The misperception about New Year’s is that it’s supposed to be a happy occasion. Sort of like Christmas. Or a birthday party.

But it’s not Christmas. New Year’s represents the end of something. And goodbyes are not joyous.

New Year’s is also a beginning. Beginnings are not entirely happy affairs, either. Beginnings are frightening. You have no idea what you’re in for. Could be good. Could be bad.

This year your wife could win the lottery. And when you get home, she might scream, “We won the lottery, honey! Pack your bags!”

“What?” you might reply. “Should I pack for the beach or the mountains?”

“I don’t care!” she might answer. “Just pack your bags and get out of my house!”

Sometimes the worst news you can get is good news.

In many ways, last year was a rough one. Six of my close friends died. I was a pallbearer twice. That wasn’t happy.

But last year was also a year I accumulated new friends.

It all started when I adopted a blind dog. Which I wrote about in this

column. Which led to me getting invited to schools for the blind.

I spoke at the Helen Keller Art Show. There, I met Henrietta, who has blindness due to a mitochondrial disease. She has practically grown up in hospitals. One of the happiest people I know. “I’m not fearless,” Henrietta said. “I’m brave. There’s a difference.”

I learned how to use a white cane in the hallways of the Callahan School for the Deaf and Blind. Whereupon a little blind girl traced my face with her little hands and sang “You Are So Beautiful.”

I visited Alabama Institute for the Blind and Deaf, where a little boy felt my face, and said, “Will you hug me so I know what you feel like?”

I met a cheerful 17-year-old girl named Morgan. We were at the Service Dogs Alabama training facility.

I saw them at the airport. The loading zone. The kid was standing there. Wearing his uniform.

OCP fatigues. Boots. Patrol cap. His backpack was about the size of a Buick. His face was youthful and round. His cheeks were rosy. He looked like Wally Cleaver.

Beside him was his mom, waiting by the idling car. An SUV. One of those small Japanese SUVs, about the size of a roller skate, only with less legroom.

At least I think it was his mom. The mom was probably in her fifties. Although it’s hard to tell when a mother has gray hair. Which she did.

Airports are sterile, ugly places. There is nothing romantic about goodbyes. Not in an airport, when you know TSA employees are about to touch you inappropriately without first buying you dinner.

The mom straightened the kid’s collar. She told him she loved him, then gave him a shoulder touch.

It was the classic motherly goodbye.

She told him to remember to call his daddy sometimes.

The kid was vaping. The air smelled like strawberry. “I will,” said the kid.

“Your dad worries about you.”

The kid mumbled something.

“And don’t forget to text me,” said Mom. “Just let me know how you’re doing. I know you can’t tell me everything, but, tell me what you can.”


A long silence. The kid let go a cloud. Travelers came and went. Young passengers hauled expensive luggage inside. Uber drivers dropped people off and hustled for their tips.

The Mom smiled at her boy. It was the kind of smile only mothers can give. It’s an I’ve-known-you-since-you-were-in-diapers smile.

“You, alright?” Mom said.

“I’m good.”

Mom nodded.

“I know you’re going to do great,” she said.

More mumbling. The kid didn’t want his mom pep-talking him. He’s in the Army now.

“I better go,” he said.


The kid gave her a hug. The hug evidently meant more to…

There’s something about boys. When your old man dies young, it does something to your brain. It changes your perception of your mortality.

You don’t expect to live as long as he lived. It’s just something that happens to you. You can't explain it. Too hard to articulate. He died young. Why not you?

So this is a big day. It’s the biggest birthday of your life. It is the occasion that officially makes you the same age as he was when it all ended. That fateful age. When he departed.

That number. That year. It really means something to you. You don’t know why. But it does.

You expected to have died in a car crash by now. Or a bad fall. Or a freak accident. Or you expected to go like your uncle Eustis, a house painter who died in a climbing accident, although it was likely the falling that killed him.

You can remember how very old your dad seemed to you when you were a boy, just before his

end. In your childhood mind he was ancient.

He had a few traces of white in his red whiskers. His chest hair had patches of gray. He complained about his back a lot. He made noises when he bent over. Fishing was too much work.

You remember how he was your hero. How he could do anything. He knew everything. You remember how neighborhood dogs always followed him around. And how you wanted to be him. You wanted your shoulders to be as broad as his. And your jaw to be as square.

And as of today you’re his age. The same age he was when he passed. How is this possible?

You never thought this age would happen. Not to you. Because this is the age of dying. This is the age of expiration. This is the age when good men kick the oxygen habit. This…


I need your help. I am a bedwetter. I am 13 and I don’t know what do to or who to go to, or why I keep doing this. I hate myself, I wish I could change.

I wish I could talk to someone about this, but I’m scared. Like maybe talk to my dad, but I don’t even know my dad ‘cause he left us when I was little, and I think he hates me because whenever I call him he doesn’t want to talk to me. He never even remembers my birthday.

