I was born during an Alabama game. I have a Polaroid photograph of my father wearing scrubs and surgical cap.
The photo is faded. He’s eating spaghetti, nose pressed against a television which sits in the corner of a delivery room.
It happened like this: my mother called him from her delivery-room phone. He was at work.
“I’M IN LABOR!” she said in all caps.
And, like any proud, soon-to-be father, he jumped in his truck and broke the sound barrier to get to the hospital in time for kickoff.
Alabama was playing Illinois. It would be the Bear’s farewell game. I was born during the fourth quarter.
Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. My father passed twelve years later.
I don’t want to talk about the particulars because this is New Year’s Day. And while I write this, Alabama has just won the Sugar Bowl.
The day after my father’s death, I quit watching sports altogether. Even baseball. In fact I didn’t do much after he died, except stare. I was good at staring.
One day, my uncle arrived on our porch with tickets in hand. “You wanna go to a football game?” he said.
“No,” was my response. I was a very busy boy, I had a lot of staring to do.
My mother shoved me out the door. “He’d love to go,” she pointed out.
It was a long drive. We picked up my friend, Danny, who had irritable mouth syndrome—he could talk the wires off telephone poles.
Thus, we sat on my uncle’s tailgate while Danny talked. And talked. And talked. And it was the worst day of my life, second only to my first colonoscopy.
My uncle stood at a grill, poking a hamburger.
“How ya want your burger?” he asked. “Medium-well, or boot leather?”
I didn’t crack a smile.
You can’t blame an uncle for trying.
Throughout the game, Big Mouth Danny and my uncle got along famously. They shouted during touchdowns. They chatted about coaches, point-spreads, and bad calls.
I stared straight through the field.
Later that night, my uncle carried me home. It was cold and dark. We were quiet. I thanked him, then hopped out of the vehicle without saying anything more than, “Good night.”
He stepped out of his truck and hollered, “I miss him, too, you know.”
I could see his outline in the glow of the headlights. I’ll never forget it.
At any rate, I promised I wouldn’t make you sad. So I’ll tell you this:
When I got married. It was my father-in-law who invited me to an Iron Bowl party. There were cheese dips, hams, and dangerous amounts of shellfish.
I sat outside, watching a small television, staring through it.
My father-in-law manned a grill and said, “How ya want your burger?”
He removed his crimson cap and placed it on my head. He said, “Start talking, boy, or I’m gonna deep fry you.”
“You GOTTA talk to me, you know,” he said, “You’re wearing MY hat.”
And he helped me use my voice again. And he helped me get over a staring habit. They buried him in that hat.
So you must understand that when I say what I’m about to say, it has nothing to do with a football game Alabama won tonight.
It’s about a lot more than football. It’s about the good men who brought me back to life again.
Roll tide. Roll.
Trina V. - January 2, 2018 10:10 am
Roll Tide, Sean!
Peggy Kendall - January 2, 2018 11:29 am
Marsha - January 2, 2018 11:58 am
I was rooting for Clemson, but I will sure be rooting for Alabama in the grand finale. Thank you Sean for sharing your life with us and showing us that we can come back to living. God bless you.
Robert Cantrell - January 2, 2018 12:21 pm
Robert Cantrell - January 2, 2018 12:24 pm
Your on the mark. Love you man.
Candace Cartee Bradford - January 2, 2018 1:46 pm
Sean, I sometimes share your posts on Facebook, I think your Super and want the rest of the world to know, hope you don’t mind. Today’s post, about Bama beating Georgia, will be a stellar event, and all my Bama friends will hopefully read it and know how great you are! Just wanna keep you writing for me cause I am selfish! By the by, WAR EAGLE, my husband played for Sug!
Emily - January 2, 2018 1:50 pm
Your writing is simply amazing and allows me to feel so many emotions. Laughter, tears, head nods in agreement and understanding.
Rotel cheese dip for the soul!
June Pryor - January 2, 2018 1:58 pm
Good thing for your faithful readers they got you talking again.
Deena - January 2, 2018 2:20 pm
I am thankful for the good men and the 2women who brought you back. You are a good man Sean Dietrich. Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts with the rest of us . ? PS… my Dawgs won toooooo. May the best team win the Championship and I surely hope it’s mine!! Happy New Year to you and Jamie.
ccgoesdutch - January 2, 2018 2:35 pm
Darnit Sean, you got me crying again but it’s a good cry.
judemiller1 - January 2, 2018 2:44 pm
Thanks for the update. I had to go to bed before the game was over and I woke up this morning wondering who had won. Georgia vs Alabama, oughta be a good game.
judemiller1 - January 2, 2018 2:47 pm
Oh, by the way, you do know the B1G 10 Conference was the winingest Conference in the Bowl Games, right? You do know that? GO GREEN! GO SPARTANS!
