It happened when he was on his way home from school for holiday break, years ago. He twisted his car around a tree. He should’ve died, but he didn’t.

He’s young. Mid-twenties I'd guess. He is bagging my groceries but he isn't paying attention. He is just looking at me.

So, I give him the nicest smile I can, then I make a startlingly obvious remark about the weather.

He answers by saying, "You like cheese?”

It feels like a trick question. So I plead the Fifth Amendment.

“It’s REALLY GOOD cheese,” he insists.

The cashier giggles, and I half-expect this kid to ask me to pull his finger.

But instead he whispers, “It just came in. You wanna go see it?”

"Go see what?"


How silly of me.

Thus, even though the cashier probably thinks I’ve fallen off my toy horsey, I follow him to the dairy section.

He walks with a limp, but he moves fast. I notice a large moon-shaped scar on the side of his head where hair doesn't grow.

“Hey Dan!” says my dairy-liaison to a man in a red apron. “This guy wants to see the CHEESE!"

The man leads me to a basket in the cooler case.

“This is it,” says the red apron. “We only get

it once a year. Comes from Georgia, aged thirty months.”

It doesn't look so special. I ask him if it’s truly as good as my broker advertises.

“It's pretty good,” he says. “If you’re into cheese."

“AND IT COMES IN A WHEEL!” the young man points out.

The older man explains how the cheese arrives in a big circular package, and how it’s up to the deli to slice the stuff.

Traditionally, such an honor is given to the most valued deli employee. This year, the privilege fell to a certain young bag-boy with a vibrant personality.

The kid’s face lights up like Biloxi. "I CUT THE CHEESE!" He laughs as hard as he can.


As it happens, besides being a champion cheese-cutter, I learn this kid was once a promising outfielder, and…

I don't care what your friends say, your bosses, professors, or old Lou himself. If anyone says you're lacking, they're wrong.

I don't know how to put this, so I'll just come right out and say it.

You are enough.

Maybe you don't need to hear that. But I feel it's important to tell you since some folks are sending today's kids a different message. One that says you AREN'T enough.

And they're full of Shinola.

I don’t know where these screwy messages come from. But just for laughs, let's say they come from a radio-tower operated by a fella named Lou—who has goat horns and a pitchfork.

And these radio broadcasts play inside our brains. They go something like:

“Welcome to tonight's broadcast of: You're a Big Stinking Loser, Kid. Tonight's episode: Top Ten Reasons Why You'll Never Amount To Spit. Now let's take our first caller..."

Everyone's radio picks up Lou’s god-awful programs. Both rich and poor people. And after listening to Lou for a while, these folks start to feel unsatisfied. And it's a feeling that's spreading like black fever.

Chances are, even your mailman feels dissatisfied—just ask him.

Today, too many young folks feel like they

aren't enough. To fix this, some kids find heroes who they consider MORE than enough. These are usually the wrong heroes— celebrities with fat bank accounts and fake body parts.

And this is exactly what Lou wants.

But you should know: Lou is a liar. And I know this because he still owes me money from the Super Bowl.

So don't listen to him. Don't be one of those kids who tries to measure up to Lou’s ridiculous ideas.

If you want to know my opinion, here it is:

You came out of your mama’s belly. Which was no easy task. Your mama probably screamed bloody murder, squirting you into this world. You should've seen yourself, you were something else. When folks caught glimpses of you, they couldn't help but stare.

And on that day, you weren't just “enough.” You were…

When I pay at the pump, I hear a voice. It's a man. He makes a beeline for me, hollering, “Hey boss!” He's old, wearing a backpack and an Army ball-cap. His eyes are bloodshot.

Prichard, Alabama—I’m pumping gas. This is a bad part of town. The kind of place you see on the evening news, where they string yellow tape on people’s porches.

Here, locals often speak to news cameras, saying: “He seemed like such a nice man, pumping gas, minding his business, then WHAM!”

I should’ve waited to buy gas somewhere else.

I see a man pushing a shopping cart full of tin cans. After him: two women in leopard-print Spandex, probably on their way to Bible study.

When I pay at the pump, I hear a voice. It's a man. He makes a beeline for me, hollering, “Hey boss!” He's old, wearing a backpack and an Army ball-cap. His eyes are bloodshot.

He says, “Help a veteran out, man. I'm a veteran. I swear. You wanna see my veteran card?”