...I just wanted to tell someone who could help me, I’m so embarrassed. Please don’t use my name. What should I do? Please answer my email if you have some time.

Thank you,


This isn’t my normal column topic, but your letter struck a nerve. But before I say anything else, listen to me:

Relax. Breathe, my friend. Eat something manufactured by Little Debbie. Draw a warm bath. Watch episodes of “The Andy Griffith Show.” Or at the very least, “Monk.”


the bed is not a huge problem. Granted, I’m no doctor, and my advice isn’t worth much. It’s probably a good idea to get checked out, just to be safe.

Still, I believe you will get through this. I swear. And do you want to know why I believe this?

Because you’re talking to a former professional bedwetter.

That’s right. I used to wet the bed. You might think you’re unique, but you’re not the only one in the world with at golfball-sized bladder.

I peed the bed for years. It got to the point where my mother wouldn’t let me drink liquids past lunchtime. “But I’m thirsty, Mama,” I would whine.

To which Mama would reply, “Swallow your own spit, I do enough dirty laundry to cover the needs of Mainland China.”

Does any of this sound…

The Third Day of Christmas. My three French hens must have gotten lost in the mail. The weather was a stolid 34 degrees. The water in the dog bowls was stone. The sun was out.

Waffle House was warm and inviting. The parking lot was mostly empty except for a few muddy trucks. My wife and I had an 11-year-old with us. She is blind. This is her first time attending a Waffle House.

“Have a seat wherever,” said the server.

We found a table in the corner. A booth. Red vinyl. Faux wood table. Laminated menus. Napkin dispenser.

Going to Waffle House is one of my most cherished habits. I go a few times every week. Sometimes more often, if I’m on the road. I give the Waffle House corporation half my annual income. And I do it gladly.

But going to a Waffle House with a blind child is another matter entirely. The whole ordeal is different. For starters, the multisensory experience begins with the nose.

“That smell,” the child said, as we walked into the


She used her white cane to trace the perimeter of the aisle, navigating between booth and bar and jukebox.

“What is that smell?” she said. Nose to the ceiling.

“It’s bacon,” said my wife.

When you walk into a Waffle House, it’s the smell that gets you first. The smell of cured pork and frying tuber vegetables. It hits you in the back of the throat. If you’re lucky, the scent works its way into the fibers of your clothes. And it stays with you all day.

The child was smiling. “This place smells delicious.”

“Welcome to Waffle House,” said the server.

We told the waitress it was the kid’s first time visiting.

The employees made a big deal about it. You would have thought Young Harry and Meghan Markle were entering the premises.

We sat. We talked. The waitress gave…


My 21-year-old daughter just married her 22-year-old sweetheart. What advice would you give them being so young and getting married? The naysayers claim they are too young for marriage.



I turned 21 on my honeymoon. At the time, we were in Charleston, South Carolina. There are many taverns in Charleston.

On the evening of my birthday, my newlywed wife left me to my own devices so she could go birthday shopping. So there I was, age 21. Street legal. Wandering the streets of the Holy City alone. Looking for houses of worship.

I walked into a small joint downtown to buy my first legal glass of Ovaltine and pay my respects to federal law.

The saloon was sort of empty. Dim lights. Lots of sinners. The smell of antiques and tobacco. There was an old fashioned jukebox playing. It was perfect.

There was a man at the bar. He was old and bent. Heavy equipment logo on his hat. He was leaning over a longneck.

I told him I

was 21 tonight.

His eyes became bright. He told the bartender to bring me a tall glass of something cold—on him. The bartender, a gal comfortably in her 60s, checked my ID with a careful eye.

“What’s your address, sweetheart?” she asked, staring at my license.

“Sesame Street,” I said.

She smiled.

She put the glass before me. The old guy and I toasted to the American Minimum Legal Drinking Age. I told my new friends I had just gotten married.

I got about five or six handshakes and shoulder slaps. I went on to tell how everyone in my life said I was making a mistake. About how the preacher refused to marry us.

About the big stink my wedding created. About how people—even strangers at the tux-rental shop—tried to talk me out of it. Some of my own family even boycotted…

I don’t care about the gifts,
Or the crappy little gadgets,
I don’t care about the food,
Or four-hour Christmas pageants.

Yes, I like the twinkly lights,
But I could take or leave them,
And I like all the Christmas stories,
But I don’t know if I believe them.

It’s not the Santa in the mall,
Or the television parades they watch,
Or the Hallmark Channel specials,
Starring the former cast of Baywatch.

I don’t need carols,
Or ice skating in the park,
Or Christmas market vendors,
Who accept Venmo and credit cards.

I do not crave a holiday,
Filled with activities and social games,

/> Or flying hither and yonder,
Contracting flu-A on planes.

