The boy holds his fish as high as he can. His father hugs him and kisses his hair. They make a fine picture together.

I’m watching a father and son fish in a state park. They stand shoulder-to-shoulder.

After a few minutes, the boy’s rod starts to bend.

He screams, “I GOT ONE DAD!” His voice carries on the water all the way to Birmingham.

And I am a nine-year-old again.

In fact, if I were to shut my eyes right now, I would see my father, shirtless, standing on a sandy teshore, smiling. A beer can by his feet.

“Quit messing with your reel so much,” he’d say. “You’ll scare fish away if you don’t relax.”

On one particular day, my father caught three bass and a shellcracker. Mister Unrelaxed had not been so fortunate—I’d caught one Penzoil can and a medium-sized turtle.

But my luck changed. My rod nearly jerked out of my hands. I tugged and cranked.

And it happened. I caught a bass bigger than most residential water heaters. Daddy whooped and hollered.

He let me take a sip of his lukewarm beer. He discussed how to clean a fish.

He handed me a Buck knife to cut off the head. He made me swear to keep both hands on the handle.

The next thing I remember is a puddle of my own blood. I nearly fainted.

Daddy wasted no time. He tossed my flopping fish into the truck bed. He pressed a wadded T-shirt against my cut hand. We sped to the Emergency room.

I glanced through the back window and saw my fish flopping in the pickup bed.

“Your mama’s gonna kill me,” said Daddy.

The doctor was an old man. He looked at my hand and said, “What kinda fish you catch, old timer?”

Old timer.

I told him. He smiled, then removed a needle as big as a turkey baster. He jammed it into my palm and said, “I hope it was worth it.”

I screamed. Daddy held me against himself and kissed my hair while the doc stitched me. And for as long my mind stays sharp, I’ll never forget the way Daddy smelled.

It’s funny, the things you remember about dead people.

For instance, I remember the way Daddy ate his eggs. I remember his long-legged walk—like a heron. I remember how he used to sit in a chair after work, crying for no apparent reason.

And the night before he took his own life, I remember a blank look on his face.

“Remember that time we went fishing and you cut your hand?” he said.

Do I ever.

The kid and his father want their photo taken. The man asks if I’ll do the honors.

He hands me his phone. I tell them both to say, “cheese.” They do.

The boy holds his fish as high as he can. His father hugs him and kisses his hair. They make a fine picture together.

I’m not sad about the way my life turned out. God help me, I’m not. I don’t wish for different circumstances. I don’t want anything more than what I have.

But if God were taking requests…

I wouldn’t mind fishing with Daddy again.

Or a kiss on the hair.

36 comments

  1. Marsha Hammac - July 11, 2017 1:23 pm

    I love how you remembering your Daddy helps me to remember mine.

    Reply
  2. Bobbie - July 11, 2017 1:37 pm

    I wouldn’t mind either, but in reverse. 🙁

    Reply
  3. JoAnna - July 11, 2017 1:44 pm

    You make me feel, every single day. I wanted to thank you for this. Joy, compassion, nostalgia, happiness, heartache, pride. . . . and sometimes sunshine. I’m grateful for you. You remind me that each day holds adventure. Thank you for what you do. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Lisa - July 11, 2017 1:47 pm

    Love this. Fishing with Daddy was the best. & kisses on the head. Oh, & bear hugs for no reason.

    Reply
  5. Sandi - July 11, 2017 1:55 pm

    Sean, reading about your fond remembrances of your Daddy caused me to also remember specific things about mine: The way he always smelled like Old Spice aftershave; how he would pull a clean, white cotton handkerchief from his pocket if I needed to blow my nose, and most importantly, how he always ended every telephone conversation we had with, “If you ever need anything, just call me.” I knew with full assurance that he meant it.
    The memory is a good thing.