I shake his hand and introduce myself. He misunderstands me when I tell him my name and calls me “John.”

This man's breath is strong enough to kill mosquitoes.

I reach for my wallet. All I have is a ten and

a Target gift card. I hand them over.

It's not much, but he thanks me and says, "John, I'm gonna use this to buy food, John, I promise."

I wish he’d quit calling me that.

Anyway, modern wisdom says it’s unwise to give money to men like this. And maybe that's true. But, I come from a long line of men who do stupid things with cash.

My great grandaddy, for instance, was a card-playing gambler and a whiskey sipper.

My father was frivolous in a different way. Once, I rode to Franklin with Daddy. He picked up a hitchhiker. We rode some two hundred miles while that young man talked Daddy's ear off. He was filthy, and smelled like a substance commonly found in cattle pastures.

My daddy just listened.

We pulled into a truck stop. Daddy bought him lunch,…

I'm sorry, I have no answers, I'm a fella who doesn't even have qualifications to make a Labrador sit and stay. But I do know how you can feel better.

Marie was a Waffle-House waitress with two kids. She smoked like a fish, worked like a trail horse, and was self-conscious about her teeth.

Several of us fellas used to visit her every weekday morning for breakfast.

Once she showed me a bronze token.

“I've been in recovery for nine years," she said. "My boyfriend got me into meth, it almost killed me. I’ve learned that sharing my embarrassing secrets is what sets me free...”


Like the man I know whose mother lived with him. She died in his living room. I’ve known this man a while—he lived four houses down. He borrowed my lawnmower once. I thought he lived alone.

I asked him why he never talked about his mother.

He said, “Aw, everybody's got problems, nobody wants to hear about mine.”

Then, there's the secret I learned at my friend’s second wedding. The same fella I’ve known for years—since his long-haired days.

“My ex-wife used to beat me,” he admitted. "She’d throw things, hit me, kick me… Once, she punched me so hard, I had to have eye

surgery. I was too humiliated to talk about it.”

Or: Deidra—which isn't her name. She's wife to the pastor of one of those Six-Flags-Over-Jesus churches that have Chick-Fil-A's in the lobbies. Her husband has been cheating on her and stealing church funds.

She finally left him, but his sins never surfaced. Instead, he told his congregation that Deidra had robbed the church blind.

She’s been in therapy two years, battling ideas of suicide.

That brings me to my daddy, a man I write about often—probably too often. And I won’t beat around the bush, he was a tortured soul.

But he was also a good man, trapped in a vicious brain. His self-inflicted death came as a shock to anyone who knew him, even close friends. But then, few knew the hell he suffered in secret.

How could they?…

Every good thing in my life can be traced back to that night—the evening I became who I am. With her I have everything. Without her I'm a blind man.

It was a Wednesday. I know this because on Wednesdays the Baptist church had family suppers.

And although I wasn't exactly a faithful Sunday churchgoer, I was a devout mid-week supper-eater.

That night, I stood in line behind a girl, holding my plate. She was funny. She had so much personality she hummed like a neon light.

Later, I sat beside her during service. That week, there was an out-of-town preacher. The kind with big hair, sweat rags, and nice shoes. He invited people to walk the aisle to get born again.

My pal, Craig,—who lost his religion every football season—recommitted for his thirtieth time. He said he felt something in the air that night.

I did too.

When service let out, the girl wasn’t ready to go home. Neither was I. So, I suggested we drive. She liked the idea—though I’ll never know why.

I pointed my vehicle east, we headed for nowhere, traveling as slow as my engine would run. The miles of pines made her more chatty. She propped her feet on my dashboard and

let the words roll.

She talked about things. About how she saw the world, about her favorite kind of mustard, about religion, and the proper way to eat fried chicken.

I gave one-syllable responses because I didn't want to interrupt. She had a voice that sounded like Escambia County in June.

By the time we landed in Port Saint Joe, her one-sided conversation had faded to a stop. I looked at her. She was sleeping.

So, I pulled into a gas station and got lukewarm coffee.

On the ride back, I thought long and hard. Not just about the sleeping girl, but about how I'd gotten a late start in life. And about how my childhood was a pitiful one.

So pathetic, in fact, it embarrassed me to talk about—kind of like I'm doing now.

When my father died, he left a…

I can see she wants to say something, but mamas can't always say what's on their minds.

