Letter to my Father

Today, I saw kids practicing baseball in a driveway. I was driving to Birmingham. It reminded me of you, pitching fastballs through an old tire.

Hey. It’s me again. I’m sure you’re busy, I just wanted to say hello. How are things? How’s the fishing up there?

I thought about you today. I remembered how you used to point your truck in one direction, and drive dirt roads that led nowhere, your skinny bare arm, hanging out the window.

Today, I saw kids practicing baseball in a driveway. I was driving to Birmingham. It reminded me of you, pitching fastballs through an old tire.

God, that was a long time ago. Sometimes I wonder if you remember me, or if your memories died with you.

Things were bad after you left. Having a father who dies by his own will doesn’t exactly make a boy popular among the sixth grade.

Mama had it hardest, of course. You left her in a real mess. She should hate you for what you did. She has every right to, but she doesn’t. That woman couldn’t hate a waterbug.

You and I both know you didn’t deserve her. And she didn’t deserve what you did.

Anyway, I don’t want to talk about that.

Sarah is all grown up. You wouldn’t recognize her. She’s got a daughter, and that means you would’ve been a granddaddy.

I wonder what you’d look like as a granddaddy. I’ll bet your red hair would be white, and I’ll bet you’d still be working from whistle to whistle, dangling from iron beams, welding lap splices.

Because if there was one thing you despised, it was laziness.

You and I are very different in that regard. I believe laziness can be a virtue.

You’d like my wife. I wish you could’ve met her. Everyone likes her. That’s because she’s speaks with a strong voice and has an I-can-do-anything-by-myself attitude.

She brought me back to life. When I met her, I was tired. She helped me find my spirit.

You missed a lot. In fact, you missed my whole damn life. You missed my first driver’s licence, my first truck, my wedding, my car wreck, a hundred Christmases, and my first published piece of writing.

Writing. I’ve been doing a lot of it over the past years. I write about everything—things I care about. I even write about you.

Like I said, I thought about you today. I remembered the last few hours we had together before you flew away.

We took a long drive, you wore a striped shirt, and had just gotten a haircut. Funny what people remember.

I’d like to be honest with you, sir. After you left, I thought I’d never amount to anything but a sad little boy. I believed happiness was a joke. I didn’t like you very much.

But I was foolish. And I’m sorry for it. I’m okay now. We’re okay. It’s taken us a long time to get here.

I have to go now. I have a nice life. One I’ve learned to enjoy. And if you could see me now, I think maybe I would even make you a little proud.

I am glad you’re at rest. I hope you still think of me sometimes. I think of you every few seconds.

Happy birthday, Daddy.

44 comments

  1. Samanthemofthesun - September 12, 2017 1:23 pm

    Every day, I cry a little, with you, for you, about you, and those whom you immortalize with your wonderful writing. Sometimes it is happy, sometimes it is sad, ALWAYS it is real. Thank you.

    Reply
  2. Patti Stahlhut - September 12, 2017 1:24 pm

    So beautiful. Your dad missed your life. Those who end their own lives don’t take into account the sadness they are leaving behind. P

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  3. Catherine - September 12, 2017 1:25 pm

    Sean, I am so glad you can love your Daddy. It’s so hard to understand depression and anxiety. We cannot imagine being so depressed that you could take your life, but they can. My heart hurts for your loss, but rejoices that you, your Mama and Sarah found y’alls way back to a good life. Happy birthday to your Daddy, happy life to you. Please keep telling us stories about him, it helps to keep your memories and love alive.

    Reply
    • Janis - September 12, 2017 4:15 pm

      Catherine…I so agree with your comment. Some readers might recoil at the revisit of Sean’s father’s death, but I think his reconciliation with his father’s death and its circumstances serve as encouragement to others who are less resilient and less reflective.

      Reply
  4. Sharon Hand - September 12, 2017 1:34 pm

    I think that it is human nature to celebrate a birthday for those who are no longer with us. I celebrated my baby sister’s 60th birthday. She,Momma and Daddy are citizens of heaven.