    Reply
  6. Lisa Enfinger - July 11, 2017 2:00 pm

    It hasn’t spilled out yet, but I swear if your commentaries on life make me tear up every time I read them, I will unsubscribe. Today is my first subscription day, and I wasn’t expecting such emotion after picking butter beans at 7am this morning in GA. Having been raised in lower Alabama (you know the acronym), it’s hard to quit picking butter beans, and it’s also hard to leave the past behind.

    Reply
  7. Jo - July 11, 2017 2:10 pm

    Your remembrance of your daddy made me cry today. Aren’t we blessed to have sweet memories of such special people as our daddies. Looking forward to a big reunion someday!!

    Reply
  8. Madeline - July 11, 2017 2:13 pm

    Oh those wonderful forever smells………

    Reply
  9. Judy - July 11, 2017 2:17 pm

    I’ve read your column for several months now…today was first time I actually teared up….but thank God for memories….

    Reply
  10. Jill - July 11, 2017 2:34 pm

    The loss of a parent leaving too soon is a heartache that never goes away but you learn to live , walking wounded. I have also lost several close family members to suicide. Agonizing loss. May God continue to work out the steps of your life showing you love and grace beyond measure. Thank you for sharing your heart; it is refreshing to hear such honesty.

    Reply
  11. Sam Hunneman - July 11, 2017 2:36 pm

    Oh yeah.

    Reply
  12. Barbara Nelle Ewell - July 11, 2017 2:57 pm

    Sending hair kisses.

    Reply
  13. Janis - July 11, 2017 3:30 pm

    Even in his pain and anguish, he sought the reassurance of that one shared memory that would forever be a placeholder for him in your life.

    Reply
  14. Jerry L farmer - July 11, 2017 3:48 pm

    Thanks, again, although I haven’t said so to you before.

    A lifetime ago, I was in the beginning of the War in Vietnam. After what seemed like years, I received a letter from home. Inside Momma’s letter was another folded letter.

    Until this very moment. that Folded Letter has been my sacred and untold memory. Today, I can share only two things about that letter, and it said, :
    1. I LOVE YOU.
    2. signed: AS EVER, POP
    Keep up your good work.

    Reply
  15. Gail Stewart - July 11, 2017 4:13 pm

    😢 God Bless you my friend.

    Reply
  16. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way - July 11, 2017 4:21 pm

    Your daddy loved you! He must have been in so much pain!! So much pain he didn’t want it to spill onto you and your mama. I’m trying to type this through my tears and it’s not easy. You are one fine man, Sean. Any father would be proud to call you his son.

    Reply
  17. Perri Geaux Tigers Williamson - July 11, 2017 5:01 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  18. John - July 11, 2017 7:14 pm

    I hear you.

    Reply
  19. Mary C - July 11, 2017 7:50 pm

    I lost my entire family by the time I was 35. Graduated from college one day and was a full-time caregiver for my mama until she died eight months later. My only brother died at 46 of cancer. My Daddy followed him two years later. I became chronically ill soon thereafter. That was twenty years ago. Not a day passes I don’t think of them and miss them terribly. If I’m not going to the hospital for treatment or to various doctors for checks, surgery, etc., I’m thankful for the rare moments someone spends time with me. It doesn’t take much for something to spark a memory and my heart wrenches in pain because I miss them so much. I believe when we lose someone we love a little part of us goes with them. Makes room for compassion for the next soul who lost a family member. We’re a family of sorts tied by loss and grief we never get over. We just learn to live with it as each day passes.