This is a sure enough dive. A bona fide fertilizer hole with old floors, sticky walls, warm beer.

I drove a long way just to eat here—my cousin tells me this dump has the best burgers in Mississippi.

I'd be surprised.

At the bar: several fellas in camouflage. One man in a ten-gallon hat. Another, staring at the TV. And since it’s still legal to smoke in restaurants here, they're burning through as many Camels as they can before the Magnolia State changes its laws

There’s a woman in pink scrubs at the table beside me. Her young son is beside her, devouring a burger.

The kid says, “I made an EIGHTY-EIGHT on my math test, mom.”

“No way," she says. "For real?”

The boy coughs, then blows his nose. “I’m SECOND smartest in my CLASS, MOM!”

She hugs the Dickens out of him. Then, she flags the waitress for pie and ice cream. They eat. They laugh. Her face is rough and tired, but her eyes aren't.

Finally, the boy says, “When can I come live with you? I don't wanna live

with Dad anymore."

She stops eating. I can see she wants to say something, but mamas can't always say what's on their minds.


“Eat your pie, sweetie.”

The mood goes from giddy to sour. His smile fades. She pets his hair. He hacks between bites.

After a few minutes, a man walks through the door. He’s wearing boots and he's all smiles. She greets him but he doesn't acknowledge her.

He pats the boy on the back and says, “You ready, man?”

The boy gets his backpack, then embraces his mama so hard he almost breaks her. He coughs.

“Make sure he takes his antibiotics," she tells the man.

But he doesn't answer. He walks out without glancing in the woman's direction.

"Love you, sweetie!" she hollers. "Take those antibiotics!"

She might as well be mute.…

Long, long ago, in a land far away, there was a chubby little first-baseman who enjoyed sourdough biscuits and fried fish. Like you, his family changed. His daddy disappeared.


We just moved to Clovis, New Mexico. I really miss home and all my family are in Florida. I am nine years old… My parents are divorced. And I am a very good artist.

I was wondering if you could tell a story about our situation. ...If you don't mind, I would like you to use words kids understand (but still a make it funny and emotional).

Your friend, KAYLIE


I have a story.

Long, long ago, in a land far away, there was a chubby little first-baseman who enjoyed sourdough biscuits and fried fish. Like you, his family changed. His daddy disappeared. And when that happened, the first-baseman’s world turned black.

One day, this boy went walking in the woods—for it is well-known that first-basemen love forests—and he found a creek near the river.

It was filled with magic catfish who talked to him in small voices, saying:

“No fishing poles you use,
Nor trotlines will ever work,
You will never catch us,
You chubby little jerk.”

This made the boy angry. For who were catfish to talk

this way? The first-baseman had been fishing since before he played first base.

So, the next day he visited with a fishing rod. But as it happened, the boy had lost all faith in himself after his daddy died. Because of this, he caught no fish.

The catfish teased:

“Try and try,
You dumb pup,
You'll catch us never,
You've already given up.”

Their singing displeased the first-baseman, for he knew the mystical scum-suckers were wrong about him.

So, the next day he fished again. Nothing.

And the whisker-fish sang:

“Fish, ye, at sundown,
Fish, ye, at sunup,
It won't work, ye young fool,
Because you’ve given up.”

Now the boy KNEW the fish were…

As it happens, nowadays I am hungry—though sometimes this world tries to steal a man's appetite. And I'm more than that. I'm alive.

The week after Daddy's funeral, it stormed. Bad. I woke to the sound of wind. Rain.

And piano music.

I walked downstairs to see our den full of ladies dusting, sweeping, mopping. One woman was even playing our hallway spinet.

“Morning,” said my aunt, kissing my forehead. “You want breakfast?”

No. I didn't.

I hadn't been hungry for weeks. I'd lost weight because of it. The only things I could choke down were milkshakes. And it's because of this, I haven't touched one since my voice dropped.

My aunt led me to the kitchen.

It was crowded. Ladies in aprons, standing at workstations, dusting things with flour. Almost every surface held poundcakes, layer cakes, bunt cakes, or cookies.

I received three hugs, ten kisses, and one stiff pat on the hindsection.

My aunt made a milkshake by hand, then said, “Get some chocolate cake, too. It's GOT to get eaten before it goes bad."

That woman. She was made of sugar and spice, and all kinds of bacon grease.