I do not need a stack of gifts,
From Target, Belk, or Old Navy,
Or homemade sweet potato pie,
Cheese logs or giblet gravy.

The truth is I want for nothing,
Be it animal, vegetable, or mineral,
And I don’t want to rub elbows with people,
Who won’t attend my funeral.

Tonight, I ask not for physical things,
Or objects bright and new,
All I want this Christmas evening,
Is to be right here with you.

We used to circle things in the Sears catalog at Christmas. Things we wanted. In red Sharpie. There was a KitchenAid mixer circled in our catalog. My wife had circled it. I looked at the mixer and felt depressed.

Namely, because I was 24 years old, newly married, and Christmas was not shaping up to be a good one.

I’d just been fired. I had been working on a construction crew, hanging drywall. It was a crap job. Crappy pay. Lots of dust.

Someone on the crew had been stealing expensive power tools. And rather than locate the culprit, our boss fired everyone. Every worker. Young and old. We were all jobless in a matter of minutes. Game over.

So there I was. No money or prospects. I wasn’t even a high-school grad. And worse, we were out of beer.

Moreover, my wife had already erected our plastic Christmas tree in our one-bedroom apartment. There were already gifts beneath the tree. With my name written on the labels. She had been taking extra jobs, babysitting. Moonlighting with

a temp service. She had been working overtime.

But I had no gifts for her. And my wallet was light.

So the next morning, I looked in the newspaper. There weren’t many help-wanted ads. Prison guard openings available. Sanitation workers, now hiring. Electrician assistants—must be certified. Exotic dancers—no pole experience needed!

Then I came across an ad for UPS driver helpers. “Santa’s Helpers” they called them. It was temp work. Pay wasn’t bad.

I didn’t even call. I just showed up. I figured initiative is what the top brass was looking for. I stood in the office. The lady handed me an application. She had a pack of Virginia Slims in her breast pocket. Her voice was like a tuba.

She said, “Can you carry 65 pounds?”

“Ma’am,” I said, “you give me a paycheck and I’ll have your baby.”

I got a…

Dear Becca,

I am writing this Christmas card with the help of my friend, Anna. She is typing my words on a braille machine. This way, you’ll be able to read them on Christmas morning. And hopefully in years to come.

I want you to know how excited I am to have you at our house for Christmas. I have been counting down the days.

I love it when you’re here. You’re only 11 years old, which means you’ll probably forget all about me one day—you might even forget that you came to my house for Christmas.

But I won’t forget. I will never forget this wonderful holiday week. Not for as long as I live.

I love the way your personality lights up our empty home. It’s like magic. And I can always tell which room you’re in, too.

Even if you’re being quiet, I can always find you. All I have to do is follow the persistent humming. You hum wherever you go. You hum even when you’re in the bathroom, peeing. God help us

when you learn to whistle.

Also, I love the way you give affection. I’ve never met a person who receives or gives affection like you. I realize this is probably because you were an NICU baby.

I also realize you were not touched after being abandoned by your birth parents. I realize you were ignored for the first two years of your life before you were adopted. And I know this had an effect on your little body.

But you’re making up for lost time. Your hugs bless me. Each one of your embraces I count as gold. I love hugging you in my arms, and smelling your shampoo. Or the scent of your little-kid sweat, after you’ve been outside playing. I love the special way you fit into the cavern of my ribs. Like we were made for each other.

You probably…

I have here a letter from 9-year-old Tasha, in Dallas, Texas. The letter is written in a childish hand. Purple ink. Curly print. The penmanship is excellent.

“Dear Sean,” the letter begins, “Is Santa really real? My dad says he is but my brother and his friends says he isn’t.”

Dear Tasha, first off, thank you for your letter. Let me start by saying that, (a) Santa is real, and (b) your brother is a dork for not believing.

I do not mean this statement about your brother in a derogatory way. Lots of people are dorks. They cannot help it.

Take me. I am a dork. Neither am I an authority on this particular subject of Santa Claus. In fact, when I was a kid, I once took an IQ test in school, and do you know what I got on the test? Drool.

Even so, this world-class dork knows one thing for certain: Santa is real.

I can absolutely guarantee this. And I would bet the farm on it.

Although I CAN see how some

people would doubt the existence of such a figure. It would be easy for a citizen of our present universe to disbelieve in the timeless traits of Saint Nick.

His attributes like kindness and selfless generosity are concepts that have gone out the window in our popular culture.

In the world we live in, crime and hatred are running rampant.

The War in Ukraine, for example, has created the world’s largest human displacement crisis.

And as of yesterday, 19,000 Palestinians and Israelis have died in the Israel-Hamas War.

In South Sudan, they are still recovering from a Civil War. This year, more South Sudanese than ever before—7.8 million—will face crisis levels of food insecurity in 2023.

In Afghanistan, an entire population is pushed into poverty due to a nation’s economic collapse.

How can Santa live in a world like this?

Well, the problem…