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  5. Jean - September 12, 2017 1:37 pm

    Perfectly worded. I think this is one of your very best posts. : )

    Reply
  6. Camille - September 12, 2017 1:38 pm

    Happy Birthday Mr. Dietrich, you left a wonderful son for the world to enjoy.

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  7. Dan - September 12, 2017 1:39 pm

    Beautiful.

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  8. shanatproctorgmailcom - September 12, 2017 1:40 pm

    Happy birthday to your dad. Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of my daddy’s death in a car wreck. It’s always hard. I’m glad you have come to terms with your story and can bring so much joy to so many people now. Have a good week!

    Reply
  9. Tina - September 12, 2017 1:41 pm

    Bless you for sharing your heart. You put into words a lot of feelings that we all feel but can’t or don’t have the words to open up and express. Depression is a devil to deal with. Hope you have a wonderful day. Celebrate the life your Dad gave you!

    Reply
  10. Dick McNider - September 12, 2017 1:53 pm

    I know it still hurts but as a comment said above the depression that leads to taking one’s life has to be a torment too. I have always been afraid of drowning not so much that I am afraid of dying but that at some point you have to decide to take that last stroke and give up. That is the terrifying part for me. Taking one’s life must be equally terrifying.

    Reply
  11. David DeVane - September 12, 2017 1:57 pm

    Excellent as always Sean. My father died before his time but not by his hand. Today’s blog made me really remember all the good times we had and how his guiding hand helped make me the man that I am today. That is one of the pluses of reading your columns, it makes me recall the many benefits and memories of having been raised in the South (GA to be exact). Thanks. Keep them coming.

    Reply
  12. Judy Clark - September 12, 2017 2:20 pm

    Once again you hit it out of the park! I truly hope you know how very much your columns reach your readers and how much they help. Thank you from a big fan

    Reply
  13. Peter - September 12, 2017 2:40 pm

    Thank you.

    Reply
  14. Connie Ryland - September 12, 2017 2:41 pm

    You leave me speechless most days, and that’s hard to do. I’m so glad you found yourself.

    Reply
  15. teachenglish67 - September 12, 2017 2:43 pm

    I had trouble getting through this one. I can’t imagine a child having to live with the suicide of a parent; however, I’ve been to that point thinking I had no hope; wanting to get out of a bad situation; fed up with the emotional pain I experienced. There were redeeming graces, though…..the thought of my children, whom I adored, finding me; the thought of all those who loved me wondering why and left with the emotional pain suicide gives to others. I plowed through it and prayed often throughout the day. I’m in my 70s now and glad I had those redeeming thoughts. I just wish, for you, that your father had had the same thoughts.
    Blessings to you, Sean…..many blessings to you.

    Reply
  16. Daphne - September 12, 2017 2:53 pm

    Good morning Sean, yes I feel connected enough to you to call you by your first name… just had to tell you your writing gives me peace and your Daddy would be very proud

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  17. Jack Quanstrum - September 12, 2017 2:54 pm

    Precious story. I miss my Dad to Sean. I can identify with alot of things you wrote. Life is surely an incredible journey. Thank you for being part of it. Shalom!

    Reply
  18. Leon Salter - September 12, 2017 3:29 pm

    Sean, your mother is a saint. She did not let her sorrow and disappointment rule her life. She realized she had a mission to accomplish with her children and she was ultra successful.

    Reply
  19. Cudrow - September 12, 2017 3:33 pm

    What can I say? Try to take some comfort in the fact you know where your daddy is and he’s happy. Your time will come to find the answers to your questions and by the grace of God, you won’t even have to ask.

    Reply
  20. Kay Keel - September 12, 2017 3:37 pm

    “I believe laziness can be a virtue.” I love that! My hubby is like your dad, I like to say, “He doesn’t idle well.” Me? I’m pretty good at it. I believe you need a healthy dose of it most every day. I love all the stories of your dad, your mom, your sister and her family, your wife and of course, Eliie Mae. Thank you for sharing with all of us!

    Reply
  21. Leo Larkin - September 12, 2017 3:43 pm

    Hello Sean,

    My son, Shane Adkins, and his wife, Lisa, suggested that I start reading your writings. I did, and I’m enjoying them.