I wandered to the porch, sipping a milkshake, eating cake. I found my uncle

on the swing, listening to the rain make noise, the same sound TV static makes.

“Ain't they something?” he said, spitting into a mug. “All them busy ladies.”


He laughed. "You know what they call life without women?"


"They call it suffering."

Well, I'd counted nearly twelve females in our house—not including the piano-player. Laughter came from the kitchen. Music from the den. I guess we weren't suffering too bad.

Then, the screen door slapped. A young lady came onto the porch with two more plates of chocolate cake.

My uncle stood when he saw the girl. I stood with him—which is something my people do in the presence of females.

He thank-you-ma'amed her. So did I.

He handed me his cake and said, "You're gonna have to eat mine, I already gotta mouthful of…

The preacher took me to Shoney’s after church. He bought my breakfast, then he filled my truck with gas.

Sepulga Baptist Church is a three-room building off County Highway 43. I visited the rural congregation one Sunday. I listened to an old man deliver the kind of sermon that sounded like Karo syrup on hand-cut biscuits.

The kind of preaching without microphones.

This church has been here since before the invention of television. They have nine and a half members.

The preacher took me to Shoney’s after church. He bought my breakfast, then he filled my truck with gas.

I asked why he was being so good to a stranger.

He said, “‘Cause this world needs more good.”

Andalusia, Alabama—my friend and I were at Dairy Queen. We’d just left an early wedding. He stood on the sidewalk, smoking.

A feral cat meandered past us.

My pal tip-toed to his truck and removed a can of cat food. He opened the container with a pocketknife and set it on the curb.

I asked why he had pet food in his vehicle.

He explained, "My granny used to feed any animal she saw, even squirrels. Was a habit I picked up when she died."


asked if he missed his granny.

“So bad it hurts,” he said.

Birmingham, Alabama—I was eighteen. He was riding a bike, carrying a backpack. He was old. He smelled as ripe as a laundry bin.

He saw us leave the restaurant, he rode toward us. He said, “‘Scuse me boys, you got any spare change?”

I only had quarters—I was notorious for being low on silver.

Not my pal’s brother. He had a hundred-dollar bill. It was his gas money. He gave it to the man.

“No,” the man said, “I can’t take this, it’s too much.”

My friend’s brother added, “If you don’t take it, I’m just gonna throw it in the garbage.”

The man took it, then gave us parting gifts in return. He gave my pal a women’s wristwatch. I got a…

The bride and groom recite their own vows. Thus, before God and Alabama, he promises to love her through bad health, pitiful finances, unemployment, AC repairs, bad dogs, parental problems, and whatever else the Devil throws at them. Even death.

I’m at a wedding for my friend. His son is getting married. On stage: eight former Little-Leaguers wearing rented tuxes.

They still call my pal, “Coach”.

I used to help lead his son’s practices. The boys never called me anything but “HEY, HEY, HEY!”

Anyway, conversations at weddings are happy ones. And this is reason enough for attending. Because at weddings, nobody talks about jerk-bosses or politics. Plus, they have free beer.

I’m sitting beside a woman named Miss Rhonda, who has snow-white hair. She tells me about her granddaughter, studying biology at Alabama. The fella on my right is Uncle Of The Groom. He sells scratch-and-dent appliances in Atlanta, and begins each sentence with “Let me tell you somethin’ right now.”

Then, the back doors shut. The music changes. And let me tell you somethin' right now, I love weddings.

A flower girl first. Then siblings. Next: the cast of The Golden Girls. They're wearing entire rose gardens on their lapels.

My friend’s son is an All-American groom. His whole life was a ball game because of his

daddy. A cracker-jack pitcher. Driven student. A few wild high-school nights, but nothing serious.

He decided not to play college ball. Instead, he went into the arts. He's a bar musician now. He loves it. His daddy does not. They haven't spoken much over the years. Not even during the World Series.

Today, however, the coach is proud.

Coach is smiling so big his cheeks must hurt. It’s an Atta-Boy look I've seen before—even though we’re not on a field.

Funny. It wasn’t long ago the groom was eating ice cream on my tailgate. He and his friends used to fight over who could make the loudest bodily noises.

Now they’re old enough to disappoint their daddies.

Piano music plays. Doors open. The audience stands. Men button coats. Women smile. Let me tell you something right now, we’re a reverent bunch…