and tore out of the living room. She raced up the stairs, flew into her room and threw herself on her bed, sobbing.
A little while later, Mr. Long came into Stephanie's room. He quietly sat on the edge of her bed, listening to his daughter weep.
"You like your teacher, don't you?" he finally asked Stephanie.
"Yes," she said.
"I've talked to her," Mr. Long said. "I wish I had a teacher like that when I was your age. My teachers would have looked at a story like that and really given me the business."
Mr. Long pulled Stephanie to his side and tried to speak softly to her.
"I'm sorry Steph," he said. "When I wrote that story, my teacher read it in front of the class and cut it up to no end. Oh and you know how bad my handwriting is."
"But daddy, I just want to do well," she said. "Everybody else says I can write. Why won't you?"
"Because nobody told me I could write when I was your age," Mr. Long said. "And that's all I wanted, next to marrying your mother, of course."
Mr. Long put his arm around Stephanie.
"I'll read your stories again Honey," he said. "And this time,I'll try to speak for myself."
Stephanie looked at the floor of her room. She reached over and picked up her story and her father's original
"Can't you do better than this?" wrote Mr. Long's teacher. "This isn't what I want! I didn't want you wasting your time writing this garbage."
And where Stephanie's teacher had written all kinds of glowing remarks about her imagination, her father's teacher had simply scrawled an "F".