    Shane is a 2-time International Champion Thumbpicker and Fingerstyle Guitarist (Merle Travis/Chet Atkins). He is also a songwriter in the style of Ray Stevens and Tom T. Hall. Give a listen, just type in his name to get his website. Listen to “One Mile East of Hazel Green” and “Monkey Toed Gal.” For his picking, “Blue Smoke.” If you have RFD cable, you may have seen him on there.

    You and I have something in common. I am a musician also, and a writer. I am an Alabama state champion, Tennessee Valley champion harmonica player. I am one of the few women professional harmonica players. Twenty-six years ago I married Bob, a classically trained violinist and a great guy. I accompany him on guitar and when Shane is with us I can do more harmonica playing. I use a brace when it’s just Bob and me. We spent our 3-month courtship bringing the music from classical and country to middle ground. We play a little classical, a little country, and lots of old standards.

    I am writing my memoirs, probably two-thirds through, and I’m beginning to worry about marketing. Do you have any suggestions? How do you combine your writing sales with music performances?

    I have been published in our local paper, “Old Huntsville” (17 articles). Also I have two stories in an anthology called “ The Path to Courage.” through our Coffee Tree Writers group.

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

    Sincerely,

    Leo Larkin

    Yes, it really is Leo. My daddy wanted a boy, thus the beginning of my memoirs.

    3609 Fearn St
    Huntsville, AL 35801

    leobob@knology.net

    p.s. I would be glad to send you a little of my writing, if you’re interested.

    Reply
  22. Elaine - September 12, 2017 5:12 pm

    We never get over losing our dads. There are so many anniversaries of things we shared with them like birthdays, holidays, and just daily routines. I think of my dad often and his words that are a part of my daily conversations. I find myself saying, “As Daddy would say….”, and there he is….in my words and in my heart.

    Reply
    • Janet Lee - September 12, 2017 5:49 pm

      Poignant column.. I can still sense the anger, fighting with the love. I am glad love won, and you have a beautiful family to prove it. You are remarkable, Sean, and I think your Daddy is way sorry he left you all too soon…

      Reply
  23. Dustin Snow - September 12, 2017 5:13 pm

    I like you, sir

    Reply
  24. Gwen McGill - September 12, 2017 5:44 pm

    This breaks my heart. For you and your momma. I am not good with words but I sure do care a lot.

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  25. Sarah Boardman-Miller - September 12, 2017 5:49 pm

    Thank you Sean.
    I wrote this open letter after a dear friend took that path. I too lost my Dad and almost lost my best friend. You can read it here.
    https://sparkignitefire.me/2012/02/14/open-letter-to-those-that-chose-that-moment/

    Reply
  26. Marlene - September 12, 2017 6:24 pm

    Sunday in our Sr. High Sunday School class at the Methodist Church where I’ve spent all 60 years of my life, a new adult leader (age maybe 65 or 70) shared his story. His dad walked out when he was very young. He’s seen him only two times since. His father is as good as dead to him. There are all kinds of leaving, none particularly easy to understand. But his joy was that the good men of his church stepped in to fill the role vacated by his natural father, and he is still so grateful for those men who gathered in a lost little boy. I was blessed to have a loving and godly father and mother and a church family that nurtured me and now my children and grandchild. I have had many spiritual mothers and fathers, and I suspect that you have, too, given the good man that you have become. There are things that have happened in my life that I will never understand, but God has a way of bringing good out of the bad. You, Sean, have eyes and a heart that see the good and share it with the rest of us and for that I am thankful.

    Reply
  27. Melissa - September 12, 2017 6:30 pm

    I’m semi-retired psychotherapist. I ask my depressed and sometimes suicidal clients two questions. One is if their is anyone on this planet that loves them? They almost always respond affirmatively. Then I ask them if they hate the people who love them? I’ve never had one respond affirmatively to that question. Then, I tell them they have my permission to end their life if they so choose but that the people who love them will never fully recover. Yes, they will get on with their lives because that’s what people do. But, they will never fully recover from the suicide of someone who loves them. It will always haunt them, hurt them. Then, I ask permission to call the emergency room so they can get help to get past the impulsivity that usually causes them to end their life.