Penn Wells - January 2, 2018 3:19 pm
Somehow, I knew this would happen one day between us. Go Dawgs. I can’t think of anyone we would rather beat for the entire bag of marbles, because we respect Bama so damn much. But we aren’t afraid of you. ?
Jack - January 2, 2018 3:24 pm
Sean, you captured, perfectly the condition I lived with following a family death. Thanks for speaking up!
Toni Alphord - January 2, 2018 3:29 pm
Sean,I have a grandson that is twelve years old. I look at him to somehow gage the shock and pain and yes anger you felt. I pray my son-in-laws will always have the strength to seek counseling before leaving this void in everyone’s life.
Shirley Barbaree - January 2, 2018 3:43 pm
Roll Tide Roll!!! 🙂
Tammy Moody - January 2, 2018 4:16 pm
Amen. (from IL, where at 10am it has warmed up to -3. My Southern blood just isn’t thick enough for this!)
paula jones - January 2, 2018 4:20 pm
I wish you could see me applauding your uncle and your father-in-law.
Tricia - January 2, 2018 4:27 pm
Your essays as always remind us of truths we need to know. Remembering good people is the best way to start the new year.
Summer Hartzog - January 2, 2018 4:31 pm
God bless your father-in-law. And your uncle. And your dad. And you, Sean. Roll tide and Happy New Year!
Dianne Hadley - January 2, 2018 4:49 pm
I’m so glad they did and I’m proud of you for finally being able to respond. You make a real difference in people’s lives, Sean and I hope you know it. Happy New Year, Sean.
Kelly Stewart - January 2, 2018 5:04 pm
candyalso - January 2, 2018 6:01 pm
From a Dye Hard Auburn fan, I’m with you, Roll Tide Roll!
Kathy Burgess - January 2, 2018 6:07 pm
Being an LSU fan, that is the first time I have seen “Roll tide” and not cringed. God bless you, darlin.
Linda - January 2, 2018 8:07 pm
Sean, thank you for coming back and giving us the benefit of your great writing. God bless you.
Gloria Wethington - January 2, 2018 8:17 pm
Roll Tide Roll! Thank God for your uncle and father-in-law. You make a huge difference in people’s lives too, Sean. You remind us all of what’s really important!
Linda Lou - January 2, 2018 8:23 pm
We all need help sometimes to get us through bad times…thankful for your uncle and father-in-law! Love the way you write…God’s gift! Happy New Year and Roll Tide roll!
Kathleen McAbee - January 2, 2018 8:53 pm
I found Sean in August, wish I had seen it sooner. Jan.02,2018 is the best story of them all. I look forward to a story a day, I love them,,,
Arelene Mack - January 2, 2018 9:48 pm
I like your writings. “A Game” made me stop and recall the people who brought me back to life after my middle son killed himself. Thanks.
Carolyn Kent - January 2, 2018 11:54 pm
Happy New Year to you, Jamie, & Ellie Mae!! Im excited for the Bulldogs!!! Will be a great game!!! I’m also super excited for the BUFFALO BILLS who made the Playoffs for the first time in 17 years!!!! They are as fanatic as Alabama fans!! Wondering if you have other readers that are Bills fans!!?? Go Dogs! GI Bills! You are so AWESOME! I LOVE your writing & tell everyone about you!! Wish u would COME TO GEORGIA!!!!
Dru - January 3, 2018 11:35 pm
I used to teach the poem “Musee des Beaux Arts” and live the aftermath of my father’s too-early death over again. If I were still teaching, my classes would discuss your work along with Auden’s. You have a gift for sharp and terrible truth. I’m glad you’re better, glad you had help. Thank you for writing. And, of course, in honor of the Bear, Coach Saban, and the nine everpresent orders of angels wearing Alabama caps, ROLL TIDE! ROLL!
Dan Wise - January 4, 2018 3:35 pm
Coach Bryant’s final game was the Liberty Bowl. He opted to forego his Houndstooth fedora for sturdier fare that evening in Memphis. Bama trainer Jimmy Goostree memorialized this event with a classic print. Honored to have this print in my collection!
ponder304 - January 6, 2018 1:30 pm
Thank the Lord for good men with voices! Roll Tide Roll!