    Reply
  20. Mike - July 11, 2017 10:39 pm

    Sean
    I really enjoy your writing. I was a 19 year old kid back in 1978, I read John Steinbeck’s travels with Charley. I wanted nothing more to buy a VW camper van and travel, write and get away from my desfunctional family. Well I did not but I have enjoyed your short stories for the kastb3 weeks! My wife teaches English in Decatur Alabama, my daughters are grown and gone….. and I’m the daddy that sometimes sits in my chair after work and cries. Thank you Sean

    Reply
  21. Cyndia - July 11, 2017 11:13 pm

    I grew up without a daddy. There was a man who was my biological father, who came home from time to time to terrorize and beat my mother and me and my brothers, but he was not my daddy. I’ve never known the things you describe. My father and I were estranged for several decades, and he died last year. None of his children have fond memories of him. Not one. I got used to not having a daddy, and hearing others speak well of theirs was like hearing a foreign language I didn’t understand. My kids have a good dad, and they have a wonderful stepdad. I watched my daughter marry a lovely man who is a good daddy to their babies. I said I got used to not having a daddy, but the ironic thing is watching and listening to others’ stories about their daddies, makes me grieve terribly. I deserved a daddy. I don’t think one ever heals from that loss.

    Reply
  22. Debby Haddock - July 12, 2017 1:01 am

    Your posts touch me. They touch me deeply. I am a half-breed: momma was from Texas, and daddy was from Pennsylvania. I wasn’t raised in the South, but got here as fast as I could. Lived in the South from age 19 until now (63-ish).

    I pray your father’s death will eventually be resolved in your spirit. You are so good.

    Reply
  23. Jack Quanstrum - July 12, 2017 3:36 am

    Amen to that! Touching story about you and your Dad. I can still remember vividly working on the John Hancock hundred story combination apartment – office building in 1968 in Chicago. He was a construction worker and he got me a working permit from the union for me. There where days the clouds rolled in and you could not see anything beyond the poured concrete floor and massive steal girders. I miss my Dad but I remember this scene like it was yesterday. I said it looks like you could step off the edge and be okay. He felt the same way. It was a false sense of security we had because the fog and clouds block your view of everything that would give you depth perception. Love you, Dad.

    Reply
    • Barbara Nelle Ewell - July 12, 2017 5:06 pm

      I can what you say. Thanks.

      Reply
  24. Mary Ellen Hall - July 12, 2017 9:55 pm

    SUPER SWEET STORY!!!
    Oh, how I MISS my Daddy too!!!

    Reply
  25. virginia diamante - July 15, 2017 12:11 am

    Stirs so many memories—daddy and fishing. My wish also.

    Reply
  26. Anne Trawick - July 17, 2017 5:56 am

    Oh, Lord, you are killing me…again.

    Reply
  27. Laela Bunn - August 16, 2017 3:26 am

    You wrote recently that someone commented for you to stop writing so much abt your Daddy. I’m no one important, and I don’t have the gift with words that you do, but you should know that I’ve been so encouraged and empowered in my own grief struggle because of your references to your own pain and healing. Thank you for sharing your memories and your struggles with us!

    Reply
  28. Dianne - August 29, 2017 10:23 am

    Daddy’s and their sons fishing are such special memories. This is such a special story.

    Reply
  29. Barbara - August 29, 2017 11:14 am

    Old Spice, the sparkle in his eye, Rockport, Texas…he would always bait our hooks with live shrimp and all of the patience in the world….thank God for all those daddies that fish with their children ❤️

    Reply
  30. Lorry - August 29, 2017 11:43 am

    I forgot..how your writing makes me feel so much. It has been a while since I have read your works. Thanks again.

    Reply
  31. Lisa K - August 29, 2017 12:17 pm

    Why why why must you make me cry before I head off to work.
    How you touched my heart today and every day.

    Reply
  32. Vicky - August 29, 2017 1:14 pm

    Please add me to your email list.

    Reply
  33. Lisa - August 30, 2017 2:18 pm

    I remember the sounds…..a hoe clinking against a rock in the garden…..the sound of a black skillet rattling the oven as biscuits or cornbread went in. Then the smells of fried okra…the best ever…made my my mom. Thanks for stirring the memory pot.

    Reply
  34. Melodie - August 30, 2017 6:51 pm

    You’ll fish with your daddy again, someday, and get that kiss, too. ♥

    Reply

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