    Reply
  28. Sarah - September 12, 2017 6:36 pm

    I’m 68 years old and I miss my Daddy everyday. I wish he could have seen my children as adults and my precious grandchildren. My husband is sick and probably won’t be here to see our new granddaughter grow. My heart mourns that for both of them

    Reply
  29. Anne Godwin - September 12, 2017 6:36 pm

    Your story brought tears of recognition today. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. My pregnant Mom was left with five children when my Dad died by suicide. She was a strong, sweet, intelligent little five foot woman. I look forward to conversations with loved ones when we all get to heaven.

    Reply
  30. Donna - September 12, 2017 6:48 pm

    Thank you for this writing!
    It hits close to home for me.

    Reply
  31. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - September 12, 2017 6:49 pm

    It was my father’s birthday Monday and I reflected on what all he meant to me and the advice he gave to me and our family. He died at age 67 and I think that was way to young to leave me even though I was grown. Fathers do influence us all our lives.

    Reply
  32. Pamela McEachern - September 12, 2017 7:17 pm

    Happy Birthday to your Daddy, what a wonderful man he created in you. It wasn’t in a traditional way but I know he must have done somethings so deeply the young boy that still holds him so dearly had the courage and strenght ro overcome the tragic way he left you. I am happy to know your grace and amazing wisdom in the words you share with us all. Peace and Love to you dear Sean.

    Reply
  33. Kay - September 12, 2017 9:53 pm

    Beautiful! Thank you for sharing! I look forward to your writing every day and have started to read them aloud to my boys, husband, and anyone else who will listen. Take Care.

    Reply
  34. John Partee - September 12, 2017 11:36 pm

    Amen. Been there too.

    Reply
  35. Mrs. Elaine Barnhill Davis - September 13, 2017 11:43 am

    Your dad would be proud!

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  36. Kim - September 13, 2017 2:39 pm

    My journey is very different in the loss of my honorable Daddy, but your words helped ease a little pain today. Thanks.

    Reply
  37. Liz - September 13, 2017 4:01 pm

    We just never know the hurt we can cause our children and never really recover from the hurt our parents do us.

    Reply
  38. Michael Bishop - September 14, 2017 1:21 am

    I once thought about writing a memoir called “Just Like My Old Man . . . When He Grows Up,” and I might do it yet, but I admire the way you stay in touch with your daddy periodically, openly, and the strength of spirit you bring to your messages, both to him and yourself. Happy birthday to him indeed.

    Reply
  39. Chuck Bailey - September 14, 2017 2:29 am

    Sean I am a father who lost a son the same way you lost your father he was 35 years old.He was doing well in his career.He was even a welder like your father.and he also could not handle his drinking, He left behind two children .I think about the things his son and daughter will miss doing with him like teaching them to drive. playing ball with them going to the lake with them, just watching them grow up both of his children loved him very much they would meet him at the door when they knew he was coming. I have all of those memories of him. He called me up the day before he took his life and ask me to have breakfast with him and every thing was fine.Something went terribly wrong over the next 24 hours. a day dose not go by with out me wondering if i could have done anything to stop him from taking his life.

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  40. Bruce Stover - September 14, 2017 1:04 pm

    God bless you Sean, and take away your pain. I know your Daddy would be so proud of you…

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  41. Mary Anne - September 14, 2017 8:52 pm

    Sean, once again I cried when I read your post, but that’s okay. I lost my daddy to a stroke, when he was only 50 years old. Besides missing him personally so much over the years, the one thing that I’ve been the saddest about was that he missed knowing my daughter and later her two precious children…along with his other grandchildren and great-grandchildren that were born after he was gone. When his birthday comes each year, I’m especially sad that day, but I think of him so often throughout the year. I’m sorry that you had to grow up without your dad but it’s obvious that your mom and others gave you a solid foundation because you have become a wonderful person, with a good heart, and a writer who charms so many readers. Keep doing what you are doing. You are a blessing in my life.

    Reply
  42. Lucretia Jones - September 15, 2017 1:07 pm

    Thank you, Sean, perspective you give to me.My love to you, Lucretia.

    Reply

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